Hurts So Good: Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia
As any regular reader of this blog knows, I adore white floral perfumes. None of them are too big, too lush or too heady for me, I love them all. Naturally, this includes gardenia scents, and gardenias themselves. There is something so special about these beautiful flowers as they unfurl their petals to reveal the unforgettably potent aroma that can fill a room with the aura of seduction. There are many very good perfumes based on gardenia, but something that may not be well known is that the great majority of these fragrances do not have any actual gardenia in them – they are reconstructions, like lily-of-the-valley and many other flowers whose essence is either impossible or very difficult to capture from nature. It seems odd that gardenias would fall into this category – after all, their thick, heavily scented petals would seem to be ideal for any of several methods of extraction. Well, as it turns out, there is such a thing as real gardenia in perfumery – it's just too rare and special to be used on the large scale of modern commercial methods of making perfume. Enter artisan perfumer Mandy Aftel and her new masterpiece, Cuir de Gardenia, a spectacular composition that features real Tiare absolute; the tiare flower is also known as Tahitian gardenia and is used to scent the famous Monoi oil of the South Sea islands. The Cuir part is a natural leather accord using vintage castoreum and other materials.
I chose to try the solid version, since Mandy makes some of the best solid scents in existence, formulated with organic beeswax and jojoba oil. and it is a perfect way to showcase this unique introduction. Any attempt at objectivity I may have intended to maintain when testing this perfume flew out the window as soon as I smelled it. It floored me with its sheer beauty and originality, and I wanted to consume it in its entirety - smell it, eat it, bathe in it, absorb it and wear it all over my body. Not for the first time, I regretted that humans have a weak sense of smell compared to many other creatures – oh, to have the nose of a tracking dog or a polar bear just to be able to smell more of this. It's the perfume equivalent of looking at someone or something so beautiful that it's almost painful, and you just can't get enough of the object of your desire.
As you might expect, natural gardenia essence smells wonderful, but it does not really resemble the “gardenia” found in the perfumes we all know and love, no matter how good they are. If the cheap stuff is like Tang® is to real orange juice, then one could liken top quality gardenia scents to the premium pasteurized juice found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store – it tastes pretty good until you compare it side by side to freshly squeezed real Valencia orange juice made moments before drinking it. The gardenia note in Cuir de Gardenia is fresh, ripe, divinely sweet and dewy, a true nectar of the gods. There is no trace of the “blue cheese” note or other weird olfactory illusions found in so many gardenia reconstructions. Jasmine absolute contributes its own delicate beauty to the mix, an ideal partner for the gardenia. This fragrance was made to have no top notes so the full effect is immediate, and it's stunning. The leather part is just as good as the florals, and there is nothing crude or raw about it – animalic and sexy yes, but smooth and buttery, enhanced by the subtle honey aroma of the solid perfume base, and utterly delicious once it is warmed by body heat, like inhaling the musky scent of one's beloved. I assume that the oil extrait version is just as good but I am glad I chose to try the solid, it really works with this formula. In my opinion, Cuir de Gardenia is just as much of an achievement as Mandy's famous Cépes and Tuberose, which also combined unexpected elements to push the boundaries of perfumery and make something entirely new. Oh, and the seduction I mentioned earlier? It's all right here, waiting for the alchemical transformation that occurs when perfume meets skin. Let it work its magic on you.
Image credit: Photo of virtuoso traditional Tahitian dancer Matahi Vairaa via tahitifete.blogspot.com. I think I may have changed my mind about tattoos on men....I approve.
Disclaimer: My sample was given to me for testing by Aftelier Perfumes.