Gardenia is a flower with diverse connotations, from sultry to innocent.The jazz singer Billie Holiday famously tucked a white gardenia in herhair; 19th Shanghai courtesans used its seeds to colour theirundergarments a vibrant yellow; and in the Victorian language of flowers, gardeniasymbolised purity and refinement. Its scent is heady and lush, marrying theseductive warmth of jasmine with the sweetness of peach and coconut. A singleblossom is enough to perfume a room for hours with a fragrance that reminds meof a summer evening. But with winter approaching, it will bemonths before I can find fresh gardenias, and instead I look for them in aperfume bottle.
This task is challenging because gardenia, temperamentalflower that she is, does not give up her essence to any distillation methods.While rose, jasmine or tuberose oils can be extracted from petals, thearoma of gardenia is recreated by hand. As such, it becomes a fantasy scentinterpreted by each perfumer differently, with some treating gardenia as asunlit étude and others envisioning it as a baroque painting. One of myfavourite bright and sparkling gardenias is Annick Goutal’s Un Matin d’Orage (far left in picture, £79 for 100ml), agauzy blend featuring frangipani and smelling like rain-soakedpetals. A similar romanticimpression is conveyed by Marc Jacobs’s Woman (far right in picture, £75 for 100ml), the first perfume launched bythe American fashion designer.
An intriguing new fragrance by Arquiste Parfumeur, Boutonnière No.7 (centre left in picture, £125 for 55ml), offersa masculine rendition ofgardenia. In a memorable juxtaposition, it combines the luscious softness of thewhite petals with bracing herbs and damp woods. The perfume is as perfect for aman who wants to try something different as for a woman who prefers her flowersless sweet and heady. It is polished, elegant and full of interesting twists ofgreen lavender, salty vetiver and tender gardenia petals.
Whenever I’m in the mood for something darker and more smouldering, thegardenia I dab on my skin is the very one inspired by Billie Holiday. Createdby Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake in tribute to this tragic andtalented artist, Une Voix Noire (centre right in picture, €130 for 75ml) smells like a blossom that spent most of its life on someone’s corsage.The gardenia is laced with tobacco and woods, and in contrast to light andfresh renditions such as Un Matin d’Orage and Woman, Lutens’s flower iscaramelised and honeyed. It wears like a soft cashmere wrap, and feels decadentand mellow at once. “I looked for every loveliness; it all came true,” I wantto repeat after Holiday.