As Chanel makeup line is evolving and becoming more innovative and sophisticated than ever before, the fragrance line seems to be taking steps in the opposite direction. We all know that everything was reformulated, diluted and cheapened (while the retail price climbs higher and higher); Chanel Gardenia, formerly part of the boutique line that included Cuir de Russie and Bois des Iles, was assimilated into Les Exclusifs range, the big vats of EDT (now also in somewhat more reasonable bottles and the extrait is back as well). While I was never a huge fan of Chanel Gardenia I did have some respect for its very blonde elegance. However, testing the most recent version of the eau de toilette left me more flabbergasted with Chanel than ever before.
It's no secret that Gardenia was never a true gardenia scent. As a matter of fact, Turin/Sanchez labeled it as a "Not Gardenia", and who can blame them? While gardenia as a note is pretty hard to capture in a realistic way (the flower is nearly impossible to extract and tincture), there are many interesting approximations on the market, older and new (here are several favorites-- without searching and just from immediate memory: Goutal Un Matin d'Orage, JAR Jardenia and Bolt Of Lightning, Arquiste Boutonniere no. 7, Isabey Gardenia, Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia, Ineke Hothouse Flower, and the brilliant Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire). So what exactly is the point of a gardenia with none of the sultriness, sweet and salty aspects, or heady sensuality?
I can't figure it out. And I tried. I swear.
The current version of Chanel Gardenia opens with an abstract approximation of a very polite white floral. It's not quite tuberose, not quite orange blossom and only offers a hint of a beachy tropical humidity that may or may not be related to gardenia. I smell green leaves, something ripe and almost interesting behind the shockingly synthetic floral veil, but this hint of hope fades away quickly. The whole thing is as fake as a Taylor Swift relationship and has little presence, an ephemeral sillage and barely any personality. Chanel Gardenia is not bad: it's difficult to dislike something that's trying so hard to be pretty. And Gardenia is pretty in a very inoffensive and utterly forgettable way.
I like whatever is left on the skin after about five hours. It's a milky musk with a beachy undertone. If I had to choose between Gardenia and, say, Jennifer Aniston's fragrance there's no doubt I'd go with the smooth and more balanced Chanel, but that doesn't say much, does it? Chanel Gardenia in its current formula is the ghost of something that could have been great. The structure and cheekbones are there, just not the curves and flesh.
Chanel Gardenia ($130, 2.5oz EDT) is available at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store, Chanel boutiques and chanel.com.
Images: La Chanelphile, Hprints, Chanel website and an old online auction.