Cuir de Gardenia, the new perfume from Aftelier tells the story of luxury, eccentricity, and sensuality. The first whiff I got of this extraordinary perfume made me think of Marchesa Luisa Casati, the Italian aristocrat who said "I want to be a living work of art" who lived in Capri, wore live snakes as jewelry, had lovers all over Europe, and inspired artists and designers from Man Ray to Alexander McQueen.
The one perfume note that may be sexier than gardenia is leather. Put these two together and I'm a goner. A complete and utter goner. Even the name Cuir de Gardenia is enough to conjure a certain image and create an atmosphere: lush and dangerous, lives on the edge and has touches of the dark side as well as the ethereal beauty of the tropical flower. Now, it's a widely known fact that distilling gardenia for commercial use is nearly impossible-- modern perfumery relies on synthetic molecules to create a gardenia note. But we're talking an Aftelier perfume here, so Cuir de Gardenia is an all natural fragrance. Basically, perfumer Mandy Aftel has set to do the impossible.
And she did.
Somehow, through sorcery and research, Mandy Aftel found an artisan grower and distiller of gardenia. The incredibly rare and luxurious real thing. This gardenia smells warm: warm from the tropical sun and sands as well as warm skin. The creamy aspect is also there, musky and sensual. This flower is unmasked by top notes. There's nothing there to lighten the mood or make it go down easily. Instead, you get a journey from flora to fauna, as the creamy gardenia becomes fattier and more animalic and the perfume embraces the skin and wraps it an unmistakable buttery leather.
Cuir de Gardenia is offered as an extrait and a solid perfume, to keep the warmth and sensuality on skin-level. This perfume is pure decadence-- you don't want to send it into the stratosphere on a cloud of volatile alcohol molecules. I suspect that beyond the preciousness of the raw materials, a big sillage would have been just too much for polite company: this thing requires intimacy, which this format allows. Applied where it truly counts, Cuir de Gardenia is sweet and intense. I find it incredibly sexy in a very femme way, but then again, I'm all woman. Men who feel comfortable in dirty gardenia fragrances (from JAR Jardenia to Lutens Une Voix Noire) shouldn't hesitate to try this Aftelier perfume in either form. The solid smells more animalic upon application but becomes smoother and almost honeyed after an hour or so. The extrait works for me in an opposite way-- its true leather and castoreum nature becomes more pronounced with time. They layer beautifully, obviously, and last for at least six hours even when dabbed extremely sparingly.
Notes: tiare (gardenia) absolute, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, benzyl acetate (a jasmine and ylang-ylang molecule with a fruity aroma) , castoreum, ethyl phenyl acetate (sweet pea), maltol (candied sweetness).
Aftelier- Cuir de Gardenia ($240 for a solid perfume in a sterling silver compact or $55 for 2ml extrait de parfum) can be purchased from aftelier.com. Small samples also available there. The samples for this review were sent by the perfumer.
Art: La marchesa Luisa Casati by Joseph Paget-Fredericks, 1940.
The Fragrant Man adds great insight into the raw ingredients of Cuir de Gardenia.