I had a perfume craving. I wanted something floral. Very floral, even, and quite white. Also sweet, powdery, creamy yet free of tuberose (I prefer my tuberose slightly isolated). I wanted a gardenia, but one that's a bit lighthearted, not decaying, and as pretty as they come. The answer was obvious: Isabey Gardenia.
Isabey is a classic French perfume company that has seen a revival over the last decade, albeit low-profile (see my reviews of La Route d'Emeraude and L'Ambre de Carthage). If I remember correctly, Gardenia was the first Isabey perfume to (re)launch in 2006, and it makes sense: who doesn't like a pretty and sexy gardenia? I wish I knew what the original 1920s Gardenia was like. Raw ingredients of that era were significantly different, and you know that if there was musk it was skanky, animalic, and very real. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the latter days Gardenia is a scrubbed-up version. It's certainly among the cleaner and more cheerful gardenia fragrances I own or know. And most of all it's fun, welcoming, even cozy.
One of the first notes that stand out most to my nose in Isabey's Gardenia is ylang-ylang. I always think of it as one of the warmest flowers. Here it's accompanied by what feels like a lace effect of tiny white blossoms, while there's still that fruity creaminess of ylang that wraps you up until the warmth of your skin brings forth a powdery musk or a musky powder. The gardenia is pushed to the background, even though the perfume remains a decidedly white floral. The petals are floating in the air here and there while the main event is happening at skin level, and it's a musky wood that doesn't cross into oriental territory (for that we have Serge Lutens and his Une Voix Noire), but is still slightly sweetened and luscious.
The main thing about Isabey Gardenia is that it's a beautiful perfume. You get that "pretty!!!" feeling from the very first whiff and it remains with you for the entire eight to ten hours that the fragrance lives on skin. Regular readers know that I'm very hesitant about assigning a gender to perfume. It's usually a very superficial division and I'm as happy to smell Shalimar on guys as I am to wear Bel-Ami. But unlike some other favorite gardenia perfumes (JAR Jardenia, Tom For Velvet Gardenia, Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia), I perceive this Isabey as feminine to the extreme. The Husband has refused to even try it, and I'm deeply curious to hear how it translates on a man's skin. Do you get the floating blossoms or is the musky sandalwood base takes over and gives you a more desirable skank?
Isabey- Gardenia ($170, 50 ml eau de parfum) is available from Luckyscent and possibly Twisted Lily (though it seems they're phasing out the brand).
Photo by Eliot Elisofon: Young girl swimming in pool covered with gardenia blossoms, Mexico, 1945.