August 19, 2014
Photo: Gardenia in full bloom grown in the garden of reader Sandi Lundberg
Pure white flowers, deep green foliage, and a fragrance that can be fresh and yet sensual at the same time. With vibrant green topnotes, a luxurious white-flowers heart, just a hint of fruit, and afternotes of sweet balsam, the aroma of a gardenia says ‘floral’ in so many ways. A young woman’s first corsage, flowers for a wedding, or a languorous floral scent on a tropical evening, the fragrance brings inescapable associations.
The legendary Billie Holiday always went onstage with a gardenia in her hair
Singing of love and longing, evoking beauty and loss, the jazz icon Billie Holiday took advantage of the contrast between the pure loveliness of the gardenia and the haunting nature of her voice and songs. She always wore one in her hair, making it her signature look. It began early in her career when she burned her hair with curling tongs just before a performance. Her friend Carmen McRae went out to find some flowers to cover the burned spot and came back with gardenias from the flower girl in the club entrance.
Vintage Photo Gardenia Corsage
With a scent that is strong enough that it can welcome someone to a home where it is planted or overpower a small room, gardenias are not shy and retiring. The white blooms may prove too much in a corsage for someone who doesn’t love the fragrance. Often described as an outstanding floral fragrance, gardenia is sweet and green with definite fatty notes, somewhat similar to frangipani, and yet slightly fruity with even a hint of wintergreen. Some also detect a note of mushroom, honey, coconut, or balsam.
Gardenia Botanical Print, 1942
Sometimes called Cape Jasmine, the gardenia is a member of the family Rubiceae or the coffee family. Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) originated in Asia and have been cultivated in China for at least 1000 years. They were introduced to the United States in Charleston, South Carolina in 1762 when Dr. Alexander Garden planted some, giving them his name. Gardenias in their many forms are grown and loved throughout the world.
Gardenia Enfleurage photo by Elise Pearlstine
Although the aroma of gardenias is often evoked through perfume art, extractions of gardenia flowers are very rare and pricey. Historically, 5,000 kilos of the flowers were used to produce one kilo of the solvent extracted absolute. Quality gardenia extracts have been absent from the market for many years until recently when artisanal growers began capturing the scent once again. In one example, a small organic farm in Colombia captures the full glory of gardenia flowers in palm oil to create an enfleurage. Some natural perfumers either create their own infusion or use gardenia absolute in their compositions which takes tremendous skills and many trials.
Senior Perfumer Rodrigo Flores Roux of Givaudan wearing a gardenia boutenniere
Due to the cost of true gardenia products, many perfumers prefer to construct their own. A re-creation of gardenia can be made with aromachemicals that evoke the white floral, green leafiness with milky coconut nuances. Arquiste Parfumeur’s Boutonniere No. 7 is inspired by the elegant boutonnieres of the Belle Epoch. Sr. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux speaks of re-creating a gardenia scent in a ÇaFleureBon interview: “Gardenias are somewhat wild and raw, and you have to be careful not to domesticate the scent too much. The perfume must remain a bit unbridled. For a gardenia, the sharp green edge has to echo the milky, almost buttery sides harmoniously, and the animalic sides, which are both indolic and cresolic have to be very present as well. The descriptors "fruity", "ripe", "bitter", jasminic", "honey-like", "smoky" and "fungus-like" also come into play.”
Robert Mapplethorpe Gardenia, 1978
Octavian – Sever Coifan, perfumer and fragrance historian, gives us these synthetic notes for formulating a realistic gardenia fragrance: "styrallyl acetate, tiglates (cis 3 hexenyl and benzyl, they are characteristic for the gardenia note) plus several benzoates (methyl and cis-3 hexenyl). Also, the lactonic milky touch given by jasmolactone (Firmenich) and touches of nonalactone (coconut tuberose note)."
Blue Gardenia Movie Poster starring Ann Bancroft
According to Artisan Perfumer Ineke Ruland,"I did try out a natural gardenia enfleurage but it did not work well for me. With the enfleurage extract there is a long period of mushroom before it kicks into something resembling the natural flower, so I didn’t find it useful. In the past, perfumers have created gardenia notes by adding galbanum to tuberose and a bit of jasmine, but I think that creating a complex accord using headspace lets you get much closer to the scent of real gardenia. The key to the gardenia accord is to use creamy, lactonic notes in addition to the floral notes. Also, most people don’t realize how many green components there are in the natural flower. I played on that by adding even more green notes like fig and galbanum to the fragrance. Hothouse Flower is a super-green gardenia".
CHANEL Gardenia Vintage Ad (happy birthday Coco Chanel August 19, 1883)
It is purported that in the late 1800’s Guerlain produced one of the first gardenia perfumes and American perfumer Richard Hudnut made gardenia very famous in the time leading up to the late 1920s with gardenia talcum powders, eau de parfums and oils. One of the great stories is CHANEL Gardenia. According to a CHANEL spokesperson, "Mademoiselle Chanel signature emblem – the camellia – had no scent. Fortunately, the gardenia, which the camellia resembled had a beautiful aroma. In 1925, she asked Perfumer Ernest Beaux to compose a perfume from gardenia, that would fill the air with fragrance. He created a stunning and avant-garde evocation of this magnificent flower. Green notes, a creamy heart and a trail full of fantasy… All of the flower was there – its leaves, its petals, enhanced by the spirited characteristic touch of the Coco Chanel and Ernest Beaux".
The House of Tuvache made Gardenia a household word with women with the introduction of the sensual and some say overpowering Jungle Gardenia in 1932. Today, one of the most expensive and coveted gardenia fragrances is JAR JARdenia by Jean Guichard which re-creates gardenia and captures the classic green, earthy mushroom facet of the flower.
Shen Zou Gardenia (栀子花) Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
There are at least 142 species of gardenia growing in areas of Africa, Asia, and Australia. Although most gardenias are white, there are also golden and ivory-colored gardenias, all with a similar fragrance. The Vietnamese ‘gardenia’ superficially resembles gardenias in flower and scent but is actually unrelated. Gardenias grow wild along streams in Asia and once grew in such profusion in Hong Kong that they may have led to the naming of the town, Hong Kong meaning ‘fragrant harbor.’ The beautiful flower has appeared in Chinese art over the last millennia.
CHANEL gardenia illustration
In South Africa Gardenia thunbergia exhibits its showy, perfumed flowers that are most fragrant at night and are pollinated by local moths. The large fruits may be eaten by elephants, antelopes, and buffalo. In the United States, gardenias are grown everywhere, especially in the Southern States where their scent is known as the "CHANEL No. 5 of the South."
Botanical illustration of Tiare Flowers
Tiare, the Queen of Polynesian flowers, is a striking, white, star-shaped flower that is actually a gardenia. It grows on a small shrub in the family Rubiaceae, a large family that also contains gardenia and coffee; Tiare is known as Gardenia Tahitensis. The scent of tiare flowers is described as reminiscent of both gardenia and tuberose, green with just a hint of apple blossom.
Two Women Aka Flowered Hair – Paul Gauguin
Tiare is indigenous to Polynesia and is used in leis and beauty products there. Monoi oil is produced in Polynesia from the flowers of the Tahitian gardenia using coconut oil and an infusion of the flowers. (Read more about Tiare perfumes in ÇaFleureBonTropical Fruits and Flowers Post here)
Paul Gaugin Young Man with a Flower
In the language of flowers gardenia means joy and purity and is associated with thoughts of beauty, making it a popular wedding flower. It can be a signal of secret love – so if someone gives you a gardenia you should perhaps take a second look at them. A gardenia worn over the right ear means you are available. It seems possible that an entire conversation could be carried out by the giving and receiving of a gardenia!
Gardenia vintage Postcard
Gardenias have the reputation of being difficult to grow but, really, just require a bit of patience and understanding. Mainly, they need time to adjust to their new home and may drop their buds in the meantime. They do well as a potted plant and in cooler areas they can be grown in pots outdoors and brought inside during cooler weather. They should flower throughout the summer in good conditions. In Japan the gardenia is a popular bonsai plant and one of the few with large blooms.
Shanghai Courtesans dyed their undergarments with gardenia seeds, vintage1920s illustration
An important plant in traditional Chinese medicine, the bitter taste and cold nature of the fruit makes it good for moderating fevers, treating jaundice, and cooling the blood. The seeds are also good to sooth irritability and a tea may be made that is especially calming. Menopausal women may use the tea to alleviate depression, headaches, and dizziness. The act of making the tea and steeping with oolong, perhaps, is itself calming and the gardenia aroma is unique and lingering. The seeds, themselves a rich red color, produce a deep yellow color that can be a replacement for saffron yellow. Some say that courtesans in Shanghai would dye their undergarments with gardenia seeds.
Gardenia Dress Todd Murphy
In magick, gardenia is considered a feminine essence, being used to attract good spirits and bring peace to rituals while increasing spirituality and assisting in healing. When a gardenia bush is planted by the front door in the southern United States it represents grace and hospitality.
Oscar Wilde wearing a Bouttoneire (not a gardenia but a dyed green carnation), August 6, 1891 ,Getty Photos
The elegant gardenia was a stylish accent in 19th century European society. Men would wear gardenia boutonnieres to fancy dress occasions as an aid to flirting or gift them to a lady friend who might wear one on the shoulder strap of an evening gown or in her hair.
Complex, nuanced, beautiful and yet simply welcoming and peaceful, the fragrance of gardenia and the composition of gardenia perfumes defies the easy categories. It is iconic and yet difficult to capture, requiring patience and understanding of true beauty.
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief
For our Gardenia perfumes and Tiare perfumes draw
WORLDWIDE: DSH PERFUMES Pink Gardenia, composed by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz using gardenia absolute and an all botanical reconstruction
EU, USA and Canada 50 ml of Ormonde Jayne Tiare Perfume, composed by Linda Pilkington and Geza Schoen with Tiare Absolue
EU, Canada and USA: 100 ml of Penhaligon's Anthology Gardenia, reconstructed in 2009 by Bertrand Duchaufour
USA ONLY: 50 ml Montale IntenseTiare with Tiare flower courtesy of EuroPerfumes
USA ONLY: 7 ml of Arquiste Perfumes Bouttoniere No. 7, composed by Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux; you can read our review here Awarded a Best of Scent 2012
USA ALL NATURAL LPO ORGANICS 5 ml Yellow Lupine Gardenia, perfumer Libby Patterson
USA ONLY 6.2 ml Sarah Horowitz Parfums Perfect Gardenia Oil, composed by Sarah Horowitz-Thran
WORLDWIDE ALL NATURAL Ambrosia Perfume by Nature 25ml of an actual Gardenia Enfleurage in Macademia Nut oil, created by Ambrosia Jones
USA only ALL NATURAL: 15 ml Strange Invisible Perfumes Epic Gardenia, composed by Alexandra Balahoutis
USA only ALL NATURAL: 5 ml JoAnne Bassett Madame Pompadour from the Royal Collection with fresh Gardenia flower infusion from her garden
Editor's Note: Thanks to our special guests, Octavian Coifan, Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Ineke Ruhland for their valuable contributions. What can one write about the generosity we receive from our draw sponsors (including the Natural Perfumers Guild who participates each month). We must acknowledge our greatest gift, Sr Contributor Elise Pearlstine who spends an average of 18 hours researching each Perfume Ingredients and Materials post.
To be eligible for our Gardenia and Tiare in Perfumery draw, please leave a comment about what you learned from this article and as many of the fragrances you would like to win (Country restrictions, so let us know if you are an International reader). Be sure to include at least one natural perfume when you post your choices. Draw closes August 24, 2014
We announce the winners only on site and on our Facebook page, so Like Cafleurebon and use our RSS option…or your dream prize will be just spilled perfume.