Fleurs de Gardenia (Creed)

Gardenia is one of those wonderful notes that is more an "accord" than singular, its smoky sweetness enveloped in rich, buttery-white petals, brightened with edgings of green. I understand there is a very low yield for extraction of gardenia essential oil, with only about a thousand kilos of oil per every five thousand kilos of gardenia flowers, which is rather insane, if you think about it. In the book Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, Steffen Arctander files the scent under "Tuberose Group," along with longoza, plumeria, and of course tuberose, suggesting that like tuberose, gardenia is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink note, full of variations and odd nuances. It leads me to think that chemists face an unsurprising problem with the oil: too little is fatal. If the extraction isn't concentrated and pure enough, it just isn't going to smell as complex and rich as the flower itself. Indeed, Arctander comments that although the Chinese make gardenia concrete for medicinal purposes, it smells thin and unremarkable. To use perfumery parlance, it lacks "tenacity," or staying power on skin.

Despite his disappointment, one can not blame the Chinese for producing an inferior, low-tenacity gardenia extract, because the oil's dynamism is poor even after the best extraction methods are employed. The proper way to get the oil is by a process called "enfleurage," or more specifically, cold enfleurage. Hot enfleurage is another method, but heat is detrimental to the delicate molecules of gardenia's aroma. The cold process yields a fairly high-quality, undamaged aroma. Enfleurage is a process of essential oil extraction using a very large plate of glass, called a "chassis," which is covered in a layer of animal tallow and allowed to set. Once the fat has firmed, botanical materials (petals, leaves, stems, or whatever is needed for extraction) is placed on the chassis and left there for days, so natural aromas can infuse into the fat. This process is repeated using the same chassis until it is saturated with aromatics, and alcohol is used to separate the infusion for use. The yield is apparently pretty good, with a faithful, headspace-like rendition of the smell of gardenia buds. Yet even after enfleurage extraction, gardenia is pretty weak and transient.

Creed would have us believe that at $275 a bottle, Fleurs de Gardenia contains exhaustively enfleuraged gardenia butter extract, enough to permeate the lifespan of a perfume (at least six hours) and beat nature at its own game. This brand has a habit of naming its fragrances after flowers that aren't in the compositions. For example, Tuberose Indiana reputedly has no tuberose in it, just as Irisia contains zero iris. To expect gardenia from Fleurs de Gardenia is expecting too much, especially if you're familiar with this house. FdG opens with a beautiful gardenia note, garnished with a bit of fruity pink pepper, and for a few minutes after application, it's easy to think they've managed the impossible, and created a true gardenia soliflore. Just wait another few minutes, though. Before the liquid has fully dried on skin, the gardenia is gone, replaced with an oddly masculine lavender and sour blackcurrant accord, which hisses along until a great big peony note steals the show. Am I surprised by any of this? Absolutely not. It smells great - it's fresh, clean, spring-like - but it's no gardenia. That's a shame, because gardenia smells better than peony.

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