This image typifies the gardenia perfume fragrance we all want: lush, sensual, wanton, spicy, buttery, floral, intoxicating, over-the-top and proud of it. The creamy, green, almost-obnoxious scent of the full-blown gardenia that is common in gardens, the cultivated Gardenia jasminoides aka Gardenia augusta:
In the early-to-mid part of the 20th century, there were a few who produced gardenia absolute form the G. jasminoides/augusta. Story has it that the advent of World War II and the discovery of synthetic aromachemicals that mimicked the scent of gardenia put an end to the natural gardenia absolute.
In the early 21st century, with the rise of natural perfumery, the demand for a gardenia absolute arose again. I am enfleuraging gardenias, and have received a sample of some very pricey Gardenia tahitensis that is lovely, a true Tahitian gardenia fragrance, but not G. augusta/florida by any means. I have T. tahitensis and even T. vietnamensis growing in my garden, too, and am enfleuraging them. But there is a richness, a lactonic creaminess and diffusive greenness that is missing in them.
I use a picture of an G. vietnamensis on every page of my website, it is to lovely and startling and iconic – a white flower that sings “look at me, smell me, I’m beautiful.” Heck, isn’t that the phrase that can easily describe why we all wear perfume? 😉
Using the alcohol-washed enfleurages of the Vietnamese flower adds the much-needed true gardenia base, but truly, nothing gives the “oomph” and grandeur of the natural gardenia flower in the garden, or the one brought inside to float in a bowl of water. It’s iconic, powerful and not easy to imitate.
I suppose I could look up the GCMS analyses of gardenias that I have, but chemistry is not my thing. I’m an artistic creator who sniffs and adds a bit of this a dab of that, and I’m sure many more chemistry-savvy folks have tried to use the GCMS route but I don’t know of any who succeeded, so I’m happy in my endeavors, knowing that I have satisfied several clients who were very discriminating and educated about naturals and accepting of the exacting doppelgangers I created.
Now there are gardenia concretes and absolutes out of China, where they have, in timely and enterprising response to worldwide demand for a real gardenia raw material, started to produce them.
My understanding is that they’re using a rather simple cultivar of Gardenia jasminoides, the 5-petaled species that is found in many northern climates of the world. The product is quite lovely, and much like the tahetientis, and my attempts, lacking in the true lushness and complexity of the multi-petaled varieties that we humans have selected out over the centuries to satisfy our cravings for uber gardenias, those that knock us out with their power and overwhelming scent. Below is a picture of the type of gardenia the Chinese are using, and pretty as it is, you can see that is is a sweet, pale version of the blockbuster we know and love.
This is not to say that the Tahitian and Chinese and individual enterprises, such as my own are not without merit: there is no law that says only the boombastic gardenia we know in our gardens and as corsages and floating room fragrances are the only gardenias. The beauty of Tahitian and the simple Chinese gardenias is outstanding on its own, and both deserve a place in perfumery.
I received samples of the Chinese gardenia concrete from both the supplier and also from a retail supplier who is a member of the Natural Perfumers Guild, Essentially Me in the UK. The Tahitian gardenia absolute was a gift from a UK-based natural perfumer. I encourage anyone who is a natural botanical perfumer to keep up with the newest developments and perhaps in a year or two we’ll see very lovely gardenia perfumes offered to the public. Perhaps in a time frame longer than a year or two we’ll see the revival of the truly magnificent Gardenia augusta as a raw perfumery material, and we’ll be able to enjoy that version of the gardenia scent also.