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June 22, 2006

Chanel Gardenia : Vintage and Modern

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For anyone with interest in history, the exploration of vintage fragrances is a journey that offers one exciting discovery after another. Each bottle of perfume holds the essence of its time, artistic inspirations, and scientific advances. Coty L’Origan (1905) conjures Edwardian silhouettes and rich fabrics. Caron Nuit de Noël (1922) captures the Art Deco glamour. Robert Piguet Bandit (1944) is an avant-garde take on leather, a new style of fragrance that resonated with the post-war sentiments. Opening each vintage bottle for the first time is like unveiling a mystery, an experience that never fails to make my heart race. …

The bottle of vintage Chanel Gardénia resisted being opened, and it took all of my knowledge of behaviour of glass under various climatic conditions to make the stopper budge. The effort was worth it, because the pale ambery liquid unfolded in a lush flower accented with a mist of aldehydes. A crisp fruity note folded into the floral heart slowly segued into the warmth of the musky base, infused with the radiance of ambergris. Created by Ernest Beaux in 1925, Gardénia is a beautiful example of his talent in creating luminous floral compositions. The elegance of this perfume is remarkable, being evident even after all of these decades that have lapsed between the fragrance being made and it ending up in on my wrist. Whoever owned it in the interim never even touched it, because the membrane seal was still intact.

Gardénia was reintroduced in the 1980s, along with Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie. The dewy floral sweetness of the reorchestrated version bears far less resemblance to the original aldehydic bouquet than do the other reissues to their vintage counterparts. In a sense, Gardénia is somewhat of a misnomer, because the effect here is chiefly of orange blossom and jasmine, with the entire arrangement dominated by sweet tuberose.

Although the white floral bouquets run the risk of heady opulence, Gardénia is rendered in a modern radiant fashion using ingredients like synthetic fruity notes and lily of the valley that would not have been available at the time Beaux created it. However, the natural essences woven into its heart lend a pleasing richness to the drydown. It is pretty and dainty, like a pair of pearl earrings or a white silk blouse with a lace collar. For this reason, I find it difficult to imagine it on Mlle. Coco. On the other hand, the elegant and sensuous original would have perfectly suited her Garçonne (flapper) look, which was contemporaneous with the introduction of perfume.

Gardénia is available in the EDT and parfum. The EDT is bordering on cloyingly sweet, while the parfum is richer and better balanced. It is available from the Chanel boutiques, some Saks5thAvenue stores and Gloss.com.

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