Friday, May 16, 2008

Making Love in a Gardenia Garden

The burlesque phrase of the title, comical in its exaggeration and Fabio-jacketed-romance tendencies, sounds like the antithetical mood of Perfume Shrine's usual outlook on life.
But I am not making this up. It' a quote, funnily enough. In fact it comes from the musical Gigi starring arch-gamine French actress Leslie Caron, along with Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan and based on Colette's book by the same name. It was however the inspiration for indie perfumer Ayala Moriel to create an unusual, sui generis gardenia soliflore that bypasses the drama to be pliable to your own specifications which prompted me to reference it today for your reading and smelling pleasure.

Too often gardenia fragrances remind me of an infamous literary heroine from Greek satirist Demitrios Psathas: Madame Sousou. The story is set in the 1950s, in a low-class suburb of Athens. The eponymous heroine is a small, petty bourgeois married to a hard-working fishmonger in love with her; she wants to emulate the aristocracy, peppers her talk with French, torments her naive maid and makes the most terrific blunders both in her speech as well as in her general deportment, but with the utmost confidence and high-falluting airs! After inheriting a large sum of money she tries to change her life and leaves her husband, but devious people manage to gnaw her fortune and she has to go back to her forgiving and loving husband and what she deems the vulgarity of a low-class life.
So infamous is the character that in a strike of onomatopoeia genius someone coined the phrase "sousoudismos" in Greek to describe the way of trying to emulate something unattainable to ridiculous effect. And it has since stuck.
{It is no accident that a famous Melbourne restaurant/bistro (assuredly founded by some Greek immigrant) is using the name with fabulous results}.

Yes, gardenia fragrances often take themselves too seriously, too keenly, trying too hard. Gigi is nothing like that I am happy to report.

The strange green and slightly bittersweet vibe of entering the scope of a gardenia garden greets me with a trail of mandarin and what seems like the musty bitterness of vetiver up front. Kewda Attar which is more commonly known as "pandanus", that East Indian flower whose essence is marinated in sandalwood oil to render the attar, with its remarkable sour, yet soon segueing into floral notes contributes to the peculiar aroma of the top. If one does not know it's there one would be inclined to believe as I did that some citrusy peel oil mixed with hyacinth and vetiver emits that strange, hypnotic aroma that beckons you closer.
White florals unmistakeably raise their head from the mix smoothed down with a great powder puff of cornstarch, musk, and bittersweet resins.

The overall effect is not as photographically realistic as Lauder's Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, nor as titillatingly musky and unrelated to gardenia as Cruel Gardénia by Guerlain, but somewhere in a happy medium. You put the personality in it, more than it wearing you on its sleeve as regalia of conquest, and perhaps that is a new direction which was lacking in this genre.

Arguably the only fault is the staying power: it is admittedly rather short. Perhaps it is accountable by the sheer character of the base, which was intended not to overshadow the delicate heart of flowers. But since it is a scent to be enjoyed in warmer days, one can always reapply.

Ayala used the following natural essences to render an interpretation of gardenia without the synthetics usually used.
Top: Yellow Mandarin, Coriander essential oil and Cardamom CO2, Kewda Attar, Rosewood
Heart: Jasmine Sambac, Jonquille, Tuberose.
Base: Myrrh, Sandalwood, Ambrette CO2, Vetiver from Sri-Lanka and Vanilla CO2 and Absolute.

GiGi is available for a limited time only while the Indian sandalwood essential oil stock of Ayala lasts, in the 1/4oz parfum extrait flacons, or parfum oil roll-on bottles, and the 1ml sample vials so you can try before you buy.
Available at Ayala Moriel perfumes and at Etsy shop.

And for our readers: an assortment of samples giveaway for anyone who is lucky enough to win the draw (my drawers were again filling up and action must be taken!). Please leave a note in the comments if you want to enter.

Pic from the film "Gigi" comes from Ebay. Clip from Madame Sousou series on Greek TV uploaded by dimdindan


  1. What do I have to do to win? LOL!

  2. Just be your usual amiable self, honey!

  3. Please enter me in the draw - thanks for your generosity!

  4. You're in Sue and you're welcome. Best of luck!

  5. Gigi is so fun to watch, but I'll admit I never understood the plot. It always seemed so improbable to me. But then, it's French, and it's Colette, which explains any number of confusions without explaining anything. : )

    P.S. I would also be grateful to be considered!

  6. I don't think anything smells more like summer than Gardenia! Please enter me in the draw. Many thanks! :-)

  7. Anonymous04:44

    Hi , I am in search of theperfect Gardenia scent! Not too sharp, not too intense - rather a soft , classic green gardenia with a musk base. Something like Chanel Gardenia )parfum) . Bond No. 9 Saks 5th ave for her is nice - please enter me in the draw -

  8. Hi -anonymous was me - Madelyn E -
    By mistake it came out anon-

  9. D,

    I believe the plot can be summed in "thank heavens for little girls" which sounds like quite the disturbing message! (but then it goes on to say "without them what would little boys do?", which is somewhat better than considering someone of M.CHevalier's age saying it). Yes, fun to watch, not focused on plot.

    You're of course in!

  10. Dear C,

    I have included you in the draw. Best of luck!

  11. Anon,

    the perfect gardenia is a quest indeed. You're in!

  12. Ooops: I got cnfused there too! Sorry about that.
    In any case:


    you're of course in the draw and I hope that you will be lucky and get to find the perfect gardenia you're searching for.
    Thank you for your comment :-)

  13. Anonymous08:16

    Please enter me in the drawing. Gigi is my mother's all time favorite movie.

  14. In my childhood days I used to stay over with the family Versteeg. It was quite an agitated surrounding, but at the same time I came in touch with customs I knew nothing about about and that appeared to be magical in my childhood eyes. I first learned about costumed parties at Versteeg. And I saw Gigi. I specifically remember a scene about eating Ortolans, those little birds you had to put in your mouth on the whole.
    And the final scene, in which Gigi, as a married woman, walks through the park with her husband, all fixed up in marriedwomangear. I remember finding it a disappointing image: they looked so utterly bourgeois! Life had been better in the scenes before.

    (and yes please, I would like to be in the draw too...)

  15. I'm still to find any gardenia I would tolerate, therefore enter me in the drawing, please :)

  16. Maitreyi,

    you're included! :-)

  17. Bradamante,

    ortolans are funny birds and the force-feeding them has me a little repelled (same as with force-feeding for production of foie gras). Did you know they were F.Mitterand's last supper? Imagine that...

    I agree with you that the ending is a little trite and somehow less entertaining than what was happening up till it: but the ideals of those "times" were so.

    Of course you're in!

  18. Elve,

    I do hope that's the one for you! Of course I have included you in the draw :-)

  19. Yes, I know about Mitterand. And also that the ortolan is eaten with a piece of cloth over the face. However, I do not remember the cloth part from the film - and indeed it would be out of sync with the overall atmosphere of lightness that defines the movie, wouldn't it?

    Quite another movie: Mitterand, still emitting la gloire de France, but with a brittle body, almost nothing but bones, eating his last meal, putting the ortolan between his teeth, but in secret, as if performing a sacred taboo,
    with the cloth over his face. It feels like going through the looking glass: the ortolan has become the dying Mitterand and Mitterand his own God of Death.

    If I remember correctly, Gigi on the contrary had to learn how to continue an animated conversation whilst simultaneously devouring the ortolan.

    Lets put it this way: Mitterands ortolan symbolises the bones of France (dignity in the face of death), Gigi's the meat on the bones (we'll die anyway, so let us be gay and merry).

    (And no, I don't eat ortolans. Or foie gras.)

  20. B,

    I always thought the cloth over the face was a little ridiculous. It's supposed to act on two levels: catching the aroma (hmm, OK) and hiding the guilt of the sadistic eater from God ('s that for symbolic?). I am sure you know that. I don't recall if it was used in the movie: will have to search it although I do recall some contraption at some point (?)

    What makes it very interesting is that in Gigi as far as I recall -it's been eons since I read the book- the ortolan acts as a symbol of Gigi's fall from "grace" and the morally proper society into the rank of the courtesan. She is taught how to eat something that is in essence a guilt hallmark, perverse and unholy, in contrast to what she was taught to eat before (just to enter polite society, such as oysters and asparagus IIRC). At least this is how I interpret it.

    But I have to admit that I prefer your comparison with Mitterand and the bones (dignity) and flesh (savouring) of it as sympbols of life and death.

    BTW, I made a mistake above: not his last meal (since he died 8 days afterwards) but his last feast.

  21. Well, that makes sense: a courtesan wouldn't need a cloth, would she? After all - she doesn't hide her nakedness neither.

    What you just said brought another reason to my mind: the cloth takes away all social duties regarding the surrounding company. You can concentrate fully on the ortolan.

    I am Dutch and therefore lack the genes to take all this stuff seriously. Somehow, from his throne in Versailles, Louis Quatorze still rules France. (Speaking of which - Carla Bruni reminds me of Madame de Montespan - well, Mme de Maintenon actually. She was the one who got to marry the king after all)

  22. Interesting thought, there, about the nakedeness! I hadn't thought of it that way.
    But yes, also the concentration factor obviously.

    Oh, don't worry, the process is a bit weird whatever one's origin. I mean other peoples have been known to consume ortolans too (although not drowned in Armagnac, granted!) and they never went to such elaborate shennanigans, did they?

    Good point about Bruni: she has the upper hand, in any case (smart cookie that she is) ;-)

  23. Anonymous23:27

    I love Gigi! XD Enter me in the drawing too, please!

    thepsichik at

  24. You're in the draw Thatpirategirl (nice alias Tracy!) and welcome to the Shrine! Hope you find things to keep your interest and stick around.
    Great sketching skills, btw :-)

  25. Anonymous10:25

    I think Ayala is the best natural perfumer out there!!! I've sampled many of her fragrances and I'm looking forward to this new one...the girl [woman] is a genius!!
    Please enter me in the drawing.

  26. Chris, you have been included!

    Ayala certainly makes some very lovely fragrances and she has been mentioned on the Shrine in the past.

  27. Anonymous13:32

    Would very much enter the draw and perhaps - if Tyche wants - try this Gardenia :)

  28. May the Moirae then be with you, dear S! You're in :-)

  29. Anonymous20:02

    Please enter me in the drawing!

  30. Ben, you're in the draw! Thanks for commenting.

  31. please enter me in the draw! now I have to go watch Gigi...

  32. Sure thing, you're in! Good luck!

  33. Anonymous12:18

    Please enter me in the drawing, too, dear helg. And thank you for providing it! One cannot sniff enough Gardenia-scents! :-)

  34. I recently received a sample of Ayala's 'Station at the Metro', an experimental blend based upon the poem of the same name. I was pleasantly surprised by it. I would love to be entered in this drawing.

  35. Dear N,

    you're in, of course. You're very welcome :-)

  36. Justine,

    I have included you in the draw, thanks for your comment and welcome to the Shrine. I hope you will find things to enjoy and many niche and indie fragrances to discuss.
    And kudos on your own project :-)

  37. Please enter me in the drawing. I found Gigi bizarrely reminded me of a Michael Storer's white floral, but this one was more earthy.

  38. The deed is done, J!

    I should probably compare it side by side with the Storer florals to see what you say. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

  39. Anonymous00:23

    great article Helg. I have to confess I am new to this gardenia lark and thus far have found myself loving the Estee Lauder offering best ( I seriously think it had me at tuberose though). I did try Cruel Gardenia and though I find it very pretty it sort of left me cold ( is that the cruel bit , I wonder?) and I am dying , absolutely dying to try Mike Storer's Stephanie which has been getting some love as a gardenia scent.

    Ps, I am interested in having my name entered, thanks

  40. Thank you Nub for your nice compliment, very much.

    I find you have made a great choice in the Lauder, because it is indeed a great realistic fragrance.
    LOL about the cruel part on the Guerlain! You're too funny,lady;-)
    Well, yes, it's mostly a musky floral, but not a gardenia scent. It takes a certain getting used to and then it creeps on you, I find.
    Storer's Stephanie is pretty great as well.

    You're in! :-)

  41. When I saw that lovely photo of Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron I'm sorry to say I went Googling to see if they are both still among the living (I'm happy to report they both are! They will celebrate their 90th and 70th birthdays this year).

    Leslie Caron's lovely complexion and slightly-over-the-top femininity is well-suited to gardenias, somehow.

    I'm not often in the mood for gardenias, but when I am the day is always lit by a sunny optimism. ;)


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