Gardelia is an extrait de parfum that is exclusive to Italy’s Sacro Cuore perfume store in Bologna, or “Profumeria Sacro Cuore” as it is officially called. According to Bogue‘s website and Fragrantica, the fragrance was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the store, founded in 1965, but also the 50th wedding anniversary of its owners, Giovanni and Lia Padovan. In fact, based on what I’ve read on Fragrantica, it seems that Gardelia’s name is derived from parts of their first names combined with the word “gardenia.”
On his Bogue website, Antonio Gardoni explains the character, inspiration, and materials used in the scent:
GARDELIA is a perfume extrait that raises a garden around a flower and from the earth grows following the tree’s lines up to their leaves in the sky. [¶] 50 of the best available natural ingredients have been used to celebrate a great flower. [¶] A gardenia to celebrate 50 years of love, 50 years of research, 50 years of passion, 50 years of perfumes[.]
Bogue does not provide a note list, but additional information is available elsewhere on a few of those 50 ingredients. Fragrantica states that 6% of the composition consists of three different types of gardenia absolute. Parfumo elaborates on a few others, stating that Gardelia contains:
Gardenia, Jasmine, Rose, Tuberose, Frangipani, Magnolia, Civet, Cognac, Geranium.
Based on what I smell on my skin, I would guess that the list might look a bit like this, at least for some of the 50 ingredients:
Gardelia is not merely exclusive to Sacro Cuore; it is also a limited-edition fragrance. It comes in a hand-crafted bottle made from famous Murano Venetian glass. Only 50 bottles were produced, and each one is numbered. (As a side note, Sacro Cuore ships throughout the world, so Gardelia is not a fragrance limited just to Italy.)
Gardenia, Jasmine, Rose, Tuberose, Frangipani, Magnolia, Civet, Cognac, Geranium, Bergamot, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Castoreum, Labdanum, Tolu Balsam absolute, Opoponax [Sweet Myrrh], Vetiver, Birch, Sandalwood, Cedar, Dark Musks, Benzoin resin, probably Ambergris, and possibly cinnamon.
Gardelia opens on my skin with a dark, beefy, lush, indolic, multi-faceted, and extremely vintage-smelling floral bouquet that is splattered with raw, deep, vintage-smelling bergamot oil and furry, vintage-smelling civet. The flowers are layered, one after another, with even more multi-faceted, dark vintage bases or accords. The repetition of words is intentional. This is a fragrance that hits you with its beefy, dark and, above all else, its intensely vintage style from the very first sniff. If Gardoni’s famous, justly praised MAAI instantly stunned one with its vintage chypre character and perfect recreation of old-school oakmoss, Gardelia does so to an even greater degree. And, just as in Maai (hereinafter spelt without all-capital letters), I find myself particularly impressed by Gardelia’s base accords, although they’re presented front and center here. It’s a dark, turgid river composed of furry civet, leathery castoreum, dark musks, singed birch campfire woods, earthy and verdant oakmoss, and treacly balsamic resins, all enveloped within a complex, stunningly aged patchouli that is dark, dense, camphorous, meaty, green, brown, and earthy.
The floral bouquet unfolds, layer by layer, the flowers sensuously spreading their petals to display a ripe, lush, densely packed central core. Front and center on my skin during the first 30 minutes are blood-red roses. The way they combined with the bold, deep, almost raw bergamot oil (sometimes a little bitter like the fresh, aromatic oil from its rind) reminds me of the opening of vintage Shalimar parfum, 1970s version. Hiding behind the roses, peeking out from time to time, are mushroomy and earthy gardenias, indolic jasmine, and a brief, passing flicker of aromatic geranium. A deep fringe of green frames the flowers, consisting of oakmoss, an earthy, woody, almost mossy vetiver, and, above all else, the same tuberose-based oakmoss recreation that gave Maai its stunning, vintage chypre character. The greenery is stained black at the corners from tendrils of smoke arising partially from the flowers’ indoles, partially from the vetiver, and partially from the mix of leather, musky castoreum and birch campfire smoke. Hanging over everything in a haze are the animalic elements, smelling musky, furry, and civet-laden.
It’s a stunning bouquet, and every bit of it bears Mr. Gardoni’s inimitable signature. It’s intensely evocative of Maai in both its notes and its vintage character but Gardelia is, dare I say it, even better. It’s significantly richer and denser as befits a pure parfum, but that is not the reason why. It’s because Gardelia feels perfectly balanced in a way that Maai with its top-heavy animalics and hyraceum/civet urinousness did not. (There is no feral panther peeing on my arm in this case.) I can smell each and every note, each and every layer in Gardelia, but they flow seamlessly into each other with such symmetry, such perfect pitch, that the end result is a symphonic harmony that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not simply what I call a “prismatic” scent — a fragrance that shots out different notes every minute like rays of light bouncing off a crystal chandelier — but also absolutely majestic in its grandeur.
Have you ever seen those YouTube videos of 1,000-person choral symphonies singing Ode to Joy while accompanied by similarly grand orchestras? Gardelia is their perfume equivalent. It takes the Maai style of chypres, tones back the animalics (at least during its first 3 hours), increases all the other elements, rounds out and smoothens any aggressively “in your face” aspects, and then takes that bouquet and amps it up by a factor of 50. It’s riveting, fantastic, breath-taking, boldly compelling, and so complex that it made me close my eyes and sigh with joy. In all candour, it’s like smelling something straight out of the 1950s or 1960s, not a modern perfume at all, and the last time I was this entranced and intrigued was over a vintage Shalimar extrait from those decades. Just as with Maai, there is a sense of befuddlement and wonder that a modern perfume like this is possible in today’s bloodless, anemic, miserably ghastly world of IFRA/EU restrictions. Once again, Mr. Gardoni seems to have used tuberose to get around the ban and to replicate the sense of real oakmoss, plush, deep, dark, and opulent, but the rest of the ingredients in Gardelia seem just as rich and deep. Exceptionally so.
As I mentioned earlier, Gardelia is a prismatic scent that is seamlessly blended, emphasizing and rippling out different notes every few minutes as it unfolds, so many of its changes in the first few hours are to their order, prominence, and nuances. That said, I noticed general patterns in the fragrance’s evolution on the two occasions that I tested it. For example, the initial blast was heavy on the civet, bergamot, roses, and indoles, but the civet gives way after 10-15 minutes to let the gorgeously aged patchouli shine. The jasmine rippled out in intensely indolic waves after 20 minutes, smelling sensuous, ripe, and lush, its indoles combining with the dark musks and the balanced animalics to evoke the heated, musky skin of a woman. Roughly 30 minutes in, a thick layer of vintage-smelling “oakmoss” (read tuberose à la Maai) rolls out a forest-green carpet over the floral bouquet. Again and again, I think of vintage Mitsouko parfum in its middle to late stages. Take away the opening peach, soften the leather, increase the patchouli and forest-woody notes, and you have Gardelia.
At the end of the 1st hour and the start of the second, the titular gardenia note becomes a major player. Emerging from behind first the thicket of roses, then the rose-jasmine duet, it gradually asserts itself. But this is no ordinary gardenia. The flower’s typical creaminess is replaced by a surprisingly intense earthiness that goes beyond any mere mushrooms. This is gardenia with humus. Not hummus, the food, but humus the vegetal detritus on a forest’s floor. It’s gardenia that is layered with crushed, wet leaves, black loamy earthy, lichen moss, soggy logs of wood, decaying mushrooms, and ripe, dying tuberose.
It’s as though the bowels of the earth had been disgorged from under the roots of an old tree covered with wet vetiver leaves, moss, truffles, and mushrooms to spew its contents over clumps of tender, sweet-smelling gardenia, while its other floral companions looked on from a small distance — the sweet, syrupy jasmine wafting out its indolic muskiness, the red roses seeping out their beefy, lemony, honeyed, and fruity life’s blood. Amidst this earth song of floralcy, a large orchestra plays its symphony with civet violins, castoreum cellos, bergamot flutes, patchouli cymbals, and opoponax harps, all harmonized under the conductor’s ambery, balsamic resin watchful eye. It makes me think of a dark, autumnal twist on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which makes me think, in turn, of Nijinsky, Diaghilev, and Roja Dove‘s Mitsouko-inspired Diaghilev parfum.
Gardelia’s nuances and focus points continue to change as it develops. Roughly 90 minutes in, the fragrance becomes woodier, more resinous, and darker. The Tolu balsam wafts its tell-tale licorice-y aromas that are typical of the absolute version. Subtle tobacco-like undertones suggest either actual tobacco or, more likely, a very high-grade of solid oakmoss absolute combined with the patchouli, tolu, and castoreum. Smoky birch tar and cedar add to the woody undertones, while opoponax resin adds to the treacly effect. The result is as though intensely sticky darkness had washed over the flowers, dampening what little light was left illuminating the forest floor. Once again, it’s similar to a how a very old vintage Mitsouko develops on my skin in its middle phase.
At the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd, Gardelia’s focus shifts again. The woods and resins melt into the florals which are now overtaken by a rich, deep wave of animalic and indolic muskiness. It may not be at the level of Maai and it’s certainly not purely urinous, strongly sexualized animalics, but it’s no tiny feline meow, either. Instead of heavily urinous civet (and its even stronger hyraceum equivalent) in Maai, this is muskiness with primarily indolic on my skin with a furry quality that sometimes also bears a skin-like textural undertone as well. The best way to explain it perhaps is to compare it to a woman who wraps her half-naked body in a fur coat after light foreplay.
Having said that, though, I want to stress that I don’t think Gardelia or its animalics resemble Papillon‘s Salome, either. There isn’t the same degree of heavily sexualized raunchiness or dirtiness, and none of the rather personal whiffs which that fragrance’s cumin wafted. I love both Maai and Salome but, on my skin, Gardelia feels better calibrated, more rounded out, less overt and obvious than either of them. Plus, the sources of the animalics differ on my skin. In Gardelia, they feel more centered on muskiness than hardcore animalics, and that muskiness is derived as much from indoles as they are from the civet, castoreum, or dark musks. The fact that the muskiness is so heavily layered with patchouli, balsamic resins, tuberose “oakmoss,” and amber also helps to keep things in check.
Gardelia continues to shift in small, incremental degrees. About 2.75 hours in, the waterfall of indolic and floral muskiness is joined by smaller waves of abstract spices and spicy sandalwood, then covered by a light veil of cinnamon-scented, distinctly benzoin-like powderiness. The sandalwood is dark and rich, but it feels subsumed within the patchouli which is no longer earthy, let alone even subtly camphorous or meaty; instead, it’s now equally spicy in nature. Jasmine and tuberose now dominate the floral bouquet, although in very different ways. The former sits at the center of the fragrance, smelling syrupy sweet and indolically musky, while the latter has turned into a thick backdrop for the entire fragrance, and now wafts a green-white floralcy just as much as it does “oakmoss” greenness. The rose sits on the sidelines, while the gardenia has essentially disappeared.
Roughly 5.5 hours in, the flowers change places. The tuberose becomes the central floral note, while the jasmine dances around it. The indolic florals combine with the dark resins, civet, and castoreum in a way that results in a surprisingly humid cloud, almost a tropical hot-house feel where ripe, lush, white flowers lie supine, their blooms open with suggestive abandon amidst mossy, earthy vegetation before being engulfed in a thick cloud of bronzed ambered warmth. Gardelia has essentially become the tuberose-Maai version of Mitsouko, except its significantly muskier, furrier, more indolic, darker, and more intensely resinous than Mitsouko ever was on my skin, even in vintage extrait form.
Gardelia’s drydown is essentially identical to that in Maai. Starting around the 9th hour, the amber and resins come to the forefront and take over, swallowing up the animalics, the indolic florals, and the mossy, chypre-ish greenness in thick tidal waves of opulent brown velvet trimmed with fur.
Roughly 10.25 hours in, the animalic and balsamic, treacly, resinous muskiness feels even plusher than velvet. That doesn’t mean that it’s cloying or overpowering; it’s not, particularly as the fragrance merely coats the skin at this point, but it’s deep and beautifully rich nonetheless. Everything is subsumed into the bronzed warmth and, while it’s difficult to pick out individual notes, there are three central chords to the drydown. If I had to estimate, I’d say 45% of the bouquet consists of resinous darkness and ambered warmth; 40% is indolic muskiness; and 15% is a mix of floral and chyprish greenness.
Gardelia doesn’t change over the next six or so hours. The drydown is an extremely long one and follows Maai’s template of turning plusher, softer, and more ambered as time goes on. The very final hours, however, consist of cuddly, suede-like softness with the merest vestige of something warm, spicy, and musky about it. It’s almost more of a textural thing than perfume as perfume, per se. It’s a vaporous suggestion that hints at the smell of minimally spiced, minimally heated, musky, golden skin.
Gardelia has exceptional longevity, average projection, and strong projection, much more so than the usual extrait de parfum. I had a little atomiser sample, and using a few squirts equal to 2 good, solid sprays from an actual bottle, Gardelia opened with about 4 inches of projection and about 4 inches of sillage that grew to 8-9 after 40 minutes. It took a while for the numbers to drop. For the first three hours, it was the projection that usually dropped more than the scent trail. However, about 4.5 hours in, the projection hovered just above the skin, while the sillage was close to the body unless I moved my arms. Gardelia became a skin scent towards the end of the 7th hour, but didn’t require that much effort to detect it until the middle of the 12th hour. From that point onwards, it coated the skin like the thinnest (and yet, simultaneously, the plushest) wisp of velvet. In total, Gardelia lasted just under 21 hours in one test, and almost 24 in a second one with only a fractionally larger application. For the first 9-10 hours of that time, the scent was deep, rich, practically chewy, and powerful in nature when smelt up close.
Luca Turin was struck by Gardelia, and its “weight, richness and balance” as much as I was. On his now-silent blog, Perfumes I Love, he discussed a number of Antonio Gardoni’s post-MAAI creations, writing, in part:
Gardelia a classic woody floral in the manner of Dior’s long lost Diorama. What is striking about them is their weight, richness and balance: these are confident, classical perfumes that avoid one-liner topnotes and focus on what used to be main event in perfumery, the heart and drydown. They feel mostly natural and utterly comfortable without being in any way soggy. This suggests to me that Gardoni is judiciously using aromachemicals to reinforce the rich texture. I very much hope Gardoni thrives and his perfumes remain on the market for decades, for hearts will be broken if these are ever discontinued. In the meantime, stock up on more evidence of Italy’s revival of great perfumery. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
On Fragrantica, there are three reviews for Gardelia at this time, and they’re all positive. For “d-d-d-Drew,” the fragrance follows in the Bogue tradition of
deep, rich, intense herbal compositions that opens up with some of the most authentic green, like visiting a florist as they skillfully hack away at the stems of some heady white floral creation.
Such an astonishing introduction to the smooth, dense bouquet to follow. And then it nestles in as a honeyed, earthy, almost liqueur-like powder. At first I thought it had read “Gardenia,” without having yet read the story behind the name (which is really quite thoughtful) and was then caught off guard at just how masculine, almost handsome the opening was. But then as the flower slowly began to blossom, it was like understanding a secret at long last. You can be anyone to appreciate this new treasure–it all depends on how it speaks to you.
“Jean B Grenouille” appears to have enjoyed Gardelia after its challenging opening phase, summing it up as a “one of a kind” fragrance, as well as calling it “unashamedly in your face and uncompromisingly real, an experience that rivals that of JAR fragrances.” He adds that “Gardelia has its own undeniable and wild maverick character along with innate mood swings and yet demonstrates a remarkable and complete metamorphosis.” That said, he found the intensity of the animalics in the opening to be almost akin to an “assault.” And, yet, they were combined with enough cognac booziness be addictive, even if the end result was a tonal “whiplash.” His review starts and reads, in large part, as follows:
An ultra-aggressive, unapologetically abrasive and room filling opening of animalics reminiscent of cured meats and leather to an extent they almost burn the sinuses and make one feel like being hit right between the eyes by Rocky Marciano. Honey-laden and slightly peach-sweetened cognac adds further depth without even the merest attempt at restraining the initial assault – think of too much of a naively curious sniff straight after uncorking the booze. Right off the bat this is both whiplash inducing as well as being addictive.
An indolic vintage feel of concentrated threefold gardenia extrait, tuberose and jasmine emerges once the original onslaught has calmed along with the healing help of beeswax, rose and frangipani guarding the transition to come.
The composition mellows and brightens losing its alien and menacing character by introducing gentle woods and powdery notes in total contrast to its ferocious opening settling into a very pleasant complexly supported white floral.
“K1” gave Gardelia a 5-star rating after having similar issues with the animalics in the opening. He writes, in large part, as follows:
Gardelia is a massive indolic bomb that includes three types of gardenia flower in the composition, that wants courage. The fragrance has a very vibrant and abhorrent opening with extremely animalic facets. Very dense, very bulky as is Antonio’s signature, but once settled it delivers vintage glamour and unavoidably artistic pure indolic and animalic classic aura that gives screaming olfactory orgasm to loyal fans of Chanel No5 and Lanvin Arpege vintage versions.
It’s a true art deco, reference indolic, and akin to highest classic creations like earth-shattering Grossmith Phul-Nana. Don’t even bother to think about longevity and sillage, it’s pure indolic and animalic. I mean it. A true bomb from heaven full on kinkiest carnality ever seen.
★★★★★ [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
I think how you interpret the animalics will depend not only on your skin and how the fragrance develops on it, but also on the degree of animalics (or indoles) to which you’re accustomed. To me, it was MAAI whose opening was aggressively animalic, an olfactory punch to the face with feral intensity, but Gardelia presented no problems whatsoever. I share Luca Turin’s view that it’s wonderfully balanced, at least it is on my skin. And I certainly didn’t find Gardelia to be dirty, raunchy, or over-the-top skanky. Salome is significantly more so on my skin but, again, it’s going to come down to one’s individual barometer and baseline for such matters.
On an unrelated side note, let me say here and now that I think Gardelia is unisex. I receive messages almost every week from men asking if a fragrance is masculine or feminine. I firmly reject gender classifications for perfumery because I think such assessments depend entirely on a person’s individual, subjective tastes, but I’m going to preempt the inevitable question by saying that I think Gardelia is particularly unisex because it incorporates both masculine and feminine elements. If you wear or love MAAI, vintage Mitsouko parfum, Diaghilev, or Salome, then you’ll have no issues with Gardelia. Plus, as you may have noticed, all three reviewers who liked the fragrance on Fragrantica are men.
The greater issue with Gardelia is that it’s not cheap, to put it mildly. It’s €850 for 50 ml. I think the hand-crafted, Venetian Murano glass bottle contributes to the cost but, in my opinion, the quality and quantity of the raw materials here are the real factor. Gardelia smells like luxury. So many perfume houses talk about the expensive materials they used and, yet, the fragrance doesn’t exude opulence to me. (See, e.g., some of the new Duchaufour/Phuong Dang extraits.) In the case of Gardelia, however, it genuinely and truly smells as though 50 of the most expensive raw materials were used — and in lavish quantities at that. Luca Turin says that the judicious use of some synthetics must also be at play, but there is absolutely nothing overt or obvious on my skin, and that’s all that I care about. It smells natural, not chemical. So, the quality of materials is partially why I’m leaving the subject of price alone. My philosophy on the price of super-luxury perfumes is that — so long as a fragrance has great complexity, depth, development, longevity, and clearly high quality materials — then the rest has nothing to do with me; whether something is “worth it” will then depend on each individual’s personal valuation. Gardelia meets my criteria and you get a “bang for your buck,” as they say, in terms of the quality, longevity, sillage, and richness, so the rest is up to you. I fully acknowledge, though, that the price puts it out of consideration for most people, and I’m one of them.
All I can say is that, if I could afford it, I would buy a bottle of Gardelia for myself. To me, it harkens back to the classical Haute Parfumerie style and to vintage legends, but it cleverly does so without ever feeling like a copy, derivative, dated, or fusty. It’s hypnotic in its layers and complexity; it’s bold without being bombastic or so overpowering that it wears me, instead of the other way around; and it’s simultaneously divaesque, black-tie masculine, and animal wild. In short, I think it’s a magnificent, baroque symphony that is both sophisticated and sexy as hell.
Disclosure: Franco of Luckyscent generously and thoughtfully shared a small portion of his sample of Gardelia, upon my request. That did not impact this review. My opinions are my own.