"Real Gardenia" By Luca Turin
According to perfumery historian Octavian Coifan (look up his blog, there’s nothing the guy doesn’t know or won’t soon find out) real gardenia absolutes made by flowers, not chemists, were once available at huge cost. None has been seen since 1938, which is chronologically neat, because exactly seventy years later a gardenia oil has reappeared. It comes from a farm in Fusagasugà, Colombia, 48 km due southwest of Bogotà as the hummingbird flies. I became aware of its existence thanks to Trygve Harris who runs Enfleurage, a small New York City outfit specializing in top-notch essential oils.
Unlike many perfumery luminaries who claim to scour the world for exotic essences but never set foot outside Paris’s périphérique, Ms Harris really does ferret out extraordinary things from remote corners of the planet. She sent me a ml. of the gardenia oil, and a teaspoonful of the butter. The method by which these marvels were obtained is novel: an enfleurage in cold palm oil (there’s progress for you, classic enfleurage used pig suet exposed to vapors from the flowers). The fragrance oil is then extracted into alcohol and vacuum-distilled. The idea of this and all other low-temperature methods is to treat the flowers gently and capture the smell without loss or damage.
I’ll admit one of the few things I am cynical about is gardenia: I’ve smelled too many, from Chanel’s eponymous mess to Guerlain’s cruel joke, that smelled nothing like the real thing. Until proven innocent, I regard all “gardenias” as I do footprints of the Snowman, engines that run on vacuum energy or good wines from Savoie. When I put this one on the back of my hand, I was ready to vent my spleen yet again. For a few seconds, the oil had me puzzled, with an intense herbaceous topnote that my daughter would have called pasta, i.e. thyme and laurel.
Just as I was about to start griping, the most stunning gardenia hologram materialized before me, all present and correct, from bouquet de provence via tuberose to the famous mushroom note that makes gardenia so different from other white flowers. My next thought was unworthy of a university graduate and intermittently rational being. I know Darwin was right, I know creationists are wrong, I know everything beautiful in nature is there because of some screwup long ago. Yet when I smell gardenias, I hear a dry, Cambridge high-table voice that says: “You don’t seriously think this is an accident, do you?”.
Zu Duftnote -- Real Gardenia - NZZ-Folio Gratis (10/08)
Ich lese die Duftnote jeden Monat mit grösstem Vergnügen. Nicht nur, weil ich ein Parfumfan bin, sondern auch, weil Luca Turin so brillant und witzig schreibt. Die Kolumne über die Gardenie war wieder einmal eine echte Trouvaille.
M. Reber, per E-Mail