(image, Bunny Blaze by Florentijn Hofman)
Perfumer Andy Tauer
There are generally two challenges to making a gardenia perfume. The first is that it requires a complete fabrication since the flower itself yields no aromatic essence. The second is balancing gardenia’s heady and sweet notes with its fleshy, salty, umami underbelly.
Another hurdle, though, is matching the specificity of the appearance of the flower and its scent. There are a lot of things in this world that smell like a rose, jasmine or lemon. Nothing else smells like a gardenia, and so for those who can see, the fragrance and the look of the flower are intertwined. If in re-creating the scent of a gardenia the visual image isn’t also summoned, then the representation is incomplete.
Bolstering the association between scent and the visual appearance of the flower, and therefore adding to this challenge, is the way the look of the flower and its fragrance suggest each other. The creaminess of the scent matches exactly the matte texture and luminosity of the petal. The creepy, fleshy quality of the aroma is enhanced by the flower’s likeness to cyanotic or vampiric skin. The hint of blue color to the creamy white matches the cool, liquid quality of the aroma. Gardenia has a visual/olfactory mirroring similar to the way sound and meaning echo each other in onomatopoeia.
Tauer clears the first two challenges easily. The top notes of gardenia smell like a particular slice of the scent of a gardenia. It is an abstraction, as any attempt at re-creating a gardenia will be. The success here is in the point of view. It is a perfectly proportioned sketch of the flower, not a photorealistic image. It stimulates your imagination, and engages you to complete the image for yourself. As for the umami, Tauer gives us a dusty mushroom, one that suggests that dank dark place where a mushroom grows as much as a mushroom itself.
As for the challenge of the sensory mirroring, Tauer shines. The scent of Sotto di Luna Gardenia is like a gardenia under a black light. The aroma suggests spiced cream, a cool touch, a bone marrow blue-tinted white. Over time the specific appearance of a gardenia goes away but the shape holds. The precise abstraction remains, and the surface tension between sweetness and meatiness, creaminess and dustiness lasts through drydown. The gardenia itself is gone, but the angular lushness that characterize it remains. A wonderful ‘morning after’ scent.