A long time ago, I read a novel that I’ve mostly forgotten now, except for a minor character, a woman named Lloyd. The one detail I remember about Lloyd — a detail even more chic than her name — is that all the accessories in her purse were made of green leather. Her wallet, coin purse, cosmetics pouch, sleeve for her comb — all soft green leather. I think Lloyd would have worn Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia.
Cuir de Gardenia’s notes are simple: tiare (gardenia) absolute, castoreum, and jasmine grandiflorum absolute.1 Aftelier’s founder and perfumer, Mandy Aftel, said the castoreum is a blend of real from an old perfumer’s stock and some made from castor pods. Cuir de Gardenia comes in extrait and in solid perfume. My sample is the solid perfume.
Aftel said she constructed Cuir de Gardenia not to have a top note, but to plunge straight into gardenia and leather, and that’s what it does. Put away any ideas you have about braying drugstore gardenia, and imagine a green, creamy gardenia with silk velvet edges. Similarly, the leather isn’t a harsh, oily leather, but a supple, fine-grained leather with a hint of shadow and spice about it.
The result is a perfume that smells both fresh and antique, clean and fusty. The gardenia complements the leather in a perfect yin-yang, without one element tipping the balance over the other. I love vintage clothing, and I could imagine opening a stiff-framed old leather purse and smelling Cuir de Gardenia wafting from its silk lining.
Despite the powerhouse reputations gardenia and leather carry, Cuir de Gardenia is a quiet fragrance that stays close to the skin. It’s more gentle than most scented lotions. You could easily wear Cuir de Gardenia on a flight without disturbing your seatmate. It’s a fairly linear perfume, and what you smell after about five minutes is what you’ll smell all the way through the perfume’s life.
For many people, Cuir de Gardenia’s subtlety could be a drawback. As is true for many all-natural fragrances, you’ll need to raise your wrist to enjoy the fragrance, and if you put it on in the morning, you’ll want to apply it again at lunch.
But if you know what to expect with a natural perfume, and you’ve been longing to find one with retro luxury and sophistication, Cuir de Gardenia is worth a try. For me, it's moved to the top of my favorite Aftelier fragrances, next to Parfum Privé.
Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia is available in 7.5 ml solid perfume ($240 for a sterling silver refillable compact — Lloyd’s choice, for sure) and a limited edition 2 ml perfume mini ($55). For information on where to buy it, see Aftelier under Perfume Houses.
1. Ok, plus "ethyl phenyl acetate (reminiscent of a bunch of sweet peas) and the candy-like maltol contribute sweet and floral notes to the animalic base of the perfume."