Some time ago, the indie brand Strange Invisible Perfumes had a Lady Day fragrance.1 It was, as you'd expect, a gardenia (Billie Holiday, aka Lady Day, was known for wearing gardenias in her hair onstage2), and it was, as you'd perhaps also expect, big, as in a BWF (big white floral). It wasn't dark, really, or melancholy, just big and lush, and it also wasn't the oddball take on Lady Day that you find in Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire, which Kevin found more Gaga than Holiday.3
Italian perfumer Maria Candida Gentile takes an entirely different approach, and if I can't really connect the smell with what I know of Billie Holiday, that's neither here nor there I suppose, and we're always happy to have an excuse to post another image: she is shown here with The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald (who for mysterious reasons never seems to get a perfume named after her).
Lady Day starts green. It's momentarily soft, then the green expands and gets spicy and sharp, and this big, almost-bitter spiky green is really the only big part of the proceedings; it calms after a bit, and then the whole thing is dewy soft from there on in. The gardenia comes on slowly and never raises its voice above a whisper, nor does it entirely emerge from the dewy green haze left over from the opening. It is not heady; there are no undertones of decay or mushrooms — it smells like gardenia, yes, but not like the fresh cut flower and not like most gardenia perfumes.4 The amber-y woody base is likewise mild and pale, and it's in Extrait, so it stays relatively close to the skin.
Verdict: a lovely green floral that I'd recommend to any fan of green florals, and would recommend to fans of gardenia with the proviso that it is not your usual big heady gardenia. Another way to put it: I think you'd have to like galbanum to enjoy Lady Day, but I don't think you'd necessarily have to love gardenia. I would love to have a small bottle, so I'm adding it to my buy list, where it will languish in good company since I never buy anything.5
Maria Candida Gentile Lady Day is in the brand's Exclusive collection. It is available in 7 (€22), 15 ($56) or 30 ml ($165) Parfum. For buying information, see the listing for Maria Candida Gentile under Perfume Houses.
1. At some point, I understood you could still buy Lady Day from the Strange Invisible Perfumes boutique in California; I've no idea if that is true now.
2. "Rumour has it that Holiday burned her hair with curling tongs one evening, just before she was due to take the stage. One of her fellow performers remembered that a neighbouring venue sold flowers at the cloakroom, so she nipped off and came back brandishing a bunch of the white blooms, which Holiday then pinned in her hair. Holiday liked her emergency hair cover-up so much that from then on, she would be rarely seen on-stage sans gardenia." (via Beauty Flashback: Billie Holiday's flower-filled hair at The Telegraph.
3. I used the term 'oddball', but in all truth I hardly remember Une Voix Noire so I'm taking Kevin's word for it. All I remember is that I disliked it enough that I never got around to trying it a second time.
4. I should point out that Lady Day reportedly uses a natural gardenia absolute, whereas most gardenia notes in perfume are accords, gardenia absolute being somewhat rare and expensive.
5. Knock on wood.