Monday, February 04, 2008

Gardenia Chypres

It wouldn't be right to love all of the green scents I love without paying respect to Carven Ma Griffe (1946), the pioneer Green Chypre containing leafy green notes like never before. I think it's a fabulous perfume but it's just not my kind of scent to wear all the time--I do love to test it from time to time and I have a vintage mini parfum of it with the scrolly gold cap that I treasure (the vintage smells much better than the new one in the plain ovoid bottle which is soapy). We wouldn't have Balmain Vent Vert or Chanel No.19, even Givenchy III without it. Ma Griffe (meaning "my signature" or "mark"--often portrayed in ads with a man's back all clawed up) was *the* fragrance marketed to the young, with a notoriously decadent marketing tactic involving dropping samples from overhead by...what was it, a plane or a parachute? Kinda scary-sounding, I tell you. In any case, the fresh yet bold, white floral-creamy-woody-mossy Ma Griffe, was called the debutante fragrance, and many years later, inspired by Ma Griffe, Jean-Paul Guerlain created Chant d'Aromes (1962) for his debutante wife-to-be. Chant d'Aromes, a softer, more mossy-floral (to my nose) Chypre, was said to smell like an island getaway (honeymoon in paradise?), and those tropical elements were subtle amidst all the moss but definitely there with notes like gardenia and passionfruit. It seems Ma Griffe was also a veiled tropical perfume--so, just maybe, those jabs at gardenia scents being loud were really ways of condescending the taste of the young in those days--who knows?

Pierre Balmain Jolie Madame (1953), in the days before "Ms.", so obviously marketed to the older women, is a powerperfume, a potent gardenia-leather, unmistakably Chypre. It's very dry and heavy, not a pretty scent per se but gorgeous, bold, strong yet voluptuously sweet and intensely animalic-floral (like Carolina Herrera or Creed Tubereuse Indiana)--a heady, elegant gardenia, I'd say. A tiny dab of EDT will wear as strongly as many parfums. The gardenia in it is the retro kind you'll find in Ma Griffe or Chant d'Aromes. Incidentally, the chemical used to make this gardenia note is a chemical compound that's naturally found in gardenia absolute (reference: Michael Edwards Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances). I haven't found out definitively why gardenia absolute isn't being used in perfumery but I'd deduce it to the same reason(s) lily of the valley oil isn't used--because the yield is poor and/or the natural oil doesn't smell good enough to use for most perfumers. Without this retro gardenia note, we wouldn't have Ma Griffe, and neither would we have the whole family of retro gardenias out there including the green Fruity Chypre, Diorama (1949) which smells like Ma Griffe to me. It's interesting to see how many Chypres actually were sweet gardenias underneath all the hard exterior. We may grow older and become women, but the inner girl in us loves all those sweet things we're taught to forsake forever. Thank goodness for perfumes that let us relive every moment of our precious lives all over again.

(Image sources: Now Smell This blog,,,, 1000Fragrances blog. Jolie Madame ad, 1965 by René Gruau)