The press release is helpful in explicitly stating from the outset the existence of a stylistic variation that can be felt upon discovering the scent and is a bit surprising. Cruel Gardenia offers a relatively spare signature in terms of classic Guerlain standards. If you expected a rich exuberant perfume, you would be let down for a moment before being able to adjust your perception to a perfume that is simpler and as close to a modern simplistic skin perfume as Guerlain could try to come up with while keeping its gilded touch evoking the lush drawing-rooms of the Second Empire, but more as in a watermark effect in this case....
Cruel Gardenia feels like an upscale version of a linear sexy musk veil perfume with a luxury gardenia motif weaved into it. On a more aesthetic level, the scent flirts with the motif of danger suggested by the more deleterious aromatic aspects of gardenia that are stressed but retain enough sense of distanciation to make you feel you are observing danger or contemplating it rather than living it.
Beyond the semantic inspiration, there is an undeniable olfactive and aesthetic kinship between Cruel Gardenia and Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens, in the sense that the composition plays up also, for a time at least, the dangerous, narcotic and in particular gasoline aspect of a tropical bloom, be it gardenia or tuberose (often paired in perfumes), evoking the kind of expressionist intensity one experiences watching a scene in a film noir where a man struck by a dementing fever is fighting the odds in a jungle slowly entombing him. There can be something intense and feverish in the scent of gardenia that evokes a pulse beating too fast and a carousel of intense images. The Guerlain rendition of it alludes to that effect without recreating the full impact of such a representation.
The perfume opens on a lovely fresh powdery and a bit metallic accord with overtones of drunk Japanese plum and some cosmetic undertones suggesting lipstick and face powder. The scent is traversed with faint abstract green accents. The powdery metallic facet is significant and recalls most characteristically a launch from last year, Poudré by Jovoy. Then the rubbery character of gardenia comes through with petroleum, gasoline and green banana nuances as well as light floral overtones. The perfume with time becomes more ambery, less powdery and even gains in “cuteness” one is tempted to say. The scent details become small, adorable, pretty, tender leaving the zone of danger and celebrating a delicate, lovely slightly fruity brand of femininity. The dry-down reveals some soft woody nuances and as delicate innocent violets emerge, makes you think of Rykiel Woman Not For Men.The road to perdition has become the road to a precious, protected and privileged world with child-like references (baby powder and violets).
The white powdery gardenia rendering in Cruel Gardenia is not as mortiferous, languid, and wonderfully suggestive of decay and rot as Lady Caron is. After subtly letting out its toxic aspects, it regains composure in one last jolt and comes to evoke the powdery boudoir of a well-heeled lady or better still the subtle scent emanating from her as she watches a Nazi spy die in the paranoid atmosphere of the Amazonian forest at a cinema d’art et d’essai in the quartier latin, safe and secure, cool and composed yet fascinated.
Although Cruel Gardenia suggests the dangers of the tropics, in the end you realize you are only watching a movie on the silver screen rather than realistically thrown in the stifling and alluring embrace of gardenia. It is a civilized captive gardenia tamed to allude to danger more than push you to experience its excesses.
Its rather close kinship to a perfume like Poudré by Jovoy and the predominance of powdery musks and amber in it prevent you from thinking that it is a wildly original creation as it edges towards the functionality and linearity of a skin perfume but it offers some subtle nuances and a good level of quality that might make you seek it out. Apparently this time Guerlain was not so much interested in being art-for-art as trying to offer their own twist on an unassuming yet popular category of perfume, the skin veil,
"Counter to tradition, Guerlain avoided creating any impression of opulence by deploying the gardenia in combination with the finest and most precious white musks, for a soft, velvety aura."
Notes are: Damask rose, neroli, peach, violet, ylang-ylang, white musks, Tonka, vanilla, sandalwood.
A 80 ml bottle retails for $220. $220, 80 mL
It is available at all four La Maison Guerlain locations: at
Bergdorf Goodman New York, Neiman Marcus San Francisco, The Breakers Palm Beach, and the French Pavilion at Epcot