There may be nothing new under the sun, but sometimes you come across something that is at least new to you which is just as good. This happened to me with two perfumes recently, Les Nez, Manoumalia 2009, and Van Cleef and Arpels Gardenia Petale from their Collection Extraordinaire, also 2009. Possibly the reason that they both struck me as rather new, was the fact that both seemed to take inspiration directly from nature, not the most common source for commercial perfumery these days, and also, that they were both florals engineered for wear on human skin. I find this business of wearability to be crucial in perfumes, and these two perfumes really need skin to bloom.
Both perfumers are women coincidentally; Sandrine Videault for Manoumalia, and Nathalie Feisthauer for Gardenia Petale. They also share distinguished track records. Ms. Feisthauer did Hermes Eau des Merveilles with Ralph Schwieger in 2004, a bestseller for that house for years, as well as two of the Etat Libre perfumes, and a couple of Comme des Garcons, including the Champaca de Luxe. Ms. Videault has done the Kyphi reconstruction for the Cairo Museum and also an olfactory installation based upon the “Canticle of the Senses”, and commercial work for Esteban, (Ambre Indien), and Violeta for Les Nereides. She was coached by Edmond Roudnitska and his one time protégé, Pierre Bourdon. These days she lives and works in New Caledonia.
Manoumalia is pungent. I need to get that fact out right away. It smells to me the way that a tropical garden must smell at night. You can imagine the huge white flowers around which moths the size of baseball mitts hover. That’s probably the closest visual image I can give, but in actuality the scent is based on the fragraea, a species probably native to the islands off Australia. That’s not much help really in describing Manoumalia, what I smelt is a pleasing fusion of tuberose, ylang-ylang and Ajax. Sounds weird I know, but on the right skin, and in summer weather, an original, truly floral perfume.
Call it antipodal Diorissimo and you’re halfway home.
Gardenia Petale has been written about quite a bit. The fact is that American women like gardenias. This explains the success of several perfumes on the market that are sort of kind of if you squint, gardenias. This is one of the very few that actually smells like a gardenia. On me, it also goes on smelling like a gardenia for hours. Now, I can’t guarantee you will have similar results, but even if you don’t, the other notes, a default position lily of the valley and some spun sugar vanilla, are also pretty and easy to live with.
This is not a perfume for the emphatically sensual. Bombshells would no doubt prefer a semi-feral tuberose anyway, so they can go strolling about with it like Josephine Baker with her cheetah, but for the Grace Kelly aspirants, perhaps even more for the Audrey Hepburnites, this is the gardenia. Its only flaw is its price, unfortunately quite high. But then gardenias have always come at a premium price, out of season, I mean.