Billie Holiday wearing gardenia



Remember when fragrances were only associated with upper crust society? Well,  me neither. But there was a time, a long time ago, when the use of perfumes was associated only with aristocracy and the upper classes, most likely because of how expensive perfumes were. Way back when, the fragrance production process required a lot of time, effort and resources. Thus, it was only the high and mighty of the society that could afford to smell nice – must have been terrible times.

Fortunately, that’s not the case any more, there are a wide variety of perfumes available to any and all. Anyone who cares about smelling nice can (which in my opinion should be everybody anyway). Perfumes, as a product have become so entrenched in our daily ritual and for someone like me, going without perfume is pretty much like going out undressed. It was Coco Chanel who said that “a woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future”. Yes, Coco was known to be dramatic but there is some truth in that.

Being ever the perfume enthusiast, I am always trying out fragrances and consequently, there are a lot of fabulous types of scents I have encountered and loved. One of my favorites scents is the elusive and intoxicating gardenia. Gardenia on its own is a beautiful decorative shrub with glossy dark green leaves and radiant white or pale yellow flowers.

Now here’s the deal with the flowers. Gardenia flowers produce fragrant oils with a lovely silky and buttery halo of a gorgeous scent. The gardenia plant is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands. True gardenia oil (Gardenia jasminoides) is very expensive and difficult to produce so most fragrances that claim to contain gardenia use synthetic gardenia.  All too many attempts to synthetically recreate the gardenia scent have sadly failed and perfumers have made it an eternal quest to create something remotely close to the silky and floral scent of Gardenia. Jasmine, tuberose and orange flower are often included in the cast to assist with whatever interpretation of the gardenia the perfumer is going for.

Anyone who’s ever tried to care for a gardenia plant knows how easy it is to commit gardenia homicide. They are extremely fragile and demanding but their richly perfumed blossoms are so worth the effort. I personally have killed no less than 7 and have nearly wept when the buds start dropping off. ?

My Favorite Gardenia Perfumes

In this post I’ll review six gardenia perfumes which are the top six gardenia perfumes IMHO  among the plethora of scents available in the market.

  • Monyette Paris
  • Penhaligon’s Gardenia
  • Tocca’s Florence
  • Rosie Jane’s James
  • Kai
  • Illuminum’s White Gardenia Petals

Monyette Paris Eau de Parfum spray by Monyette Paris is a sweet feminine floral fragrance created by the perfumer Tristan Brando. It is an intoxicating blend of gardenia, lily-of-the-valley and vanilla to produce just the perfect and yet somehow not overpowering creamy, sweetened and musty smell of vanilla and flowers. The perfume has decent longevity, the top notes start off quietly but the heart notes and base come on pretty strong. Monyette Paris is an absolute gem, it was created to represent the “French Polynesian essence of the south Pacific”. It is tropical, floral, smooth and hints at a sensual and exotic lifestyle. This is definitely not your everyday perfume, it is perfect for beach days and summer nights spent outside on a patio somewhere close to the ocean. Monyette Paris is intoxicating and alluring and just one spritz is enough to win you over. To get the best results out of this one, apply it at your pulse points (the inside of your elbows, your inner wrists and at the base of you neck. Behind the ears also works too) and enjoy smelling like gardenia with an edge of vanilla all day long.

Gardenia by Penhaligon’s is an Eau de Toilette spray. It was first launched in 1976 to be recreated over 30 years later in 2009 as part of Penhaligon’s Anthology range. The opening is nothing short of delicious, it starts with hints of greenness and beautiful magnolia. Heart notes of gardenia, jasmine and tuberose grow from the background to give a rich and creamy scent. The scent dries down with the slightest bit of light musky notes of sandalwood and the powdery essence vanilla. A large number of gardenia perfumes go into overdrive with strong, heavy and sometimes overpowering fragrances. But not this one, this fragrance simply melts into the skin and mixes efficiently and effortlessly with the bodies’ natural chemistry to give off a light and elegant floral spring fragrance. Though it is marketed as a spring fragrance, I enjoy Penhaligon’s Gardenia all year round.

Florence by Tocca is a feminine white floral Eau de Parfum laced with scents of gardenia. It was created by Ellen Molner in 2006. Florence is a unique and quintessential fragrance created to commemorate the essence of old-war Paris. Gardenia fragrances are fickle and a lot of perfumers have it wrong, but Florence is everything right about gardenia perfumes. The opening is clean and clear with traces of Italian bergamot and the sweetness of grapefruit. The notes gradually deepen to the floral and splendid richer and creamier waves of gardenia, jasmine and tuberose. The floral trio only gives way to the base notes of barely there yet noticeable blonde wood and white musk. Tocca’s perfumes are often named after women and they have a breath-taking (literally) collection of unique fine fragrances. The alluringly delicate, light and fresh fragrance of Florence is no exception. An initial application of Florence can last for as long as eight hours. Florence has been described as an “energizing” fragrance by a lot of people who use it, need I say more? Wear Florence to work and just get busy.

James Eau de Parfum by Rosie Jane is a fresh and unique fragrance typical of the white gardenia fresh scent. It was created by the Australian make up artist Rosie Johnston who got her inspiration from the smell of cold rainy autumn days in Sydney, Australia and the dry cool air of fall in Los Angeles. Atypical of most gardenia scents which have a delicate and feminine vibe, James is definitely unisex. It has classically fresh notes of fig, amber and of course, gardenia. The floral notes of gardenia blend deliciously with the earthy musk to give James a light, warm and yet sensual appeal. In addition, James is free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates and phosphates. The production process is also cruelty free meaning at no point is James tested on animals. If you are after a gardenia scent that is nothing too indolic or cloying, then James just might be the holy grail gardenia perfume for you.

Kai is a tropical Eau de Parfum centered on gardenia. The feminine scent was created in 1999 by perfumer Gaye Straza. It has notes of exotic white flowers with the dominance of fresh dewy green gardenia. Kai lacks the sophisticated complexity of many perfumes, it is a simple, minimalist scent and that’s perhaps it’s strongest selling point. It blends natural essence with white flowers to give an irresistible and summery smell reminiscent of the airy summer nights of a tropical island. Essentially if you could trap Hawaiian breeze in a bottle, it would smell like Kai. It starts out with fresh and green notes and gradually dries down to a subtle and creamy white floral with hints of musk, vanilla, and coconut. The fragrance will remain light and fresh for hours, even without reapplication. Just like Rosie Jane’s James, Kai is paraben free, sulfate free, phthalate free, phosphate free and gluten free as well. Kai is aptly described as “gardenia enveloped in white exotics“, need more convincing? Imagine a fragrance so irresistible it happens to be one of Oprah’s favorite scents. You read that right, Oprah. Kai is available in perfume, body lotion, body glow and perfume oil, which happens to be my favorite way to wear it.

Want to know what the Duchess of Cambridge smelled like on her wedding day? Then have a sniff of this delicate and captivating fragrance. White Gardenia Petals was launched in 2011 by house Illuminum. The nose behind this fragrance is Michael Boadi, the perfumer is also responsible for the logo, packaging and branding. White Gardenia Petals is described as “a vase of white flowers quivering in the breeze by an open window.” The fragrance opens with top notes of coconut and the citrus/spicy smell of bergamot. Sensual heart notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang and lily of the valley blend to give a sumptuous middle. Precious amber wood dries down the fragrance with a light and earthy yet warm base notes. Like the name suggests, White Gardenia Petals has the ephemeral white floral scent of fresh gardenia petals. This perfume is perfection in a bottle, a bottle containing a unique and classic interpretations of one of nature’s most oppulent blooms. I’m obsessed?

Final Thoughts

The many gardenia perfumes out there seem to venture off in wildly different directions with varying degrees of success. I haven’t mentioned those that call themselves gardenia perfumes that are anything but. They might contain some gardenia but it’s burried under a whole lot of other stuff.

I won’t dish on the really horrible gardenia ones except to mention what a huge disappointment Michelle Bergman’s Black Gardenia was. It was a blind online buy late at night, fueled by my gardenia obsession, a couple of glasses of wine and the foolish belief that I’d love it after reading rave reviews on Luckyscent. I’ve kissed more than a few frogs in my quest for the ultimate gardenia perfume.  

As far as synthetics used in gardenia centric perfume or any other type of perfume for that matter, there is a common misconception that natural is better. Synthetics actually have some clear advantages over naturals and this is coming from someone raised in California LOL. Namely, synthetic ingredients are more sustainable for the planet (no trees need to be cut down to create synthetic sandalwood, for example) and they are often more hypoallergenic (natural ingredients often have hundreds of organic compounds which could cause an allergic reaction vs. synthetics usually have anywhere from 5-20) and synthetic fragrances last longer than naturals, which tend to fade more quickly. I’ll stop here but I will talk more about this soon to clear up the confusion.

 I truly consider the scent of gardenia as one of the most amazing things to have blessed our olfaction. You are never fully dressed without a perfume, try out any of these gardenia fragrances and thank me later. You are welcome.

Until the next time,



  1. Jean says:

    Hi Erica, Your site is very attractive and engaging, a perfect compliment for the subject matter. It is easy to read and takes me back to when I was a little girl and watching my mother get ready to go shopping. She always finished her prep with a few sprays of Gardenia perfume and that fragrance will always remind me of her. As an adult, I have unfortunately become allergic to perfumes. Probably due to exposure of so many environmental toxins in the air, water and food we eat. But when I read your post, it brought me back to a time when I was able to enjoy wearing fragrances. I did not know about the difficulty of making Gardenia scent and the plethora of imposters in the industry. Your post has a very nostalgic feel for me and I am glad that I had a chance to read it. I wish you the very best in sales of this wonderful product.

    • Erica says:

      Hi Jean,

      Sorry to hear that you’re not able to enjoy fragrance due to allergies. I’ve had a couple of nightmares about that happening to me! Allergies seem to be a growing problem and not just with perfume either. When I was growing up I can’t remember anyone ever having a peanut allergy and now there are designated nut-free classrooms because it’s such a huge problem. 

      Thanks for your interest to comment!


    • Anthony Hu says:

      Dear Erica,

      I love your article. You are absolutely right that “a woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future”. I should also add that a man who wear perfume has great future.

      Perfume is not only for women. I wear perfume every day and for the same reasons women do. It’s part of my morning and going-out ritual and I look forward to deciding each day which one I’ll pick.

      Have a fragrant day!