As I am far from the first to point out, Chanel Gardenia is not a gardenia at all, but rather a jasmine fragrance. Worse, Gardenia is one of those syrupy, candied jasmines. It reminds me of my favorite scene in “Hitch”, where Will Smith, following an allergic reaction to sashimi, uses a straw to drink Benadryl straight from the bottle. If there really were such a thing as a cough syrup-flavored juice box, I suspect that it would taste quite a bit like Gardenia smells.
Chanel Gardenia is completely out of place with the rest of the Les Exclusifs lineup. It possesses none of the refinement and elegance of its sister Chanels. The only difference between Chanel Gardenia and your average mainstream jasmine fragrance is the $210 price tag. I have no doubt that Gardenia (and probably Beige, too) was added to the range to appeal to women who have no appreciation for perfumes like Bois des Iles or Cuir de Russie, but still want to own an “exclusive” Chanel. If you really must have yourself a syrupy jasmine, go for Thierry Mugler’s Alien. It’s a little less green, but it has a better price, a cooler bottle, and is quieter and therefore less goddamned obnoxious.
The closest I have ever been to Russia is the Czech Republic, on a school trip about a year ago. For a week we visited the concentration camps and ghettos of Poland; on the last day, we were given time to run around Prague. Had we been meeting under different circumstances, I would no doubt have been enchanted by Prague, with its beautiful churches and miles of luxury shopping. But after a week of Auschwitz and Majdanek, a week surrounded by unfathomable death, I couldn’t deal with Prague’s (relative) extravagance. After seeing barracks piled to the roof with children’s shoes, a block of Louis Vuitton and Versace boutiques seemed outrageous. The decadence felt all wrong.
As you may have guessed, Cuir de Russie rubbed me in rather the wrong way. There are two reasons for this. First, this highly-praised leather scent is far sweeter than any leather scent has a right to be. The sweetness was straight up bizarre. If I order a steak, I do not expect to be served dessert. CdR does become more savory as time passes, but that first half hour is off-putting.
More importantly, the leather note in CdR strikes me as much closer to the smell of furs than to leather. I had envisioned CdR as a fitted leather jacket, or perhaps a fine leather purse. Instead I find a woman dripping in furs, decked out in every jewel in her safety deposit box, wearing too much eye makeup and a garish shade of lipstick, and reeking of cigarettes and perfume that went bad years ago. CdR smells “new money” to me, like a socialite who has not yet learned that restraint can be more elegant than ostentation. It’s all too much for me.
Disclaimer: I sampled Cuir de Russie at Saks Fifth Avenue. Cuir de Russie is available for $200 for 6.8 ounces. It can be found at Bergdorf Goodman, select Saks Fifth Avenues, select Chanel boutiques, and the Chanel website.