Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia ~ fragrance review

Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia solid perfume

A long time ago, I read a novel that I’ve mostly forgotten now, except for a minor character, a woman named Lloyd. The one detail I remember about Lloyd — a detail even more chic than her name — is that all the accessories in her purse were made of green leather. Her wallet, coin purse, cosmetics pouch, sleeve for her comb — all soft green leather. I think Lloyd would have worn Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia.

Cuir de Gardenia’s notes are simple: tiare (gardenia) absolute, castoreum, and jasmine grandiflorum absolute.1 Aftelier’s founder and perfumer, Mandy Aftel, said the castoreum is a blend of real from an old perfumer’s stock and some made from castor pods. Cuir de Gardenia comes in extrait and in solid perfume. My sample is the solid perfume.

Aftel said she constructed Cuir de Gardenia not to have a top note, but to plunge straight into gardenia and leather, and that’s what it does. Put away any ideas you have about braying drugstore gardenia, and imagine a green, creamy gardenia with silk velvet edges. Similarly, the leather isn’t a harsh, oily leather, but a supple, fine-grained leather with a hint of shadow and spice about it.

The result is a perfume that smells both fresh and antique, clean and fusty. The gardenia complements the leather in a perfect yin-yang, without one element tipping the balance over the other. I love vintage clothing, and I could imagine opening a stiff-framed old leather purse and smelling Cuir de Gardenia wafting from its silk lining.

Despite the powerhouse reputations gardenia and leather carry, Cuir de Gardenia is a quiet fragrance that stays close to the skin. It’s more gentle than most scented lotions. You could easily wear Cuir de Gardenia on a flight without disturbing your seatmate. It’s a fairly linear perfume, and what you smell after about five minutes is what you’ll smell all the way through the perfume’s life.

For many people, Cuir de Gardenia’s subtlety could be a drawback. As is true for many all-natural fragrances, you’ll need to raise your wrist to enjoy the fragrance, and if you put it on in the morning, you’ll want to apply it again at lunch.

But if you know what to expect with a natural perfume, and you’ve been longing to find one with retro luxury and sophistication, Cuir de Gardenia is worth a try. For me, it's moved to the top of my favorite Aftelier fragrances, next to Parfum Privé.

Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia solid perfume

Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia is available in 7.5 ml solid perfume ($240 for a sterling silver refillable compact — Lloyd’s choice, for sure) and a limited edition 2 ml perfume mini ($55). For information on where to buy it, see Aftelier under Perfume Houses.

1. Ok, plus "ethyl phenyl acetate (reminiscent of a bunch of sweet peas) and the candy-like maltol contribute sweet and floral notes to the animalic base of the perfume."

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  1. nozknoz says:

    And Lloyd would have had a soft green leather pouch to protect her silver perfume compact, for sure!

    I’m adding to the growing list of things I want from Aftelier. I appreciate those tiny mini perfumes, which have enabled me to enjoy Parfum Privé, Tango, Haute Claire and Wild Roses. I agree, Parfum Privé is great and I’m obsessed with the effect of choya nakh (from burnt seashells!) in Tango.

    • Angela says:

      Isn’t it funny how a detail from a novel can stay with you for years? I can’t even remember the book’s author, but I’ve never forgotten Lloyd.

      I also have an Aftelier wishlist going. I know I’ll be ordering some body oil before long–probably the pear-coffee one. Winter demands it.

  2. Robin says:

    Thought I would chime in since I tried the liquid but not the solid — we probably should have exchanged samples so we could compare, but did not find the liquid as subtle as your description, so guessing it has a bit more sillage than the solid? It’s not YSL-Opium-loud or anything, but it definitely isn’t more gentle than your average scented lotion.

    Gorgeous scent in any case.

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad you’re weighing in! I wondered how the extrait compared. The solid is definitely quiet, in my opinion, and stays close to the skin.

  3. C.H. says:

    Wow–was getting ready to say how much the idea of a subtle leather and gardenia scent appealed to me…until I hit the prices! I guess I had never really priced the Afteliers, but wow, $240 for a 7.5ml that you need to reapply at lunch, that gave me quite the sticker shock!

    I mean, purely as a matter of art, I think it’s great that there are people working with these rare and very fine materials, and it would be fun to get to sniff them at some point but as a consumer, it’s hard to imagine them being something I could wear regularly… Angela or others who have sniffed these, do you have any thoughts on the price point? Is the quality clearly distinguishable from what’s available in the, say, $175 for 15ml of parfum range (Chanel Cuir de Russie, just to pick one point of reference)? Should I start saving my pennies? :) Also, does it make a difference if you’re a person who doesn’t intrinsically care that much about naturals versus synthetics? (I could see paying more, maybe a lot more, if all-natural were important to me, but I can’t really say that it is.)

    • Angela says:

      The Afteliers don’t come cheaply–that’s for sure. I’m sure there are good reasons for the prices. Using castoreum salvaged from an old perfumer’s stock, for instance, is probably vastly more expensive than whatever the big companies are cooking up in their labs. On the Aftelier website, Aftel writes about how the tiare absolute was a rare find, etc.

      As to whether it’s worth the money, that’s a tough call. Using naturals is a whole different art form, maybe like playing Mozart on period instruments. If that’s what you love, there’s no substitute, and it’s worth at least sampling.

      For me, someone with a tight budget and no particular exclusive allegiance to all-natural perfumery, an Aftelier body oil or chef’s essence or tea is more of a possibility. (Similarly, no new Prada shoes, regular dinners out, or thermostat above 67F. But I’m not complaining! Home-cooked meals with friends, library books, the occasional fire in the fireplace, and secondhand Prada when I can score it are plenty luxurious.)

      • C.H. says:

        Thanks so much Angela, this makes a lot of sense. (As it happens, I love historical instruments!) You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity even if yes, likewise sampling is probably the point of access that most fits into my budget. But I’m with you, I don’t necessarily feel deprived. As with Mozart on period instruments, I’m happy to listen to others play occasionally, I don’t necessarily need to have a fortepiano in my house :)

    • hajusuuri says:

      C.H. – More like save your $5. A friend empties her wallet of $5 bills every night and puts whatever she finds into a vacation fund. $5 is large enough to mean something but not so large that you’ll miss it.

      • Angela says:

        $5 a day is over $1,800 a year! Not bad for a vacation.

      • C.H. says:

        Smart! $5 is a good increment. I use cash so infrequently these days that the last time I went to an ATM, I couldn’t remember my PIN, so check my wallet for bills wouldn’t get me very far!, but presumably I could set up a $5 electronic withdrawal–you’re right that I probably wouldn’t notice if it were gone once a week or so. (Maybe not every day!)

    • nozknoz says:

      CH, I am not a person who cares in about natural perfumes in an ethical sense, that is, I don’t think there is anything wrong with synthetic ingredients or that naturals are safer. Most of the perfumes I love are a mix of synthetic and natural, and there are a few blatantly synthetic perfumes that I love, as well as a few all-naturals.

      Personally, I do feel there is something wondrous about the complexity of natural ingredients, especially the now rare animalic ingredients, that connects straight to the deep, ancient part of our brains. This is one of the reasons I hunt vintage perfumes, which are more likely to have significant amounts of the old, expensive natural ingredients.

      I don’t wear perfumes like the Afteliers every day, mainly because I can’t give them the attention they deserve while dashing about on errands or concentrating on work. But there are more contemplative times and certain moods when nothing but an Aftelier or Via del Profumo will do. I’ll probably buy a mini of this new one because when it’s gone, it’s gone.

      Finally, it really depends on where you are in your perfume journey, your life and your tastes. I’d encourage you to sample some perfumes from this brand, if possible. Ultimately, the only one who can really answer your question is your own nose!

      • Angela says:

        That was a beautifully considered response, Nozknoz. Thanks!

      • C.H. says:

        Ah, thanks Nozknoz! This really gets at one of my big questions about it, namely, to what degree do naturals really -smell- different and to what degree is the preference for them based on other considerations (ethics, chemical hazards, etc.)? While the latter isn’t especially compelling to me either, the former increasingly is–I’m definitely at a point where getting to smell things in that category of “perfume you’d want to set aside time to pay attention to” is very appealing (and–I like to think!–less wasted on me than it would have been a year ago), even if they can’t become part of my daily . Thanks so much for this lovely description of your experience with the Afteliers (and with vintage), you and Angela have stoked my interest enormously…

        • nozknoz says:

          Enjoy, CH, and please let us know how your how your journey goes!

  4. galbanumgal says:

    LOLed at braying drugstore gardenia. I will definitely have to seek out a sample of this, most likely the extrait, though Aftelier’s antique solid perfume containers look swoon worthy.
    I’ve decided natural perfumes are perfect for vacations, when they may be applied multiple times per day.

    • Angela says:

      I like them for bedtime, too. That way when they wear off, it doesn’t matter–I’m sleeping.

    • nozknoz says:

      Wearing them on vacations is a great idea, gg! One would also have more time and attention to really enjoy them.

      • Angela says:

        And if you end up associating them with a lovely vacation, so much the better!

  5. hajusuuri says:

    I just ordered a bunch of samples from Aftelier last night, including Cuir Gardenia. I will report back.

    • nozknoz says:

      Looking forward to your assessment, hajusuuri!

    • Angela says:

      Yes, do report back!

  6. justineantonia says:

    Aaaah, this sounds so entirely up my alleyway – gardenia and leather, yes please! – but the lack of longevity of the Aftelier range is a real problem for me. I loved my sample of Parfum Prive, but in order to ascertain that, I literally had to walk around with my wrist glued to my nose for all of the twenty minutes it had any potency. This makes me somewhat sad! I agree with you about the body oils – lovely, all of them. I think Mandy Aftel is a major and original talent.

    • Angela says:

      I know what you mean–when you love a fragrance you want it to sing loud and clear for a long time! On the other hand (always the optimist!) it means you can wear more than one perfume through the day.

  7. What a fantastic review Angela! I really appreciate your detailed notes and wonderful way with words, and thank you Robin for chiming in about the stronger sillage of the extrait!

    • Angela says:

      Thank you for Cuir Gardenia!

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