A naked man crying on the floor of a tiled room. Crumpled paper and a steel dining service are scattered around.
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When I do these reviews, I usually start with a perfume and let it inspire an illustration. This time, I had an illustration to start with. I needed to pick a perfume to go with it. I asked myself, which of my perfumes is about pain?

Smell Bent released Gardenia Oud in the mid-2010s. love gardenia and I love oud. These notes both have challenging aspects to them. Fresh gardenias smell like flesh and cool, mushroomy earth. Oud, at least the low-end stuff, smells like stables. Perfumers usually have an impressionist vision of plants where their hard edges are blurred away. The accords they use in their compositions will leave out the scary parts. Gardenia Oud takes a brave alternate strategy: it turns the scary parts all the way up.

The opening of Gardenia Oud smells like someone poured out a can of a workshop solvent - not rubbing alcohol, but one of the ones Home Depot makes you show ID to buy. Then comes the smell inside a refrigerator, latex bandages, dung, and a hell of a lot of mushrooms. For a while, there's cold dirt (and I mean dirt, I don't mean soil) and the smell of what licking paper cuts tastes like. After about half an hour, something starts to smell like it's burning. Maybe it's the bandages, or some wood nobody checked to make sure wasn't varnished before tossing it onto a fire.

The burning smell marks the end of the hardest part of Gardenia Oud. It still smells like bandages and mushrooms, but it's warmer and smoother. It smells like human hair in the middle of the day, when it has neither been washed recently nor needs to be washed imminently. The wood note stops burning. The perfume stays here throughout the entire drydown, growing fainter and fainter as the hours pass. However, it's still noticeable at four hours. It also reactivates if you spray something new on top of it, but it does this from the start of the drydown rather than from the frightening beginning.

The weird thing about all of this is that while Gardenia Oud smells like a fatal accident at a fungus research laboratory, it also smells like gardenias and oud. Well, the oud part isn't weird. The bandages and dung are normal for oud. But I didn't recognize gardenias at all until I had some fresh ones to compare side by side. When I did, I was amazed how similar they were. I expect a gardenia fragrance to be sweet, and Gardenia Oud is not sweet at all. But everything about a gardenia except the sweetness is here. It is earthy, maybe excessively intimate, and very, very big.

If it sounds like I hate this perfume, don't get me wrong. I love Gardenia Oud, and I wish I had gotten a full bottle before it got discontinued. Few other of my perfumes are this challenging, and none of them really fit the particular moods that call for Gardenia Oud.

- 3/23/21