I hadn’t planned on writing about Areej Le Doré‘s new, upcoming Grandenia here, but this is such a complex fragrance that I couldn’t do it justice or convey its character and numerous twists properly via simplified text presented as screenshots on Twitter. It’s also a fragrance that, completely unexpectedly, made me think of how Serge Lutens approached white florals several decades ago and his then-revolutionary goal of turning their traditional or quotidian presentations on their head by avoiding Fracas-style, singular floralcy and by playing with dark elements that were traditionally the preserve of “masculine” fragrances. I see the same sort of mission and objective here, albeit taken to extremes.
But this only pertains to one of Grandenia’s many stages. Subsequent twists and turns unexpectedly took me into territory firmly dominated by non-floral, dark, masculine-skewing fragrances like SHL 777’s Oud 777 and Naomi Goodsir’s Bois d’Ascese before moving on again. In essence, Grandenia morphs across a wide spectrum and it’s not easy to explain how it transforms — from a sweet, bright, white floral gardenia bridal bouquet to a sepia-stained, gender-fluid gardenia-jasmine oriental in the same universe as Serge Lutens’ Une Voix Noire before becoming a dark masculine in the style of Bois d’Ascese and Oud 777, then twisting into further unrelated creatures (some with unexpected, unlisted tobacco and booze aromas) and finally ending up similar to War & Peace (I)‘s drydown— on Twitter, even in a 13 screenshots of text. So, let’s begin.
Areej Le Doré describes Grandenia and its notes as follow:
The curtain opens upon antique gardenia gardens. An indolic floral feast sprinkled with ancient spices. A liaison between an oriental smoky oud beast and old-style, French perfumery. Welcome to the olfactory performance that is Grandenia.
Top notes: bergamot and lemon accords from circa 1930; olibanum absoluteHeart notes: indolic gardenia accord from circa 1930; vintage oils of cinnamon, nutmeg and rosemary from the 1920sBase notes: saffron, fossil amber oil from circa 1920, Indonesian dark patchouli, black ambergris, myrrh, tonka, sandal floral blend from circa 1950; Thai oud chips from a 30 year old tree, infused with smoke of sinking Indonesian Malinau agarwood chips.
Grandenia opens on my skin with crisp, brisk, and honeyed citruses infused with an initially ethereal gardenia that is both creamy and bridal in feel. Thanks to the honeyed lemon notes and creaminess, the gardenia takes on a hot, humid, magnolia-style floralcy more than the sort of coconut-y or tuberose-infused gardenia that one frequently encounters in gardenia compositions.
A slew of lesser notes trail behind. Initially, there is a slightly bitter, woody nutmeg, a wisp of dried green herbs, and an unexpectedly leafy greenness that feels dewy and wet, like leaves framing a flower in bloom. Moments later, darkness arrives in the form of dark, dry woods infused with oud-ish wood smoke and olibanum incense; dark amber that smells of dark humid musk and slightly burnt resins; dark oud-created muskiness; earthiness; and, finally, leather that is both resinous and slightly tarry.
The end result during the first 20-30 minutes is a play on contrasts and opposites: light versus dark: dryness versus an almost tropical humidity and heavy muskiness; masculinity versus femininity. This is a bridal bouquet of hot-house flowers dripping with moisture, surrounded by greenery, living in sunlight, but also partially hidden by shadows from dark smoke. It’s bright, sweet, lush, ripe, and increasingly indolic white floralcy that symbolizes or epitomizes archetypes of femininity in fragrance, and yet it is infused with dark, dry, musky, smoky, bitter, resinous, woody, tarry, and leathery notes — all things that are traditionally interpreted as being in the “masculine” domain.
It’s a balancing act that changes during the course of Grandenia’s development. Roughly 20-25 minutes in, the florals explode in strength, sweetness, and indolic lushness. The note list includes two different “floral accords,” which means that there is more than one thing going on in each besides the respective gardenia or sandalwood. My guess would be the magnolia that I mentioned earlier but, above all else, absolutely hefty amounts of the dirtiest, most syrupy, most indole-laden jasmine around. Gardenia alone is rarely as indolic as what is beginning to emanate from my skin. And I do not think that either Thai oud or the sinking-grade oud chip smoke extraction is responsible for the subtle but definite hint of mothballs (a tell-tale sign of very high levels of indoles) or the camphor which soon follow it.
To be clear, the twang of mothballs is not present anywhere on the scent trail that swirls voluminously and forcefully around me; it is buried deep within, noticeable only when I dig my nose into my arm. The smoky camphor, however, is more obvious, though it floats about the background like a tertiary note. For those who hate the mothball aspect of white florals, let me reassure you that it never grows into something serious and it soon dies away. However, the almost buzzing feel and muskiness of the indoles lasts for a considerable time.
A few thoughts strike me during this opening stage and first hour. First, Grandenia feels driven by the same goal that led Serge Lutens to create his iconic, arguably revolutionary, and occasionally polarizing Tubéreuse Criminelle. Of course, others have done the same thing since, and I’m not saying that Russian Adam is somehow unique in this or that he is another Lutens, but Serge Lutens and his TC are what came to my mind while testing Grandenia. There is the same sort of indolic, white floral lushness smeared with indolic smokiness but, more to the point, there is same underlying desire to turn a white floral upside down from how it was widely and commonly done in the past.
Until 1999 and Lutens, tuberose had typically been associated with the legendary Fracas, along with excess, opulence, heated fleshiness, and hyper-femininity. In the words of Roja Dove when describing Fracas: “Tuberose is the most carnal of the floral notes. It smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex—that’s the bottom line.” Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake sought to change all that. They amped up the flower’s indolic side, turned it almost rubbery, smeared it with mentholated iciness, and smudged it with smoky darkness, thereby creating an entirely new vision of what tuberose could be like.
I think that Grandenia seeks, in much the same way, to transform one’s typical vision of “gardenia,” moving it sharply away from tropical island leis, bridal bouquets, or purely feminine, purely white lushness. The difference is that Russian Adam uses heated, heavy, humid muskiness in lieu of mentholated iciness and also adds far more intensely masculine notes than Tubéreuse Criminelle ever had.
My thoughts also turn to a more applicable Serge Lutens‘ white floral, Sarrasins, about which The Maestro wrote: “I took white jasmine and contrived to make it as black as a panther, as black as night.” Sarrasins’ jasmine is hot, musky, indolic, syrupy, and most definitely dirty, and that’s purely in its solo state before Christopher Sheldrake adds the leathery castoreum and MKK-like, urinous civet. Again, the goal is transformation but Lutens is also playing with masculine and feminine notes, just as Russian Adam does in the first hour of Grandenia.
The difference, however, is that Grandenia exceeds everything that Lutens does or aims for by a magnitude of hundred. It’s not simply the floral transformation away from a stereotypical island lei or bridal gardenia-jasmine bouquet; there is also the heavy richness and concentration of Grandenia’s composition, the sheer number of typically “masculine” aromas and raw materials, the growing centrality of that masculine side, and the darkness that it brings. While I never once found Sarrasins to be the “black panther” that Lutens intended, Grandenia turns very black and very pantherish indeed, as you will soon see. I think The Maestro would smile approvingly at it.
By the end of the first hour, Grandenia begins its slow segue into its second stage. It is now positively pulsating and radiating away as a virtual tsunami of spiced, smoky, resinous muskiness swirls around both me and the jasmine-gardenia bouquet, turning the white flowers a sepia shade of brown, their petals almost withered and curled at their edges.
It strongly calls to mind what Serge Lutens did in Une Voix Noire, a fragrance inspired by singer Billie Holiday and the signature gardenia she wore behind her ear. There, the gardenia was stained with tobacco juice, cigarette smoke, muskiness, and booze. There is no booze in Grandenia (yet), but a definite tobacco note has suddenly popped up that skews very dirty, almost like dark spittoon tobacco juice. My guess is that it comes either from the Thai oud or from its interaction with some of the other notes, particularly the Indonesian patchouli, a material which I recall taking on a few crazy, super dark tonalities in Farmacia SS. Annunziata’s Patchouly Indonesiano. In addition to the new tobacco aroma, Grandenia also has copious amounts of drying smoke, smoky leather, burnt saffron spice, and even a smoky ashiness, probably from the olibanum or frankincense.
While it’s hardly identical to what occurs in Une Voix Noire and while the two fragrances share little in common in terms of raw materials, the effect is extremely similar: a brown cloud stains the sweet, tender, feminine white petals, turning them a shade of sepia and transforming the gardenia into something quite different (and more gender-fluid) than the way it was typically, commonly presented. That said, once again, Grandenia goes much further than anything Serge Lutens ever did because its florals become the (tiny) eye in the center of a hurricane of dry smokiness, darkness, leathery muskiness, and masculinity.
As you can tell, Grandenia skews very masculine in profile on me at this point. If I were to estimate what percentage of the overall composition now consisted of smoky oud, tarry oud leather, dry incense smoke, dry oud smoke, burnt fossil amber smoke, and dark, heavy musk, I’d guess they comprised at least 65% at this point, maybe 70%.
I’ll be honest, while I intellectually admire the vision and intent, I’m not certain I’d wear Grandenia the way it is now, at this particular point in time, for myself. The bouquet during other stages are extremely appealing and I’d absolutely enjoy it wafting from my skin, but this one is a challenge for me personally.
It’s a subjective issue of taste and impacted by the equally individualistic nature of one’s skin. First, there is something a little sharp and a little too high-pitched about the smoke, at least for me. I’m guessing the sinking-grade Indonesiano oud chip smoke is the cause. I’ve struggled in the past with oud smoke extractions, not to mention intensely smoky fragrances in general, so my reaction here should be read in that context.
Second, there is a heck of a lot of muskiness swirling around me. It’s not animalic in any traditional olfactory sense, like civet, hyrax, or the costus, but the musk is intensely thick and heavy in body, dark, and definitely growling at me in a way that evokes an angry black panther about to attack. By itself, it would be fine but, in conjunction with the increasingly arid wood smoke, the now thoroughly desiccated oud wood, the tarry and smoky oud leather, and the smoky, slightly burnt fossilized amber, the cumulative effect is too much for my personal tastes. And, in a strange way, notwithstanding the heavy muskiness, the dryness of the smoke makes Grandenia feel austere.
In fact, the austerity, singularity, and aridity of the dark notes repeatedly evoke Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascese, a fragrance with no oud or florals but with a lot of tarry, burnt cade, as well as incense, cistus and, I suspect, unlisted smoky-woody or smoky woody-amber concoctions. Like Grandenia, it had billowing waves of blackened wood smoke, mixed with incense smoke, burnt amber, and immensely charred woods. And, man, was its smoke bone-dry and singular in feel!
The closest match to Grandenia’s second stage, however, would be SHL 777’s Oud 777. As I wrote in the introduction to my review:
Oud 777 takes you on a journey through the darkness of leather, smoke, and oud, before you emerge on the other side in the soft light of silky creaminess. Along the way, you stop to picnic on labdanum amber, licorice, black truffle and anise, but the main leg of the trip is primarily about sharp smoke, tobacco, leather, and singed woods. It’s not The Heart of Darkness, but it sometimes feels like “The Smoke Monster” from Lost put on a leather jacket, dabbed on a little Amouage Tribute, then went to chew some tobacco on a stroll through burning woods in Cambodia. In fact, I suspect there are some leather-clad biker gangs who would very much enjoy Oud 777.
While Grandenia adds heavy oud muskiness, incense, and slightly burnt saffron spice to the mix in lieu of licorice, anise, or truffle, the two fragrances inhabit the same world and feel closely related.
Of course neither Oud 777 nor Bois d’Ascese has a floral component but, 80 to 90 minutes into Grandenia’s development, it doesn’t really have one either, not in any obvious or significant way. There is a suggestion of something nebulously flower-ish, maybe, possibly, buried deep within the heart of darkness, but it is so indecipherable and transient that it’s like a whisper you think you’re hearing in your head but you can’t be sure. Even the burnt saffron, the new and growing boozy note from the patchouli, and (for the first time) the cinnamon seem clearer and more overt at this point. This is not to say that Grandenia has zero floralcy, but I have to put my nose on my arm and inhale hard to make out their presence; there is absolutely nothing apparent in the strong, dark, dry, musky, smoky cloud surrounding me.
Roughly 2.25 hours in, Grandenia shifts slightly as it begins its transition into its third stage. A new creaminess awakens and slowly stirs in the base, either from the sandalwood, the ambergris, or a combination of the two with the tonka. The overall bouquet is still dry and smoky but no longer bone-dry and austere. In fact, the emerging cream has cut Grandenia’s aridness by half or more. At the same time, there is a new goldenness and softness about the scent as well as a subtle hike in sweetness that feels unrelated to the jasmine’s honeyed syrup. My guess is that the ambergris has awakened and is working quietly in the shadows, taming the smokier, drier, muskier, and more leathery notes. The effect is, in my opinion, a better overall balance between the competing elements. Don’t get me wrong, Gardenia still smells extremely musky, smoky, dark, resinous, leathery, and charred, but it is significantly less so in each category. Even the once dirty, almost spittoon juice-like tobacco note is transformed into a more moderate, well-rounded aroma of dark-dry pipe tobacco laced with spicy, earthy, boozy patchouli.
At the end of the 3rd hour and start of the 4th, Grandenia takes this beautiful mix of notes and then makes them even better in what I thought was a pretty damn sexy, addictive scent. Unfortunately, it’s only a brief detour on the way into the long, main heart of Grandenia, but it did last for over an hour so let’s call this “transition stage 2” because it is quite distinct and different from what just came before. Suddenly, I was wafting richly fragrant, authentic, dark pipe tobacco (not the overly sweet kind artificially inflated with fruit aromas) layered with smoky and creamy calfskin oud leather, smoky and buttery sandalwood, balanced wood smoke, honey, earthy-spicy patchouli, Opium-style incense, resinous amber, creamy ambergris, spice, muskiness, a splattering of cognac-scented patchouli booziness, and a fluctuating wave of something that suggests a possible sticky, syrupy, indolic floralcy.
It doesn’t last very long, but that’s the thing about fragrances that I call “prismatic” or “kaleidoscopic.” They throw off different notes the way that a crystal chandelier throws off differently colours when hit by the light. It’s more than simply being a shape-shifter from one wearing to the next; it’s a constant change not only to the scent’s overarching focus and character but also to the very aromas you’re smelling from one 15-minute block to the next as well as the prominence of their various individual parts.
Here, with Grandenia, its long heart stage essentially consists of a constant see-sawing back and forth between its more modulated, cream-tinged bouquet that I’ve described as the first transitional stage and its prior hardcore, bone-dry, smoke-overloaded Bois d’Ascese-with-Oud-777 bouquet. In fact, from the middle of the 5th hour until roughly the end of the 13th hour, Grandenia went back and forth and back and forth. The constant shifts drove me a little crazy during my note-taking because every time I thought I had a handle on the scent and where it was going, it circled back.
What I think is happening here is this: my skin brings out smoky base notes and every time that bone-dry Bois d’Ascese-style smoke hurricane billowed out, it suppressed the golden ambergris, the sandalwood’s turn into creamy woods, the creamy calfskin leather that is often a drydown of ouds like the Hindi, Laotian, or Thai varieties, and even the patchouli’s tobacco and booze tonalities. Everything becomes flattened, narrow, singular, and simplified. But more than one material in Grandenia has a creamy subtext or facet and when they unite, they basically sedate the Lost Smoke Monster long enough for a myriad of other, more interesting, more complex, and addictive notes or nuances to emerge.
How your personal skin chemistry deals with smoky, smoky-amber, or amber-woody aromas will undoubtedly impact the extent to which the dark elements control, balance, or work in harmony with the other elements in a composition when you wear Grandenia. I can only tell you what what my experience is like. There is no absolute “One Truth” reality to how any fragrance will smell, no universal conclusion or common outcome.
I bring this up for one specific reason: the gardenia. I do not want gardenia or white floral lovers to automatically assume that their experience will entail about 20-30 minutes of typical white floralcy before the fragrance turns to the dark side, Vader-style. It may not be that way on you at all and Grandenia’s floralcy may last for much longer. That being said, and personal skin chemistry issues aside, if you interested in Grandenia primarily for its namesake flower, then I think you need to be prepared for just how many different materials in the composition have strong characteristics of darkness, musk, leather, and smoke.
Furthermore, if you read the note list and were hoping for an oud twist to something like Lutens‘ Une Voix Noire or, more importantly, an oud version of Antonio Gardoni‘s glorious Gardelia for Bogue, I fear you might be disappointed. Gardelia was a vintage-style chypre-floriental given in a very modern and dark twist, thanks to campfire smoke, patchouli that smelled of mesquite burnt woods, patchouli-created aromas of BBQ’s ham and smoked meat, sandalwood, dark musks, opoponax incense, ambergris, and about 50 other materials, including a significant number intended to create a strong, mossy, chypre chord during one part of its development.
To those readers who were hoping for a darker, oud and Areej-like Gardelia, let me tell you flat out that there is no olfactory similarity on my skin. None. The raw materials and ingredient list here are simply too different in terms of their olfactory characteristics. Even if your skin differs from mine (as most people’s will), there is simply no way that Thai agarwood, sinking-grade oud smoke extraction, Indonesian patchouli, olibanum, and fossilized amber will allow the gardenia-jasmine to shine as the central and driving focus. In my opinion, the characteristics of these sorts of materials preclude Grandenia from being either a true floriental (at least as I define it) or a chypre-oriental hybrid as Gardelia was, and I think you need to know that in advance, especially those who are compelled by note lists to buy blindly.
Going back to Grandenia, its long, roller-coaster, see-sawing heart stage or 3rd stage lasts from roughly the 5th hour until close to the end of the 13th hour. At that point, from the 14th hour onwards, the drydown begins. And Grandenia’s drydown is extremely similar to Areej Le Doré’s War & Peace I‘s drydown on my skin. I covered that fragrance in passing on Twitter, way back when, but for those of you who never got to try either version of War & Peace, the basic, simplified gist of the drydown on me was: dark, thick, heavy, smoky, resinous, leathery, and strongly urinous animalic musk atop a heavy slew of treacly, darkly ambered resins and leatheriness, some of which skew golden from ambergris.
In the case of Grandenia, I was surprised that its drydown muskiness had a profoundly civet-like, urinous aroma given that the note list doesn’t include any traditionally animalic materials. Then again, the fragrance does have two different, unspecified vintage floral “accords;” I’d bet money that civet— that grand dame of France’s old, truly high-end, luxurious, vintage floral or oriental fragrances — is a major part of at least one of them. (Quite likely, castoreum as well.)
Not all of Grandenia’s drydown is about brown-black, smoky, resinous muskiness inset with fluctuating levels of smoky, resinous leatheriness and civet-like urinous animalics. No, there now also a lot of golden ambergris suffused within, as well as a dry, spicy, Opium-style incense note (as opposed to a Catholic High Mass olibanum aroma), a sort of tonka-santal-like creaminess, and a general semi-sweet spiciness. However, they’re spread though and under the dark, heavy muskiness, and I have to put my nose right on my arm to detect their specifics. The primary bouquet is really just smoky, spicy, resinous, leathery, and urinous muskiness.
Grandenia doesn’t change from this point forth. From late in the 13th hour until the fragrance finally dies away many hours later, the scent is a simple, linear, blurry haze. The only major thing to happen is that it becomes more and more of a smear on the arm, clinging close instead of pulsating away as it once did in a voluminous cloud.
In total, Grandenia lasted between 27 and 31 hours on me with a scent application of 3 or 4 little squirts from the atomiser, roughly equal to 2 small sprays from an actual bottle or a bit under. I’ve given two different times because the majority of the scented smear that was left disappeared in the 27th hour from my forearm, but one small patch closer to the underside of my arm continued to bear a smoky, dry, vaguely spicy and golden muskiness straight into the 31st hour. That said, Grandenia became a skin scent on me near the end of the 12th hour, though it was easy to detect up close without any great effort until the 17th hour. After that, I needed to put my nose deeper and deeper into my skin.
Grandenia has excellent sillage during its opening and its first 7 hours given that my scent application was pretty moderate. The fragrance opened with 8-10 inches of sillage that grew to about 14-16 inches after an hour. The projection right off my arm was about 6 inches but it felt like a wall of scent. At the 5.5 hour mark, the numbers dropped: the scent trail extended about 6-7 inches, while the projection was about 3 inches. At the end of the 8th hour and start of the 9th, the scent cloud around me was intimate and the projection hovered just an inch or two above the skin. Grandenia stayed that way until it became a skin scent at the end of the 12th hour, though, again, I want to emphasize that it wasn’t hard to detect until the 17th hour.
I think Grandenia is the sort of fragrance which will appeal to men and women who fall into the following groups: those who dislike the traditional presentations of white florals; those who struggle with overly feminine florientals; and/or those who prefer masculine-skewing fragrances in the smoky, leathery, smoky woody, and dark musk genres which simply happen to have a small floral component, one which is largely subsumed within the fragrance’s driving elements when the scent is viewed as a whole.
Grandenia is an extrait de parfum that comes in a 30 ml bottle and costs $200. It will be available only at Areej Le Doré at the time of release. I don’t know the exact, precise date on which S6 will launch, but it’s supposed to be around September 12th, 13th, or thereabouts. I also don’t know if or when Luckyscent might get Grandenia but, since there are enough bottles of Grandenia (relative to, say, Santal Galore), I’m sure LS will get some later. I was told that roughly 800 bottles of Grandenia were produced and about 100 or so were sold as part of the pre-launch special. So there should be around 700 bottles left when S6 goes online.
Have a good weekend, everyone.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Areej Le Doré. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.