A refuge in simplicity (Gardenia by Caswell-Massey)

A few weeks ago, I was strolling down Charles Street in Boston, a stretch of shops full of vintage European charm, when I decided to stop in an old-fashioned pharmacy to see if they happened to have any fragrances. They did indeed have a limited selection by Caswell-Massey, an American brand established in 1752. The Living Floral collection in partnership with The New York Botanical Garden caught my eye. Some had testers out but with tape around them, so I thought they were only showing the bottles without letting people try them, but when I asked, they said it was to prevent people from picking them up by the cap and dropping the bottles. (!)

I tried Honeysuckle and was glad I did, because it wasn’t for me—too much like a soap or other household product. Instead, I bought a small bottle of Gardenia without smelling it first because it didn’t have a tester available.

According to the brand’s website,

Together with the master gardeners at the New York Botanical Garden and renowned perfumer Laurent Le Guernec, Caswell-Massey directly captured the molecular scent signature of the gardenias in the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

It sounds like the scents of each flower in the collection were captured with headspace technology, and although I don’t have a gardenia plant or the memory thereof to compare, I expect the fragrance to be fairly true to the flower. A dear friend in London has a potted gardenia plant of which she is very proud, because it was difficult to grow, and she told me that any gardenia perfume needs to “make sure it’s creamy.” I had heard and read that true gardenias have a “mushroom note” that once you’ve picked up, you can’t unsmell, although my friend said hers didn’t have that at all.

Perhaps by the power of suggestion, Caswell-Massey Gardenia seems to me to have an earthy undertone with a slight, pungent mushroom accent. Mostly, though, it is a fresh white floral with green overtones, a bit sweetly persistent. Pretty straightforward. Not very creamy, possibly because that aspect of the flower is less volatile?

To me, what Gardenia evokes is simplicity—and who doesn’t need that on some days?

Boston Public Garden

2 thoughts on “A refuge in simplicity (Gardenia by Caswell-Massey)

  1. I was slightly curious about this line, but decided not to investigate it because I don’t expect to love any soliflore fragrance, and I have more than enough “likes” in my collection. But I have warm feelings towards the brand: their Sandalwood soap-on-a-rope is the only soap we’ve been using in my household in the shower for the last 4 years, I think. I just bought the next one. Usually it lasts about a year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed! I have gravitated to my less dramatic/involved/ultra niche/heavy perfumes during the masking era. I have a strong impression/memory of Caswell Massey’s Almond Soap from many years ago, when I used to buy it by the bar for the scent alone. They’ve been around long enough to say they surely know exactly how to please their band of long time customers

    Liked by 1 person

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