Jungle Gardenia by Tuvaché has been on my radar for some time. I discovered it not on perfume blogs or forums, but rather during a typical nighttime eBay expedition, trawling for vintage perfume. (Hey, we all have our vices, OK?)
How can this nondescript-looking perfume with the silly name that I’ve never heard anyone talk about, I wondered, go for upwards of $250, a typical starting bid for Jungle Gardenia on eBay? I despaired of ever getting my hands on the stuff, but then good ol’ Leslie Ann from the Miniature Perfume Shoppe saved the day. She had the cutest little ½ dram of Jungle Gardenia (half drained), and soon it was mine.
Now I know why ladies are forking over the benjamins for this one. If this was your signature scent in the 50s and 60s, you would be dying to smell it again. $250, in fact, would be a steal.
Jungle Gardenia by Tuvaché was love at first sniff. Some perfumes dilly-dally around, making small talk, trying to get to know you, requiring that you buy them dinner and learn their childhood pets’ names and personalities, etc. etc. You may not be sure how you feel about them at first, but in time, love — true love — can happen. Jungle Gardenia was no such demure date. It bypassed all of my brain’s rational vetting systems and said, “Kiss me, you fool!” And kiss it I did.
With tropical wet gardenia and bubble-gum sweet tuberose bursting from its center, flanked by fresh green top notes and an erotic base of balsams and musk, Jungle Gardenia goes straight to the perfume brain’s pleasure center. Subtlety, thy name is not Jungle Gardenia.
But then again, gardenias are not the most subtle flower. Teamed up with tuberose, and you can just kiss free will goodbye. Jungle Gardenia is so beautiful (and satisfying? does that sound too pedestrian?) that you almost want to eat it or consume it somehow faster than your nose can take it in. I’m convinced now that Gardenia and Tuberose, two of the girliest perfume notes often disparaged as “too grandma,” are in fact two of the most badass perfume notes in the perfume lexicon. Put them together and they’re liable to form an olfactory girl gang. They will be up to no good, no matter how sweet they try to convince you they are.
Billing itself as “the world’s most exotic perfume,” Jungle Gardenia is exotic in the way Hollywood movies set in the South Seas starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were exotic, with all the signifiers of exotic exaggerated and staged just so. (Big flowers, vines, a pile of sand, one coconut tree, tanned women sporting leis.) And yet, I could see how this perfume — like an actual white gardenia affixed to an ordinary 50s hairdo — could have made your average American housewife feel like Dorothy Lamour.
Although it came out in the 1930s, I wonder if Jungle Gardenia didn’t have its heyday in the 1950s. It seems like a very 1950s perfume, sunny and fun yet carnal in that healthy, smiling American woman way. (It certainly helps that the tuberose in Jungle Gardenia really does smell like pink bubble gum.) The 50s ads seen here traded on the fact that so many famous and beautiful women loved it , including beauty queens and Elizabeth Taylor around the time she filmed Cleopatra. (Perhaps it became the perfume that Michael Jackson would wear when he performed — I kid you not, check out this 2009 Vanity Fair interview with Michael Jackson! — because of his friendship with the violet-eyed legend.)
Tuvaché’s backstory is pretty charming, too. Apparently, it was a New York-based company that felt it needed to be in French drag in order to compete with the popularity of French scents at the time. (You can see the American inferiority complex in 50s ads for perfumes like Revlon’s Intimate: "[T]he fabulous new American fragrance that even French women are talking about!”) Tuvaché’s owner even went so far as to concoct a pen name, Madame de Tuvaché. I bet she would have thrown a circumflex in there somewhere if she could.
Tuvaché’s Jungle Gardenia is long discontinued (in its original form, anyway). I have not tried the Germaine Monteil, Yardley, Jovan/Coty, Irma Shorell, or Evyan versions which are said to have taken over. A few ways to figure out if you have the original formula? 1) Check to see if it’s by Tuvaché 2) See if it’s made in New York and 3) Does it make you swoon?