Last month for Christmas, I received a full bottle of Kai eau de parfum (along with a bunch of other goodies) from a sweet southern gal who got me hooked on this scent with some samples she sent me for my birthday last fall. Part of the reason for her stunning generosity was that she knew it was a hit with my nieces too—so much so that I had been planning on getting a bottle to split with them—and she in her infinite kindness and wisdom made sure it happened sooner than later.

Kai is one of the few fragrances in my perfume wardrobe of which I can confidently say its appeal is ‘ageless.’ By that I mean that I find Kai’s dewy gardenia fragrance eminently wearable regardless of a person’s age; it possesses the kind of effortless beauty that smells appropriate for a young girl but is equally striking on a woman her mother’s age or older. Every time I smell it I’m amazed at just how quickly I’m willing to discard my beliefs about what characterizes a good perfume—i.e., something complex which entertains nuance or embraces shimmering contrasts, or that unfolds itself like an accordion—and concede that the very things I normally find fault with in a perfume are those that make Kai a timeless and classic beauty.

Whereas I would normally claim that a linear fragrance is boring, the very fact that Kai is streamlined and doesn’t have a lot of junk in its trunk makes it an unusual and sophisticated choice for a girl or young woman. It’s as if she is saying goodbye to Hello, Kitty! and stepping into a new world that is, of yet, free of declarative trappings and full of quiet wonder.

And whereas I would also say that I don’t care for perfumes that are so simple as to merely imitate nature, it is precisely this aspect of Kai that lends an air of graceful youthfulness to the older woman who wears it. Feel free to disagree, but I find that older women have a habit of getting caught up in too much accoutrement, too, and the effect is less than darling than on their younger counterparts: in fact, it can be prematurely aging. It’s a wonderful thing to mark one’s self as unique, but sometimes the more stunning effect is to simplify.

Kai, while perceived by many to be a true gardenia fragrance, to my nose sways to the side of lily. To be more exacting, it smells like a nosegay of lily, gardenia and tuberose entwined with delicate greenery. Though mostly a linear perfume, the top notes are quite cool and green, though not with the menthol facet inherent to white-floral perfumes, but more like a cucumber-skin greenness. They are quick about their business yet never disappear entirely, seeming to marry themselves to Kai’s steady bouquet of white blossoms that are fresh, radiant and more cool than sultry. It’s not that the sun and tropical weather haven’t kissed the blossoms in Kai—there is indeed exotic beauty here—but the fragrance overall has a polite and floaty quality to it. It’s a dreamy kind of beauty, like an island girl who is terribly pretty but whom you’re not sure how to approach, because she comes from a society that observes standards of decorum that don’t make her obviously or immediately accessible. It’s the kind of scent that makes your heart feel a bit fluttery (or maybe just mine—partially because I connect it to my nieces, who, though almost grown to adulthood, still make my breath catch in my throat every time I see them).

Speaking of breath, “breath, life, flow” are the buzzwords found in big green letters on the Kai website, and I happen to think they’re fitting. I wore Kai today to do pilates, and its lithe loveliness somehow made me feel more buoyant about the whole thing, made me forget that I’d rather be out walking. The eau de parfum concentration is substantial enough to deliver sillage, yet it’s not overwhelming in the least; there’s enough white musk in Kai to keep it diffuse. (Here I should note that I can’t speak for the perfume oil, which I suspect might be stronger. And I should add that while I find Kai body lotion to be every bit as divine as the edp, I also have the Kai candle, and I do find that to be almost a different scent—much heavier on the gardenia and rather burdensome to my nose. I actually had to lock it up in a cupboard after a while; it gave off so much “throw” even when it wasn’t lit.)

Another thing you’ll find at the Kai website is the very long list of celebrities that are fans of the fragrance—which is maybe why if you go to or, you’ll find that Kai gets trashed in reviews by people who consider themselves serious perfume lovers. As a person who doesn’t follow celebrities too much and who dwells on the decidedly less-serious side of the online perfume community most days, my feeling about Kai weren’t swayed by either camp. I fell in love with it in the usual way, through the sample that arrived in the mail from a friend.

Kai Eau de Parfum: Easy, Natural Beauty

January 27, 2011:

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Kai eau de parfum is available from and, as well as a number of other perfume boutiques, and is currently priced at $72 for 1.7 oz /50-ml.

Photo of Ashley Judd can be found on a number of sites (I cropped it to suit my needs); photo of Kai perfume products is from, where they can be purchased.

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