Hiding in Plain Sight, Part Two: L'Arte di Gucci
I guess I am really, really behind on my Italian fragrances, because not only did I not know about Acqua di Parma's glorious Profumo until very recently, I was also unaware of another masterpiece from a very famous house and this time I did not discover it until after it had already been discontinued. My only (very poor) excuse is that the bottle is a bit odd-looking and does not give a very good idea of the nature of the contents; I must have passed it over at some point since it was introduced in 1991. Imagine my feelings of both delight and dismay when I first inhaled the wonderful rose chypre perfume that is the late, great L' Arte di Gucci, knowing that if I wanted more I would have to hunt it down and pay a premium price for it.
I am an enthusiastic fan of the rose chypre genre, and I have even learned to love and admire the huge and occasionally terrifying Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum after being surrounded by it during the orgy of excess and sensory overload that was the Eighties. (Other favorites are Les Parfums de Rosine's wonderfully green Une Folie de Rose and the hazily romantic yet oakmoss and patchouli-rich Demi-Jour by Houbigant.) Along the continuum of impact and strength, L'Arte di Gucci is similar in style to Mon Parfum but much more wearable and not nearly as dense and chewy. Not quite as green as Une Folie de Rose, it nevertheless has a refreshing clarity when first applied, due to top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, coriander and other zesty elements. But watch out, for once the heart notes kick in it's a whole different story, as the intensity ramps up and an intensely rich and honeyed quality begins to emerge. Although individual results will vary, it builds in power to approach the opulent feeling of Ungaro Diva and other Eighties power scents of a similar style while stopping short of the Picasso-level volume, since it does not have as much patchouli. Actually, the overall effect of it is that it's the love child of Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Lancôme's Magie Noire the way it used to be, with the coriander adding a unique spiciness to the whole. No matter what stage it's in, however, it's all about the rose, a rich and jammy darkness.
The twist on this one is that instead of drying down into the essentially dry and/or sharp character one might expect from a chypre, it magnifies its ambery, musky base notes along with the profound mossiness and even a bit of leather, creating a richly honeyed and headily atmospheric effect that still shows off the chypre “bone structure” to its full effect. So many chypres are a bit haughty, even some of the rosy ones, but this is deeply sensuous, all purr and no claws except the ones she hooks you with only to draw you closer. This is especially true in the Eau de Parfum strength; the Eau de Toilette has just as much character but is perhaps a better choice for day wear. I love both versions but my heart belongs to the stronger stuff, and I will be on the lookout for a bottle of it when my small decants from a perfume friend run out. (Of course I now want the Parfum too!) Therein lies the real problem; it's one of Gucci's best feminine fragrances of all time and yet it is no more, perhaps a victim of the frenzy of natural material restrictions and lock-step reformulations that have swept through the big European houses. The word is out and the prices are high if you can find it, either at a discounter or at an auction site. I checked a few places and it's not being sold at a deep discount anywhere that I found, it's usually either out of stock or selling for full retail, and you won't find a bargain on EBay either, so expect to pay in excess of $100 for a 50 ml bottle of the EDP; the EDT is usually less. However, it's light-years better than some current perfumes selling for a lot more, and worth the investment if this is your kind of fragrance. Yes, there are plenty of rose chypres in the world already, but L' Arte di Gucci just hits everything right, and it's a shame that it can't carry on the banner for this classic style of scent.
Image credit: L'Arte di Gucci packaging from perfumedistributor.com