Tuesday, January 19, 2010

L'Arte di Gucci: fragrance review

The era of tailored chypres has come and gone and the new genre taking their place is smoothing the contours out into woodier and muskier avenues; yet every so often the perfume enthusiast gets a hankering for something that would be akin to grabbing someone by the (leather) lapels and kissing them square on the lips with gusto. L'Arte di Gucci is such a potent, slightly daring, borderline fearsome composition that would have you questioning your sense of appropriateness or fashionable compatibilty possibly (you might as well wear rugby-player's size shoulder-pads, this smells so out of place today), but enjoying every minute of it, nonetheless.

One MakeupAlley member notes: "If Divine's L' Inspiratrice is the good girl who always wears slips beneath her dresses, pearls and heels out to dinner no matter where she goes, and finds red nail polish too garish, L' Arte wears short skirts with heels, winks at all the boys, and never has to buy her own drinks".
By the minute you open up that vicious-looking box (all black opaqueness and glossy finish) and hold the funnily, yet friendly-shaped bottle you realise just what we lost by abandoning the powerhouses of the 1980s for ever; several nose-tingling masterpieces, that's what!

L'Arte is certainly one of the best releases from the Italian house, past and present, coming out rather late, in 1991, so it's probably natural it's tracing its roots in elements already featured in Paloma Picasso Mon parfum (the intensity of leather and the spiced oakmoss and patchouli blend), Niki de Saint Phalle (the herbal accents, starkly green) and most of all Diva by Ungaro (the astoundingly chypre tonality of its lush rose and the powdery clout). No perfumer is known, alas, so if you have this info, fill me in, I'm intrigued.
If you like your roses shaded, dark, thorny and abstractly woody-powdery (nay, "perfume-y" and very expensive smelling!) and if Guerlain's Rose Barbare, Lady Vengeance by Juliette has a Gun, Sisley's Soir de Lune, Rose de Nuit by Lutens and even Voleur de Roses by L'Artisan have hinted at delights which you always meant to further explore, look no further than the Gucci portfolio and this inexplicably underrated gem. Brassier than the above, L'Arte's prolonged dryout of mossy, powdered leatheriness is enigmatic and full of tawny smoothness.

L'Arte di Gucci wraps its intensely rosy heart garlanded with hypnotic, greenish narcissus into a luminous, characteristic aldehyde burst (evoking half part soap and the other part slightly overripe fruit) like a whirlwind into one of my favourite 80s pop tunes, Kim Carne's Betty Davis Eyes; hysky-voiced, with a swagger in her stride, dressing to impress. Yet the astounding thing is those were more innocent times than today, "pure New York snow" and all notwithstanding. I guess this fangled vampire with "lips sweet surprise" and luminous, deeply honeyed eyes which reminds me of tailored curvaceous suits that yes, Betty Davies might wear, preferably after a manipulation or two, is more girly and good than taken credit for.
"And she'll tease you, She'll unease you, All the better just to please you..."

Long discontinued, it can still be found sometimes online (there is a 1oz bottle available at Amazon right now) and on Ebay,although for alarmingly increasing prices.
The unusual bottle was designed by Serge Mansau and is presented in opaque black in the miniatures circulating.

Notes for L'Arte di Gucci: Bergamot, fruits, coriander, aldehydes, greens, rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, mimosa, tuberose, narcissus, geranium, orris, amber, musk, oakmoss, patchouli, leather, vetiver.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Chypres series

Evelyn Tripp by William Klein, photo Smoke & Veil from 1958 Vogue via Loose Leaf Tigers.
Bottle pic via Ebay


  1. Adore adore adore L'Arte! And this surprised the heck out of me, as I'm generally not a chypre devotee. It doesn't suit my personality, it doesn't suit my fashion sense, it doesn't suit my lifestyle - but I love it and wear it frequently, particularly in autumn.

    I found Paloma frightening, and Diva too demanding, which is odd, I think, because if I test Diva on one wrist and L'Arte on the other, L'Arte eats Diva's lunch. I think of L'Arte being this huge screaming pink rose in an enormous, tangled garden, and it's just amazingly lovely. I'm now stocked up on the stuff (2 big bottles of edp and a miniature).

    I find it interesting that my edp bottle, which is a tester, lists costus, cassis bud and tagete as well as the other notes.

  2. We must have a psychic connection, Helg. I purchased a large bottle of the edp of L'Arte di Gucci just yesterday from Rei Rien, and I got a great price on it because it was a tester. I'd been waiting forever to find a bottle of this. Thanks for the great review!! (Enjoyed reading Mals comments on it, too.)

  3. I recently acquired a bottle of this as well...lovely stuff. The cassis note add a very urinous aspect that I quite like mixed with the salty oakmoss.

  4. Oh dear. Another lemming.

    Sounds perfect!

  5. Mals,

    what a fascinating comment!! (Thank you!) I would never have thought this would appeal to non-chypre-loving people and yet it does, it seems!

    The labdanum is prerequisite for true chypriness I guess, but the cassis bud is probably what accounts for that half-honey, half-urine whiff (Pere de Pierre gets probably more outright naughty urine, I get more of the honey). Tagete along with mimosa would amplify that effect. But like you say it's mostly a very dark, fantastic rose.

  6. Suzanne,

    I'd very much like to think we're psychically connected! How fun would that be!

    Great purchase, enjoy in good health. I just know that anyone who gets this is going to find it memorable at the very least. I also always liked Gucci No.3, which is also excellent, albeit more dry-powdery and perhaps even more sillage-worthy.

  7. PdP,

    we all know you have great taste! :-)
    I get more of a honeyed aspect, but I can certainly see how this could be naughty (cassis bud, as proposed by Mals, is a great explanation of this, it's le pee-pee note!)
    Enjoy, wish they'd make such ballsy frags still.

  8. P,

    it certainly is! I think you have good chances of liking it and wearing it successfully. I recall you like dark chypres with powdery sillage to scare the horses, yes?

  9. Great review, E.! And I love the bottle. This is one that has flown entirely under my radar, but like most other things you champion, I now want to try it.

    And Kim Carnes was one of my favorite song birds!

  10. I hate you, you... evil enabler. I was somewhat contemplating getting one because of that pretty bottle or something, they had them at Rei Rien when I was placing an order (not anymore) but I didn't, I generally don't like chypres.
    Well done, because after having read your review, I found one elsewhere for half of the price and grabbed that. Guessing from the comments, it's not a typical chypre so I'll see.

  11. D,

    thank you! You should try it, it's quite distinctive, although it feels odd to carry that much sillage around nowadays. It's lovely.

    And PS: How nice to be able to connect through music hits as well :-)

  12. L,

    evil enambler is my middle name, it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it! :P
    I should probably send you a sample along to try it out, but you got there through your own resourcefulness. I hope it pleases, it's quite fantastic for what it is. Diva-esque for sure, which IMO wears ever so much more interestingly on a brainy type ;-)

  13. I love this fragrance so much!

    A friend was wearing Diva and I misidentified it as L'Arte di Gucci; they are definitely quite similar.

    I only have a little decant...too bad it won't necessarily be easy to get a bottle if I want one.

  14. I'm not sure I'm good substrate for the diva-esque fragrances. Lately, I've been to all things smoky, incensey, dry and sort of angry-melancholic (haven't found the right description of my current moods). Currently I'm wearing Coromandel mixed with Bois des Iles (ratio 1:2 at least or Coromandel eats all that wood) and I'll send you a sample of a thing I really like (along with some other stuff and Nombre Noir. As soon as I manage to get to the post office, which may take a few days, though).
    Brainy type... well, thanks. Doing my best.

  15. Hi E -- Found a mini, love it, thanks!

  16. Alexandra13:43

    I just wanted to add that EdP(black bottle) and EdT(glass bottle) are very different. EdT is classic chypre while EdP has a more musky base. Notes for EdP are rose, tagetes, neroli, camomille, cassis bud,, rose, ylang, mimosa, patchouli,, labdanum, santal, castoreum, musc ketone. EdP starts like a very strong red wine, but I prefere chypre drydown of EdT, since for this musc in EdP I might be anosmic (for me it is very weak in a drydown)

  17. Lindsey,

    the two do bear a pronounced similarity: to the point where I'm wondering if they're made by the same nose. I didn't want to venture thus far in the review, but I do wonder if mr.Polge had his hand in this.

  18. L,

    you're welcome, truth is truth.

    Oh bois des iles is simply wonderful, honestly I think it's in the top 3 Chanels of all time. It trule deserved the place No.5 has in popularity stakes, it's a mystery why it doesn't get "promoted".

    Anyway, sniffing your packages, always a great enjoyment :-)

  19. P,

    that's soooo good to know! I knew you'd love it, we seem to share a taste for this old-fashioned chypres.

  20. Alexandra,

    this is fabulous information, thank you so much for letting me know!! :-)
    Mine is the EDP and in all probability I get the musk, because it lasts well on me (generally I am highly attuned to musks). Now I need to grab some EDT as well, though!


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