A long time ago I read an interview with Donatella Versace in which she said wearing red lipstick with a red dress was bourgeois. She suggested pink lipstick instead. I get that. Red lipstick with a red dress is predictable, a hackneyed suggestion of seduction or power. Pink with red is a surprise that makes you look twice.
Sometimes, though, you don’t want to mess around with subtlety. You don’t want to play cute or artsy — you want to get to the point. A red dress with red lipstick will do just that. So will the perfume world’s version of red on red: a rose chypre. Gucci L’Arte di Gucci makes the point better than most.
L’Arte di Gucci launched in 1991. Its bottle, a glam concoction of asymmetry and gold, is a good representation of its contents. L’Arte di Gucci goes on sharp with a fanfare of green and rose, dirtied by cardamom. (Honestly, a fanfare. Don’t squirt the bottle while your honey’s still asleep, or you might wake him with the olfactory racket.) The fragrance shimmers with hints of orange, aldehydes, and cassis as it settles.
With ten minutes, dirt, leather, and the tiniest bit of rot join the rose and coriander. White musk cleans up and balances both the fruitiness of the rose and cassis and the animalic aspects of the leather and civet. A nice haze of labdanum and amber-sweetened oakmoss cushions the fragrance, giving it the blasé, worldly smell of an old-school chypre. L’Arte di Gucci has meaty sillage that quiets considerably after the first half hour. A spray lasts most of the day.
Rose chypres are often about glamour, and L’Arte di Gucci is no exception. The problem is that the glamour of a rose chypre can be a bit clichéd. Black patent leather, a dozen roses, cigarette smoke, merry widow corsets — you know the drill. Gucci under Tom Ford squeezed every last drop out of that cliché. What L’Arte di Gucci adds is 1980s moxie. Like its sister rose chypre, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, L’Arte di Gucci knows what’s proper but won’t apologize for breaking the rules.
Often a rose chypre can feel like the red-lipsticked, red-dressed bourgeois wife (in my mind the mistress is a tuberose like Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower) smoking cigarettes in her luxurious townhouse while she gets a pedicure, but that’s all right. She’s beautiful, to be sure, and knowing and sophisticated, and sometimes I like pretending that's who I am. Guerlain Parure, Ungaro Diva, Agent Provocateur, Les Parfums de Rosine Une Folie de Rose, and XerJoff Damarose are examples of rose chypres that, for me, give rise to this feeling.
But often it’s fun to take it a step further. Beyond the rose chypres that smell like wives who lunch expensively with friends while their husbands fool around are others, like L’Arte di Gucci, that don’t leave room for a mistress. Of course the woman who wears L’Arte di Gucci wears red lipstick, no matter the color of her dress. Did you ever doubt it?
L’Arte di Gucci is discontinued but still available online.