Friday, April 28, 2006

Remembering an '80s Bombshell: Van Cleef & Arpels Gem

You hear me complain from time to time about perfumes being too heavy for my tastes but I have to tell you that some of my favorite perfumes are indeed the heavyweights of the perfume world. My recent obsession with Guerlain Attrape-Coeur has led me to rediscover a little-spoken about beauty from the '80s, a discontinued perfume called Gem by Van Cleef & Arpels. I didn't know about this perfume until a few years ago but thanks to Paula, a perfbuddy who runs one of my favorite perfume forums on Delphi, I have a dazzling dark amber-colored sample in a vial which I'm nursing the last precious drops of. I only pull it out for moments like these, when I need to smell the most definitively "perfumey" perfume, the kind the tweens run from and call "old lady perfume" (let's have tact and leave women out of it and say "classic"), the kind the Bath and Body Works wearers think is as awful as hardcore Punk or avant garde Jazz--unfathomable and not worth a damn.

Many perfumes from the '80s are regarded as brash but they were also very complex and rich, take-no-prisoners-types of compositions, and many of them were excellently produced. Many '80s compositions such as Gem featured cool top notes (reminds me of the opening notes in Vivienne Westwood Boudoir) on a "syrupy" sweet and rich bottom. The beauty of this perfume to me is its subtle spiciness, seductive tuberose heart and a deep, dark, animalic base which brings to mind leather (but it may not contain leather--the base is mostly patchouli, vanilla and amber, a combination which appeals to me). Gem is classified as a Fruity Chypre, and it's funny how I was instantly drawn to and love this particular blend even though Fruity Chypre on the whole tends to turn me off. Perfumes such as Guerlain Mitsouko, Rochas Femme or Yves Saint-Laurent Y are all classic beauties that I can't appreciate wearing as they smell too "soft and mushy" to me, like rolling in pear or prune juice--yet Gem smells like I'm dripping in liquid gold. The fact that I love tuberose helps and again, a bold, dry base is what makes the difference for me.

How I wish we could turn back the hands of time and see perfumes like Gem make a comeback in the mainstream perfume world. While consumers swoon over "perfumes" that smell like cheap aftershave, the last remaining bottles of Gem left on earth are being sold and auctioned off at sky high prices, never to be seen again. And though I don't see myself wearing such a heavyweight perfume every day, Gem is precisely the type of perfume I would wear should I ever win a Grammy and walk down the red carpet wearing a sensational gown.

According to Jan Moran:
Gem (Fruity Chypre) 1988

Top: Peach, plum, myrtle, cypress, cardamom, coriander, rosewood
Heart: Tuberose, jasmine, rose, clove, iris, ylang-ylang, carnation, orris
Base: Patchouli, vanilla, moss, amber, civet, vetiver

Other perfumes you may want to try if you like rich, complex heavyweight perfumes with some sweetness:

Vivienne Westwood Boudoir
Guerlain Attrape-Coeur (Guet Apens)
Guerlain Vol de Nuit
Van Cleef & Arpels Van Cleef
Rochas Femme
Givenchy Ysatis
Ungaro Diva
Cartier Panthere (the parfum used to be my signature--loved it but it's not as heavy as Gem)

On a perfume forum, someone recently suggested (but I have not smelled):
Karl Lagerfeld KL
Balenciaga Talisman