Nine years ago, Nashvillian Joseph Gregory stood in line at the Smithsonian Institution with thousands of other patrons to get a glimpse of the Hope Diamond. He knew he’d be waiting for a while: Not only is the 45-carat stoneestimated to be worth a quarter of a billion dollarsthe most valuable diamond on the planet, it’s also the most popular exhibit in the world.
But Gregory’s interest went beyond mere curiosity: His great grandmother, Evalyn Walsh McLean, once owned the famous jewel. ”The Hope Diamond,“ says Gregory, ”has colored my entire life and my family’s.“ And depending on how superstitious a person is, it’s not difficult to believe that McLean may have been destroyed by the diamond’s legendary cursewhich is as notorious as the stone’s remarkable value.
Reputed to have been stolen from Sita’s idol in India, the diamond has been associated with a curse proclaiming that anyone who either touched or owned it thereafter would suffer terrible consequences. Brought to France in the late 17th century by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a merchant adventurer, the diamond was subsequently purchased by Louis XIVwho was later beheaded. Upon his return trip to India, Tavernier was massacred by wild dogs.
The stone was lost and recovered over the next several hundred years, passing through the hands of numerous owners, many of whom met bad ends. (Actress Folies Bergere received it as a gift from an Eastern European prince, who subsequently shot her; Abdul-Hamid II was overthrown in 1909 a few months after taking ownership of the stone.) Finally, in 1911, it was sold by Cartier to Irish mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean.
McLean disregarded the curse when she purchased the diamond, stating, in classic American fashion, ”Bad luck objects are for me lucky...the luckiest thing about the Hope Diamond is that if I ever had to, I could hock it.“ She then committed much of her time to philanthropic efforts, using the diamond as an attraction and committing herself to reversing its legendary ill effects.
”She saw reversing the curse as a challenge,“ states Gregory, whose Hope Diamond-blue eyes get wide with excitement whenever he talks about his family heirloom.
In the meantime, McLean’s husband, Ned, a newspaper magnate, managed to ruin them both financially with his gambling, dying ignominiously in an insane asylum in 1942. Their first son, Vincent, was killed at the age of 9 by a car as he crossed the street in front of his house. Their daughter, Evalyn, died at 24 from an overdose of sleeping pills, which left her surviving daughter, Mamie, to be raised by her godfather, J. Edgar Hoover. (What more proof of a curse does a person need?) McLean herself died destitute. According to accounts, she was wearing all of her jewelry on her deathbed while plaster fell from her walls. The surviving family was so cash-poor after her death that the diamond was sold to Harry Winston in 1947. He later donated it to the Smithsonian where it remains safely encasedor encased for the sake of others’ safety.
So what did great-grandson Joseph Gregory do with an incredible story like this? He did what any strapping, ambitious young man would do with it: He invented a new perfume.
Gregory, who never believed in the curse himself, has been working in the fragrance industry for years, starting as a perfume model at Caesar’s Man, then working at Boucheron at Castner-Knott, where he oversaw eight stores. He always knew he wanted to create his own fragrance and that he wanted it to have something to do with his great-grandmother and her most famous possession.
”What do people know about?“ asks Gregory. ”Well, they know about the Hope Diamond. That’s 55 percent of my marketing.“
Named ”Fable,“ Gregory wanted the fragrance to be grounded in the Hope Diamond’s history while still retaining its inspiration from his great-grandmother’s personality.
”I wanted to take a flower from every country the Hope Diamond was once housed in and combine it into the perfume. And I also wanted to incorporate my great-grandmother into this. So I told the chemist that I wanted to take [Evalyn’s] favorite dessert, which was crème brûlée, and I wanted it to be the heart of the fragrance. And you know what? He did it!“
With business partner Chuck Rapp, Gregory formed a company, Hope Diamond Collection, Inc., and so far, Fable has been a tremendous success. Within nine months of its debut, Fable was nominated for a FIFI award (the Oscar of the perfume industry), and can be found currently in 35 stores nationwide, from Tiba here in Nashville to Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York. Gregory’s goal for the line is that it become ”a master brand, like Gucci, Bulgari, or Boucheron,“ and is worn by such famous women as Tipper Gore and Hillary Clinton (good luck or curse?). To further promote the fragrance, Gregory has put together a compilation of his great-grandmother’s writings, Queen of Diamonds, that will be released this fall and cross-marketed with Fable. Gregory is passionate about the project.
”We’re teaching the public about history and letting them feel something in their hands that they can relate to. And what women can relate to is fragrances, diamonds, money, and power. And owning Fable is the next best thing.“
Mondo: from the Italian: World. Are you Mondo? Know someone who is? Call Adam at 244-7989, ext. 405.
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