White Floral Queen Part Seven: Robert Piguet Fracas
Well, it will come as no surprise to white floral aficionados everywhere that Fracas is on my list. It’s the one everyone knows and either loves or dislikes. It’s not a take it leave it perfume; it engenders strong opinions in those who have experienced it. Those who think they know me well may be a little taken aback by how much I love it. Why is that? This is THE ultimate diva/femme fatale fragrance; it’s the scent of the woman everyone, including me, secretly wants to be. It steals scenes and upends the status quo. It leaves its victims (i.e. men) wondering just what happened to their judgment and good sense. It is the perfume for women who know exactly what they want and helps them to get it, and scruples be damned. In short, it is for the woman I am only in my fondest daydreams. When I wear it, I get to be her for just a little while – the one who causes all the commotion and whose heart is never broken by the one who got away – because she herself is the cause of the heartbreak, the longed-for focus of another’s desire. Who would not want to walk in her stilettos, however briefly?
The aptly named Fracas was released in 1948 by the Parisian house of couturier Robert Piguet, who catered to a very exclusive clientele. (The perfumer who created it was Germaine Cellier, who did the great and fierce Bandit for the house several years earlier, and who would go on to compose one of my other all-time favorites, Balmain’s Jolie Madame, in 1953.) According to osMoz.com, Fracas was the harbinger of a fragrance sub-family called floral-orange tuberose, which now includes such popular scents as the original Chloe eponymous fragrance, Kenzo by Kenzo, Jardins de Bagatelle and Mahora by Guerlain, Amarige by Givenchy, Gardénia Passion by Annick Goutal and even the ethereal La Chasse au Papillons by L’Artisan, and believe it or not, Poison by Dior. Fracas was the mother of them all, and it has not only stood the test of time, but currently enjoys great popularity that has never waned. It has been somewhat reformulated since its original inception, having been “relaunched” in 1996, but unlike some others, it has not lost its essential character. I have tried both versions and I am equally happy with each.
Why does this perfume persist when so many others of its vintage have fallen into obscurity? It is lush, exotic, sexy and over-the-top. It makes no apologies for what it is - an unabashed celebration of femininity. Overdose amounts of tuberose and orange blossom are underlaid by heavily indolic jasmine, with a leavening and unexpected counterpoint of cooler jonquil and lily-of-the-valley. This perfume means business, and that business is seduction. There is nothing coy or bashful about it. At the time of its creation, most perfumes created for women were quite strong; there was no market research driven by the youthful consumers of today who buy transparent and faceless “clean”, “fresh” and “aquatic” scents on a massive scale. Perfume was made for grownups back then. Celebrities (or anyone else, for that matter) did not go out in public wearing baseball caps, torn t-shirts and baggy sweat pants. Adults dressed the part, and that included adult-strength perfume. Some were of a more buttoned-down and formal style, while others were made in the manner of Fracas – womanly and profoundly complicated.
Upon first contact with the nose, Fracas is languid and sweet. Opening with a burst of bergamot and a candied note of mandarin orange, as it develops on skin it gathers strength - look up “heady” in the dictionary and there is its picture. Somewhere from its depths come violet, iris and vetiver notes that just add to the impact; way down at the bottom lurk sandalwood and oakmoss. A spicy fillip of carnation gives the mix an additional kick and there is even some peach to make it even sweeter and creamier. The centerpiece of this perfume is the tuberose, however. It is a big, blowsy and flagrant accord that takes no prisoners. For a scent that is not technically a tuberose soliflore, it has more of it than most, and it’s spectacular. The dreamily tropical tuberose flower is not capable of playing second fiddle to anything else anyway, and here it has been given free rein to weave its intoxicating spell. Its modern descendants such as Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower and Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle can trace their style right back to the source of their inspiration – without Fracas they very likely would not have been possible.
The first time I ever tried Fracas, I was really too young to wear it with any sort of confidence. It was just so overwhelming to me back then; I could not imagine what would be an appropriate occasion for wearing it. Much later I did buy it – a big bottle – and I still wear this fragrance today, but I am really careful about where and when I deploy this intensely sensuous and penetrating perfume that some people are actually afraid to wear. It radiates both sweetness and danger, and it should not be worn by the timid among us. I was quite shy and somewhat of a tomboy when I was younger, so a perfume like this was out of the question. Tuberose and flannel do not go together at all. Now that I have attained a certain age and I know who I am, I have no fear of wearing Fracas. As I no longer hide behind unisex clothing and tennis shoes, a uniform that said, “don’t notice me,” neither do I have any qualms about embracing my “girly” side these days. (Female empowerment does not mean having to dress and act like a man.) Since I work in an environment where wearing Fracas for daytime would not be appropriate, I save it for special evenings and for when I am at home, at which time I am apt to spritz it on myself in alarming quantities, and even spray my sheets and pillows with it at bedtime to encourage sweet dreams. (I do this with Jean Patou’s Joy too, and it really seems to work!)
The lasting power of Fracas is not only a matter of its popularity – it also applies to its longevity on the skin. If you put it on one day, you will still have it on the next – perhaps even after a shower it will still be apparent. For most people the Eau de Toilette will be plenty strong. If you really want to knock ‘em dead, there is Eau de Parfum or concentrated Parfum, and if you dare, a rich and redolent solid Parfum. And if you want your fragrance to come in all sorts of accessory forms, you are really in luck with Fracas; from body lotion and creams to candles to bath sets to dusting powder and boxed gift sets, you can get it any way you like it, a testament to its unwavering iconic status. (Check out the selection at the online boutique Luscious Cargo for an idea of what’s out there - It is also available in major department stores and many other online stores.)
Image credits: Fracas bottle from PerfumeX.com. Photo of actress Gong Li as the scenery-shredding evil Empress in the film Curse Of The Golden Flower, from imageshack.us.