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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

White Floral Queen Part Seven: Robert Piguet Fracas

By Donna

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, 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 Photo of actress Gong Li as the scenery-shredding evil Empress in the film Curse Of The Golden Flower, from

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a lovely ode to this fantastic fragrance. i'll bet germaine is smiling down on you! you certainly captured her wonderful work in words. brava!

i love fracas as much as you do, and have never understood people's aversion to it. maybe they were the timid ones...

my skin seems to love fracas, and it never feels "too much" for me. and yes, men love it!

will have to try sleeping with it!


12:38 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:47 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you, Minette! I hope I have done justice to this great big gorgeous fragrance. There is really nothing else like it.

1:08 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

I love love love this scent and thank you for a lovely review of this; I think that I sometimes use this as a yardstick with female friends who have never smelled this. All of my friends, from the buttoned-up New York blond who wore eau d'dissey to the nice Mormon lady from the Valley who wouldn't think of wearing backless shoes to work were immediately in thrall.

You know I think I need to get some of this for my sheets? Maybe I am in touch with my inner Femme Fatale? Naaaaaah...

1:13 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A big gorgeous article on a huge fragrance. It's almost enough to make me reconsider it. I've tried it several times, but I can't wear it, my skin hates it, and my nose stops breathing.
I never thought of myself as timid, as Minette thinks might be the case for those of us who don't like it, I'm simply not a fan of white florals. Or maybe "timid" is the word for those of us who think indolic jasmine smells like blue cheese, and tuberose is another name for "unwearable."
[Sighs heavily. Shrugs] Us minimalists who are waiting for Bauhaus to come up with a scent and worship Jean Claude Ellena will sit this dance out.

1:42 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Is it something about late spring that puts tuberose in our minds? I've just been reviewing Fracas as well in my blog, though in a much briefer form, in this week's series on tuberose...
Strangely, Fracas' hyper-femininity almost makes it spill into drag queen territory (I mean the picture-perfect, glamorous ones): it was actually recommended several times on a thread on POL as the scent "to bring out your inner drag queen"! In a way, that's what we "bio-queens" aim for when we wear it: it's the red lipstick-and-stilettoes of perfumes, meant to scream "I'm all woman"!

3:23 AM EDT  
Blogger Gail S said...

I do believe that Fracas is a gorgeous fragrance, but I can't wear it. Talk about "not me"!!! But I adore smelling it on occasion, in fact, just reading your review has me smelling it in my head. Yep, I can literally smell it right now although there isn't a drop of it anywhere in the house. It's that distinctive and lovely!

7:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Fracas. She is a law unto herself. For me, this is a stand-alone kind of fragrance, it 'creates the taste by which it is to be relished' like all works of genius. It is THE big white floral, the ultimate tuberose scent. Anyone seriously interested in perfume has to sniff it. It is the most unabashedly sexy perfume I have ever smelled, it demands attention and the woman who wears it must be prepared for that. For that reason, I don't wear it out of the house :-)

A great article on a great scent.

7:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so wish Fracas did this for me, but I don't think there's a floral alive that channels stilettoed diva/femme on me. Well, Datura Noir perhaps, but that's not in the same class of big white floral as Fracas. I did try but on me it was just ... hmmm lush floral. Very nice but no femme fatale, no Manolo booted Mata Hari in kid gloves. My bf agreed, there was no power being channeled, nothing special. Still, I loved reading this & applaud you for embracing the places that Fracas takes you.

10:15 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donna, I can smell the glorious waft of your sillage all the way to my little corner of Pennsylvania, and you smell sinisterly feminine and divine!

Such a wonderful tribute to Fracas. I enjoyed reading it very much.

10:17 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear quinn - that was a nod to something in her article and not necessarily to actual persons.

i'm sure you're not in the least timid, and i know there are those for whom this scent holds little to no appeal.

11:18 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, that last one should've been signed - minette

11:19 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review makes me, a guy, wish I had Fracas here by my side. It really is a bewitching fragrance and you posed and answered a question I've asked myself several times... why Fracas? Why did this FRACAS succeed while others of the genre, while still appreciated, did not retain its status, and I think you answered that question beautifully. As an aside, it's been years since I've smelled Versace Blonde (with the huge Medusa head, if you can believe it my sister was wearing this in hich school) but they to me always seemed VERY similar.. Perhpaps I wouldn't feel the same now, but just a little aside...


12:30 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinncreative, I'm with you on this one. I am a fan of what I think of as some bolder and/or womanly fragrances - Coup de Fouet and Parfum Sacre by Caron, or 1000 by Patou - but I was surprised to discover that something in white florals makes my nose revolt. I did like Creed's Tubereuse Indiana, but I was told that this doesn't really smell like tuberose! ? Thanks for an interesting review, nevcertheless. Emma

1:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might be in the minority..I didnt love Fracas..I LOVE tuberose..its my favorite flower and Tuberose Criminelle is one of my all time favorite perfumes as it comes closest to capturing the beauty of the flower..
I almost felt like Fracas didnt smell like the flower..there is an elusive, yet incredibly sweet (without being cloying) quality of tuberoses, that I love and that didnt seem to be captured by Fracas, but was captured by TC, perhaps because of the mentholated opening..
Or maybe with tuberoses, I want more of an exact scent image and since this wasn't that, I didnt love it?...*continues to wonder why she didnt love Fracas*

1:56 PM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Lavnya, butting in here: you might want to have a go at By Killian's Beyond Love. It's another type of tuberose, perhaps truer to the flower than Fracas. Though I already have Fracas, Carnal Flower and Tubéreuse Criminelle, I'm now considering a full bottle -- it's different enough to warrant it.

2:12 PM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Ooops, typo: I meant Lavanya, sorry! Fingers stiff from working a hot keyboard for hours...

2:13 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Tom, I appreciate your method of "screening" your friends! I should try that with my own top fave scent(s) as the yardstick. Question is, which one do I pick?!

As for the sheets - maybe not this one, but there must be another that would work as well for you... ;-)

3:44 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Quinncreative, LOL, if Bauhaus (the Goth group of course)comes out with a fragrance I am all for it as long as Peter Murphy is the spokemodel! :-D

I like quiet serene perfumes too, as well as JCE, but sometimes they are just not enough for me.

3:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Carmencanada, you are SO right! I just have to wear it instead of the heels!

3:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Gail S., that's wonderful!I can smell perfume in my dreams. Even when it's not on the sheets. :-)

3:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you Mimi, I have the same problem - where DOES one get to wear it! I guess we have to create our own special occasions.

3:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you Divalano. Datura Noir is one of my favorites too. I swooned at first sniff on that one. It's cooler and more mysterious than Fracas, but oh boy does it ever do the White Floral Queen Thing on me!

3:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you, Suzanne! I always wanted to be sinister. In a good way. :-D

4:01 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you, Anthony. I do not recall the last time I smelled the Versace either - perhaps I can find some to sniff if it is still around. All the Versace scents I have tried so far are pretty big!

4:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Emma, there is certainly nothing wrong with being on the opposite end of the Fracas spectrum. I love Parfum Sacre' SO much myself, and Patou 1000 is to die for. They are just more refined than Fracas while still making an impact. (For myself, I have trouble with certain types of orange scents - the fruit not the flower - I smell like orange Formula 409.)

4:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Lavanya, I agree with you actually - the tuberose in Fracas is somewhat stylized, perhaps due to the other white floral notes and the mandarin. To me, Carnal Flower is the most true to life, along with Caron Tubereuse. Fracas amplifies it with the jasmine. The overall effect is big tuberose, but of course if one smells the fresh flowers, they are much more akin to Carnal Flower with its green and stemmy opening. To me Tubereuse Criminelle does not smell like the live flowers either, but I love it anyway!

4:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carmencanada- yes Beyond Love has been on my must try list ever since I read about it in the perfume guide (which is not so long ago..:))..Thanks for the rec!

flora-I NEED to try carnal flower again...I remember liking it- but i was trying too many perfumes along with it, so i dont remember it..:(
The heart of TC does smell a lot like the real flowers to me (like it seems to capture the soul, somehow)- though i agree it has none of the greenness and wetness..Did I mention that I love it..:)

6:43 PM EDT  
Blogger Sali said...

I have tears in my eyes you've moved me so with this review (and made me LOL)! I need to revisit the mother of all White Floral Queens (and thanks for the historical background of it being the first of an entire genre--one of my favorite genres). I used to wear Fracas more often, but it is one of my best friends' favorites. We share a love for La Chasse, too. You are the closest to being my ultimate scent twin in cyberspace, and I thank you for sharing all of your impressions so I can spend my money silly on everything you write about.

8:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

I adore Fracas, absolutely adore it. It IS my bombshell fragrance, the one that I wear with melon lipstick and sexy dresses in the summer. The warmer it gets, the hotter Fracas gets. For me, it is really really all about the sexiness of it and Fracas IS sexy. It's New Orleans in the summer, jazz and all. It's about all of the maybe's in life. And , Fracas is definitely the sound of the hotel door you reopened to watch him wistfully after you've just reluctantly sent him away. I'm not going to mention how I know of that particular sound, but I just loved your review, you really did this one justice! Thank you for making me sweat:)

10:16 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Sali, wow, thank you so much! I am always so humbled by the people who read and appreciate my writing. I just love this scent so much.

And I love having a scent twin too - obviously we both must have exquisite taste! :-D

2:14 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Beth, that comment of yours is a masterful mini-review all on its own! Whew! Is it hot in here or what?! :-D

All I can say is: yeah, baby! That's what it's for, it's all about the sexy!

You know, I really need to get braver with my bombshell scents and wear them out of the house more. Life's too short not to just do it. I am hereby promising myself to wear Fracas IN PUBLIC a lot more this summer, no apologies!

2:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Tania said...

*sigh* I wish I could wear this - but I'm the kind of woman who lives in jeans and can't walk in heels without twisting an ankle! Needless to say, femme fatale is not moi. But I love it on other women. And drag queens... ;-)

9:38 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tania, I think I can relate to your feeling toward this perfume, but I think it has the best notes and people ask me what I am wearing when I am out and about.

1:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading this blog, I had to try this classic. I have truly found my fall into winter into spring scent for the afternoons and evenings. It is a little to lush for everyday wear in the office.
I am so glad that I am finally old enough to have the confidence necessary to deal with all of the heads turning in my direction when I am wearing this. This perfume is evocative, sensual, and heady. In short, it's the way a grown woman should smell.

3:57 PM EDT  

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