Tuberose Series 18: Fracas

It would be pointless to review tuberose scents and leave out The Queen of Them All: Robert Piguet Fracas, of course. It would likewise be pointless to refuse to review it just because everyone else has reviewed it.

fracas adA brief history: Created in 1948 by perfumer Germaine Cellier for designer Robert Piguet, Fracas was designed as the pinkest, girliest, swooniest Big White Floral ever. It’s The One BWF to rule them all, if you will. Piguet’s fashion house closed in the 1950s, and its fragrance arm folded some time in the 1970s-’80s (a shame, really – Cellier’s gigantic floral and its butchy leather counterpart Bandit would have fit perfectly into the ’80s More Is More zeitgeist), and then the name was sold to a company called Arpel in the mid-1990s. The Piguet fragrance business was revived in 1998, with perfumer Aurelien Guichard reportedly responsible for the reorchestrations of most of the classic Piguet fragrances, from Fracas and Bandit to Calypso and Baghari.

It was the 1980s which saw restaurants banning the use of scents such as Giorgio Beverly Hills, or more correctly the overuse of that decade’s popular go-big-or-go-home bludgeoners, but Fracas is also one of those big, and I mean B I G, fragrances that can clear a room. Or a concert hall. (Or a football stadium, for that matter.) Ergo, everybody has an opinion on Fracas, and it largely depends on whether you like big white florals or not. I do!

I’m always surprised to see Fracas referred to as being THE tuberose perfume, because it isn’t just tuberose. There’s a big slug of creamy-soapy orange blossom in there, too, and jasmine and lily of the valley and half a dozen other florals, plus peach and moss and woody notes. It is, in fact, symphonic and baroque and dramatic densely constructed. I tend to see it in my mind as being one of those gigantic ball gowns one saw in the mid-1950s, made of iridescent flamingo-pink satin, with layers of ruffles. (The dress in the Piguet ad at the top of the page is far more streamlined than the one in my mind.) It’s so femme as to be almost ironic, and you will either find it intoxicating or ridiculously over-the-top.

tubeyFracas wasn’t the first tuberose-centric fragrance released (that would be Le Galion Tubereuse, created by Paul Vacher and released in either 1937 or ’39 – see Grain de Musc’s post here), but Fracas was an immediate commercial success. It has always been iconic and instantly recognizable, worn by countless women and inspiring just about every tuberose fragrance since.

I have only tested the modern eau de parfum, though I’m quite sure I smelled the old version on other people when I was a child – when I first tested my sample, it was familiar to me in a lovely way. On me, Fracas opens with a beautifully green, fresh tuberose. Hyacinth and a very crisp green menthol are noticeable, but I never get the citrus. Gradually the green notes tone down, and the white florals become very creamy and buttery. The orange blossom is very noticeable to me. Occasionally I get a whiff of jasmine and gardenia, and occasionally a tiny hit of violet. The basenotes are far less distinct than the florals, to my nose, but they are pleasant. The drydown is lovely, a sweet white-floral woody musk that smells like clean skin and goes on for hours and hours.

Sometimes when I wear Fracas, the orange blossom comes to the fore very quickly and the whole thing smells like cold cream. Other times, the tuberose stays front and center, but the orange blossom always shows up for me no matter what. This aspect is probably why I don’t adore Fracas. I like it, I almost love it – but that soapy, creamy orange blossom interferes to a degree that precludes my personal adoration. Still, it is amazing and there is nothing else quite like it. If you like tuberose, or BWFs at all, you simply must, must try it.

For further reading (see whuttimean about everybody reviewing it?): Robin at Now Smell This, Kafkaesque, Yesterday’s Perfume, Bois de Jasmin, The Candy Perfume Boy, Perfume Shrine, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things and Donna at the same blog, just for starters.

Share

BWF January

Handmade paper flowers.  I'd rather have a ginormous bouquet of real ones, of course, but since THAT ain't gonna happen, here are these. (Click the picture for details on purchasing these. Not affiliated, I just admire.)
Handmade paper flowers. (Click the picture for details on purchasing these. Not affiliated, I just admire.)

So it’s January, and it’s dreary outside, and I want flowers. Big ones. Big smelly ones.  I keep hearing perfume friends talking about “picking up a couple of stems of tuberose at the market” with which to scent their houses, but I don’t live in a big city with a well-stocked flower market, so that’s out. (I could special order them… at a minimum $75 order, so THAT ain’t gonna happen.)

The Big White Floral, or BWF, is one of the most polarizing genres of perfume available. People either love it or they haaaaaate it, and they bring out the cross and the garlic to defend themselves (sort of the way I get with dusty tolu/patchouli orientals). I, of course, love me a BWF.

Andre', WWE baddie wrestler and consummate showman, who played Fezzik in "The Princess Bride," was a sweetheart... but he was huge. 7'4", 450 pounds huge. Sometimes BWFs are like that.
Andre’, WWE baddie wrestler and consummate showman, who played Fezzik in “The Princess Bride,” was a sweetheart… but he was HUGE. Like 7’4″, 450 pounds huge. Sometimes BWFs are like that. (Photo links to the book at Amazon, but I’ll warn you that the book is roundly panned by readers.)

BWFs can range from soliflores to mixed florals to floral orientals (and possibly even white-floral chypres, depending how strong a floral presence there is), but quite often, the operative word in the sentence is “BIG,” like Andre-the-Giant BIG, and that might be part of the issue. I’m not generally fond of potent sillage, and I prefer to keep my waft within a couple of feet of my person, but I’ll break that rule for a beautiful BWF.

I’m going to list a few of my favorites, just the tip of the iceberg, today, and will follow it up with more detailed listings, organized by central note, over the next couple of weeks. Here are some fragrances that come immediately to mind when I think of BWFs:

Karl Lagerfeld Chloë, the original. It’s still being produced (now by Parfums Chloe), but it’s strictly an online-stock thing now, and it’s had the heart sucked out of it long ago. If you loved it in the late 1970s, don’t bother smelling a new version now, it’ll break your heart. The vintage is still available on eBay, and the three samples I’ve smelled of 80s Chloë all smelled wonderful. This is a big, generous, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink floral on a bed of woods and moss, with peach and citrus and a tiny flourish of aldehydes up top for sparkle.  Carnation and rose are also present, as are muguet, jasmine, and honeysuckle but it is, first and always, a BWF centered on tuberose.

Christian Dior Poison. Yep, the Beast That Ate My College Dorm. It’s tuberose and orange blossom, plus resins and a few spices and a jammy plum so overwhelming you could swim in it. Definitely a white floral and a huge one (the sillage on this, even the reformulated stuff, is monster), but I can only think of it in terms of deep amethyst. Is that marketing, or is it truly a purple smell? I don’t like big sillage, I don’t even like purple, and I still don’t know why this stuff is so addictive.

Frederic Malle Editions des Parfums Carnal Flower. Centered on tuberose, with a lush, fresh jasmine backing it up, it is nonetheless somehow green, with menthol and green leaves up top. I first smelled it on a winter day so cold that warm breath turned to frost, and it was perfect. I’ve worn it on muggy summer days, too, and it was perfect. It’s never been not-perfect for me.

Robert Piguet Fracas. A ton of virtual ink has been spilt over Fracas, the first widely-popular tuberose-centered fragrance, created by Germaine Cellier to serve as the femme-est, pinkest, bombshelliest fragrance evarrrrr.  Despite assertions of it being THE Tuberose Fragrance, it is also completely and utterly jam-packed full of orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, lilac, peach, and a zillion other things. The orange blossom is particularly prominent to my nose, and Fracas smells like nothing so much as it does a starlet’s dressing table, complete with lipsticks and cold cream and swansdown powder puffs and lavish bouquets.

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur.  Big bad Black Orchid’s ingenue sister, this EdT version is discontinued. It centers on tuberose and ylang-ylang, with a milky, peppery veil over them. There is a light but persistent oriental base under it, with benzoin and woody notes.  I can’t find the right text color for it, but it’s a sunsetty orange-pink color, pretty but vivid.

More BWFs to come.

 

 

Share