Warning Shot: Robert Piguet Fracas

Well, last week were the rains, and they are now for the moment, gone. The Santa Ana winds are coming up, oddly not as hot as they would be in a Chandler novel, but I am told it’s the direction they come from and not the temps that make them Santa Anas. The air has a bit of a bite to it, the highs are in the low 60’s and the air is crisp and clean, scrubbed of all the schmutz man and nature normally adds. Driving on Mulholland yesterday (the parts that are open) you could see across the Valley clear as a bell to the snow-capped mountains far in the distance. In my gap hoodie, top down, “Wait,, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on KPCC enjoying the brisk air. I should have been wearing something like Eau Sauvage or Aqua di Parma.

I was wearing Fracas.

I had brought out the last bit of a sample of Fracas during the rainstorms to wear at bedtime. I enjoy putting something on before I go to sleep, perhaps (so I tell myself) because certain ingredients and scents engender comfort for me: Muscs Kublai Kahn is a lovers embrace for me, the long gone AG Lavender was one that I spritzed before bed for years- it may have actually had Ambien as an ingredient so efficacious was it’s snooze-inducing cloud.

Fracas is slightly different: I do find it comforting in a way but it is also something that I kind of hesitate to wear out of the house. Jake Gilles in “Sunset Boulevard” said of Norma Desmondshe’d smell of tuberose, which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot.” “Sunset Blvd” came out n 1950, Fracas in ’48. Hmm. I was re-reading Dominick Dunne’s The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and what does the sexually voracious, scheming, and ultimately murderous Ann Grenville* wear? Fracas.

So, I went to Surrender to Chance and got a decent decant of vintage Fracas and Tubereuse Criminelle, thinking I would do a back to back comparo. The package arrived Thursday and I haven’t touched the Serge. That will be next week. I am having too much fun with Fracas.

Fracas was the third scent that Germaine Cellier created for Robert Piguet, the first being the incomparable Bandit in 1944 then Visa in 1945. She is also responsible for Vent Vert and Jolie Madame for Balmain as well as scents for Nina Ricci and Balenciaga. Fracas was an instant hit, still worn to this day (despite reformulations and it likely being Patient Zero in the War Against Perfume in the workplace.)

What I had forgotten about Fracas is the innocence of it’s opening: the sparkly bergamot and orange blossom are like the procession of the bride down the aisle: all dressed in white, glowing, ready to plight her troth under the eyes of god and her family.

The tuberose is the honeymoon.

The tuberose is what scares people here. This isn’t trying to be self-effacing or coy, It’s a big, buttery TUBEROSE who sweeps in and demands attention. It might have been 1948 and the New Look and Poodle haircuts were in for women, but Fracas pretty much said “you’re mine now, buddy, so just sit back and strap in..” There is zero here that’s shy or self-effacing. Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck were stars that come to mind for me: they might have put on the new-look dresses and cut their hair but they still radiated that sling-on-a-mink attitude that said they would caress you or plug you depending on how they felt at the moment. There’s no middle ground to Fracas. There’s really no “just a dab” to it either- I introduced it to a boss of mine and she adored it but didn’t dare wear it to work until one day when she thought just a pinprick would be okay. Every time she entered or left a room that day sly little puffs of tuberose would sneak out like heat lightning. I loved it but she decided to leave that one for after work and her husband.

Ann Woodward by Salvador Dali

So, would I wear it? Well, I guess I am wearing it, so yes. Would I wear it out? Probably not. I find tuberose in general to be one of those accords that are better left to ladies unless it’s far down the list of ingredients. On me Fracas almost feels like drag- unlike victory red lipstick I don’t have to worry about smearing it and unlike that New Look gown I will be able to both breathe and retain my floating ribs after putting it on. Unlike drag, Fracas is not visible to the naked eye, so on days like Sunday when I am only interacting with the steering wheel and he drive-through window I can say damn the torpedoes, put the top down and let my inner Film Noir anti-heroine fly. I suggest you do the same.

*The book by Dunne is a fun read, but the real story is more shocking. Ann Woodward grew up poor in Kansas and managed to marry into the very, very Woodward family of New York. After a party for the Duchess of Windsor, Ann accidentally shot and killed her husband. Rumor was that she did it deliberately and was kept out of prison by her husbands family to avoid further scandal. She was however convicted in the court of opinion and disappeared from her post in New York society. Upon finding out that Truman Capote was resurrecting the story to be published in Esquire (rumor is that Truman sent her an advance copy) she killed herself. Dunne’s book goes with Truman’s theories and mentions some of her real-life antics, such as commissioning, then rejecting and refusing to pay for a portrait by Salvador Dali. She and her husband found the portrait repulsive; some of her friends and most of her detractors found it pretty accurate. “Feud” will do a season two about Capote and tough on this with Demi Moore playing Ann Woodward.

Fracas is available at the usual suspects. I got my sample of vintage from Surrender to Chance. Images are from Pixels and the Dali museum

  • Portia says:

    LOVED The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and Fracas.
    Didn’t know it was based in truth, OR that the Dali was real. So cool.
    Portia xx

  • Maya says:

    Fracas was/is one of those, rare to me, love at first sniff. I am a big fan of all the big white flowers. Fracas really is special as is Germaine Cellier. What a perfumer! She also created another one of my perfume loves – Jolie Madame.

  • Musette says:

    …. and Germaine Cellier… swoon. Her very name causes my olfactories to shiver! What an oeuvre!

  • Musette says:

    Welp! THIS was a fascinating read. I knew about the Woodwards but only the Dali part. sigh.

    A PSA: do NOT wear Fracas out and about – Fracas on a man is catnip to women – you will be beating us off with a stick. You’re welcome.


  • eldarwen22 says:

    Tried Fracas and other tuberose dominant perfumes ages ago and it was a big nope. Tuberose doesn’t play nice on my skin. But I can wear jasmine without any problems.

    • Tom says:

      Tuberose can be iffy- it has that element of rot to it and the butter notes can seem rancid to some people.

  • rosarita says:

    What a fun read! I love the scent of fresh tuberose but as a main player in perfume, she hates my guts and she trash talks about me to gardenia, too. Big white florals are just not my Thing but I enjoy them on others.

  • March says:

    Love Fracas, thanks for the fun review and the memories. Pretty sure I still have a bottle — not “vintage” I guess, but not new … you sent me down a whole rabbit hole reading about Ann Woodward! The Woodward family was also fascinating — her husband’s mother was one of three famous triplets, etc. Probably wasted an hour on a bunch of knowledge I’ll likely never need lol.

    • Tom says:

      I am stuffed like a Christmas goose with useless knowledge.

      Yep, famous triplets, painted by Sargent. Apparently in real life Ann might have been Daddy’s little friend before she married Junior. Charming people.

      Of course the Baeklands make them look like the Cleavers by comparison.

      • Musette says:

        Holy cats and crackers, Tom! I do NOT have time to be shocked right now – but ya did it – again! I just read up on the Baeklands… and now I have to go take a hot shower. With bleach.


        • Tom says:

          There’s a book about the whole thing called “Savage Grace” that was made into a movie with Julianne Moore and a your Eddie Redmayne. I didn’t think it was a story that needed to be filmed, but they did. And yes, they go there.

  • cinnamon says:

    I tried this ages ago and it did not work. In fact, like the Caronade, Piguets haven’t worked well on me. But now I need to have another go. I generally love tuberose.

  • alityke says:

    Once upon a time I had both Tuby Crim & Fracas. Once upon a time my eldest son lost his job & needed rent pdq. Whilst I loved them both I wore them rarely & off to eBay they went. I never replaced them…. sobs…. I do love my son more than perfume I guess.
    For my tuberose fix now I wear Madge’s Truth or Dare. Less honking than Fracas but still noisy & not giving a flying f*** what anyone thinks! I have a back up & just found the shower gel on Perfume Click for the price of a coffee. Bought four cos it’s gorgeous as bubble bath, stinks the house out for hours too.
    I look forward to hearing about the Serge

    • Tom says:

      Clearly you do love your son.

      Madge’s concoction was one that I think Portia told me about. Not a shock that she’d do an homage- apparently she’s a fan of the Piquet and wore it for a long time. Who know, may still..

  • taxi says:

    I’ve loved Fracas for 40 years, but never in the office. For Dali, this looks good to me. Did they expect something more like a Sargent?

    • Tom says:

      Definitely not for the office. But I’m liking it so much I might pop for a bottle.

      I think the painting was looked at as a little too frankly sexual for a “nice” society portrait. Of course that could be in the eye of the beholder.

  • Dina C. says:

    I used to wear Fracas in my college years. I adore those first few seconds of the top notes: the sparkling green lilac, hyacinth, lily of the valley notes that are so high and delicate before Big, Brassy Ms. Tuberose comes into the room, hips swaying, loudly announcing, “I’m here!” As the decades have rolled on, my headache sensitivity has gotten worse, and I can’t really handle most tuberose scents even though it smells amazing. Fascinating story about Ann Woodward, Tom. I knew nothing about that.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve never tried the flanker Petit Fracas- I wonder if it’s more of the opening and less of the other?