Fracas by Robert Piguet
Timeless Cult Fragrance of the Happy Few
Smells, like sounds and colors spark off emotions, especially when harmoniously combined, like musical chords. Situations and conflicts can also provoke emotions. The overwhelming feelings experienced by audiences of films or plays were already known by the classic Greek tragedians : they called these extreme changes in emotions "catharsis", which can translate as purification.
In his work "Poetics", Aristotle has analysed how the triggering of sudden intense emotional disruptions result in a feeling of renewal, restoration and cleansing. Like a beneficial storm, the cathartis or purification's mysterious psychological process leaves us refreshed and revitalized but transformed.
Works of art capable to bring us to the level of catharsis are few: poems, plays, songs, symphonies, paintings or now films they remain the legacy of giants, the Homer, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart or van Gogh. They are the great timeless classics and speak a universal language. By ephemeral means, true artists have always tried to reach the universal after an often painful emotional journey through their own human natures. Results can sometimes be ambiguous as remarked British art critic Walter Pater (1839-1894) in his writings about the mystery of Mona Lisa , "this beauty into which the soul with all its maladies has passed."
Scientists now know that the sense of smell is not perceived by the cortex of the brain. Smells connect straight into the lower brain, which relates to memories and emotions. As a result, if fragrances do not have any " cognitive" effect, they can have an enormous emotional impact. The same scientists have also found out that women are more receptive to colors and smells than men.
Perfume making, like film making is a new art form. Less acknowledged than the so called "fine arts" perhaps, but a true art form nevertheless. Modern perfume making actually started in the 1920's. New chemical components called "aldehydes" opened the possibilities to create elaborate complex compositions. Aldehydes make fragrance notes "sparkle". Emotions provoked by compositions of well arranged fragrance notes are more intense.
Among the multiple fragrances available today, very few have reached the status of true classics. One of the most famous is Chanel's No.5, actually one of the first "artificial" perfumes deliberately created as a composition. There is no coincidence in the fact that Chanel No.5 has had its popularity enhanced by several emotionally very influential artists. Everyone knows Marilyn Monroe's witty reply when asked once by some journalist what she wore in bed: "Why, Chanel No.5 of course!" Andy Warhol also contributed to make Chanel No.5 into a pop icon when he created several of his world famous silkscreens with the No.5 bottle as a motif.
Less widely known but a true masterpiece, Robert Piguet's Fracas is now gaining in popularity after having for years remained a cult fragrance among the privileged and the happy few. The very concept of Fracas is intentionally disruptive and emotional. Fracas, in French means tumult with nuances that could be conveyed through words like ram, crash, blast, or irrupt. It was intentionally provocative but also intriguing. Like a mystery. Fracas puts you in a mood where you want to know more about the person who wears it: it is insolent but also spell-binding. Emotional, sensuous, carnal and very sexy. You get hypnotized and enchanted.
I discovered Fracas as a young fashion model in New York many years ago. At the time I was wearing some of Kiehl's famous compositions like "Rain" or "Smoke". I also enjoyed a fine citrus fragrance called "Love" which has now disappeared. Coming once into a studio where I was booked, I had the surprise to discover that I would work in the company of one of the models I admired the most, Donna Mitchell. She was surrounded with this fascinating fragrance and I asked her about it. She told me the story of Fracas. In the evening, when I came back home, I had bought my first bottle and started a long love story with this perfume.
Fracas was the creation of Swiss born Robert Piguet (1898-1953) one of the era's most talented fashion designers in Paris. With the cooperation of specialist Germaine Cellier, Piguet had launched his first fragrance, Bandit, in 1945. Cellier and Piguet then started to work on a completely new concept: a fragrance which would be of the utmost elegance but at the same time very provocative and emotionally charged. It came out in 1948. Piguet chose the name Fracas.
An intriguing, complex and rousing composition of tuberose, jonquil, jasmine, lilac and white iris, Fracas was too disruptive and too carnal not to provoke some hesitations and was not immediately accepted. Robert Piguet unfortunately fell ill shortly after. A perfectionist, he did not want his fashion house to survive him. After selling the expensive real estate, he generously gave a part of the money to his 400 employees and retired in Lausanne where he died in 1953.
Less strict with his fragrances, Robert Piguet accepted the continuation of his line of perfumes. But without the back-up of a powerful commercial organisation, Bandit and Fracas could not really compete with other fragrances from larger companies.
Few fragrances have been copied as much as Fracas. Its influence can be perceived in many recent compositions, which have often tried to provoke similar emotional reactions. Over the years it has remained the secret cult fragrance of many celebrities from different generations : today it is the favorite of icons like Princess Caroline of Monaco, Madonna, Uma Thurman, Courtney Love and many others.
A native of Sweden, Gunilla Lindblad has been lucky enough to have a long and successful career as a fashion model in Europe and the United States. She has made over 200 magazine covers worldwide, including many Vogue covers. Over the years she has gained a unique insider's experience in the fashion business and has become an enthusiast expert in her fields which include beauty products, fashion and accessories. She lives in New York.
By Gunilla Lindblad
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