Perfume Review – Mademoiselle Piguet by Robert Piguet

I was incredibly excited to try Robert Piguet‘s Mademoiselle Piguet, one of the company’s 2012 five-piece Nouvelle Collection. “Mademoiselle” (as the company simply calls it) is supposed to be “part Lolita and part Louise Brooks,” and a tribute to orange blossoms. I have a huge soft spot for the Robert Piguet brand, as a whole, for personal, childhood, historical and nostalgic reasons. In fact, I was practically weaned on Fracas, alongside YSL‘s Opium. Plus, I love orange notes and orange blossoms. So something that seemed like a lighter but orange blossom-based version of Fracas had to be fantastic, right? It had to be a guaranteed safe bet for me and a shoo-in, right? How wrong one can be….

Mademoiselle PiguetMademoiselle Piguet is a floral eau de parfum that was released in 2012 and created by star perfumer, Aurélien Guichard. Robert Piguet describes Mademoiselle as follows:

She is delicate and irresistible, innocent and sultry, part Lolita and part Louise Brooks. With Mademoiselle Piguet, Robert Piguet Parfums has chosen to pay tribute to both the romantic and sensual associations of orange blossom. Mademoiselle Piguet is a new generation floral fragrance, but its alluring character makes it a perfect addition to the Piguet family of feminine masterpieces.

The notes, as compiled from both Fragrantica and the Robert Piguet website, seem to be:

Top note is bergamot; middle note is orange blossom complimented by almond and apricot tones; base note is tonka bean.

Mademoiselle Piguet opens on my skin with a deafening salvo of green. The note is so sharp, pungent and abrasive that it makes my head spin. This is an orange blossom that is much closer to the most bitterly green of bigarade or petitgrain, so green that is completely raw, and far from the delicate sensuality of the flowers. In some crazy way, it almost feels like the greenness abrasiveness of galbanum. A minute later, the perfume suddenly turns incredibly sweet. It’s bewildering to have so much raw, sharply bitter, petitgrain-type orange alongside so much sweetness that a dentist would be alarmed. As the moments pass, the initial toxic blast softens, a little, as the sugary syrup grows and a hint of the orange blossoms emerges amongst all that neroli. It made my teeth hurt.

Source: Kongregate.com

Source: Kongregate.com

Alas, another thing rears its head: a hugely synthetic note is exactly like mosquito repellent. It is also oddly mentholated, leading me to imagine an orange blossom version of Serge LutensTubereuse Criminelle, only one combined with tropical bug spray, saccharine levels of sweetness, and nuclear amounts of bitter greenness. I suspect that, even if the bug spray doesn’t show up on everyone’s skin, many will find the sweetness of Mademoiselle Piguet to be extremely cloying, especially when the vanilla base starts to stir.

I have to admit, at first, I found the strange polarity and contrasts of Mademoiselle Piguet to be quite fascinating — even if only intellectually — once the DEET-like, mentholated aspect stopped beating me over the head. I said, “at first.” My interest didn’t last long because, frankly, there wasn’t a huge amount more to Mademoiselle Piguet than sugary-sweet orange blossoms, bug spray, bitter green undertones, and a subtle vanilla base. That truly was about it. For hours and hours, and hours…..

In fairness, there were some minute, microscopic changes to the perfume. By the end of the third hour, the bug spray element did die down to a mere squeak, and I did detect the smallest iota of almonds fleetingly in the middle of the fourth hour. Yes, the green undertone eventually faded, around the sixth hour. And the perfume’s sillage did change quite profoundly: from a huge, enormous wallop in the first 20 minutes, to something significantly softer by the 90 minute mark, before dropping further with subsequent hours.

Nonetheless, the changes were of degree, not of kind. Mademoiselle Piguet’s core essence never budged, remaining in one constant, linear line until the bitter end when it became just a faint trace of orange blossoms with a slightly powdered vanilla. It took 12.75 hours for it to die on my voracious, perfume-consuming skin — a sure testament to the synthetics underlying it.

There is a vast split in opinion about Mademoiselle Piguet. On Fragrantica, posters seem in two opposite camps, with people either adoring the pure blast of “orange blossom absolute,” or despising it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. A small sampling of thoughts:

  • Not for me, this one! Something sweet and cloying and artificial IMHO. Even if I am not fond of a fragrance, I usually give it time for both of us to calm down. Couldn’t this time. A scrubber.
  • This will definitely not be on my buy list; the sniff test seemed OK at best, but on my skin it was terrible. An overly sweet, overwhelming floral that had a very synthetic tone.
  • Medicinal start, but a semi-sweet medicine, which is at least more appealing than a straight bitter herbal. I don’t believe floral/woody/musk is the correct classification for this – it seems more like an oriental woody. […] for me, is just tolerable. Definitely a try before you buy.
  • Beautiful deliciously sweet honeyed Orange Blossoms in full bloom! Stunning!!! I love this so much, must get a bottle asap. If your an Orange Blossom fan, please do try this, it is so sweet its like honey has been added for good measure. I find this is incredibly strong & long lasting, which is also a huge plus.
  • Love the warm powdery scent with subtle peach undertone. Starts off a bit chemical but warms up quickly. Agree with others that it could be classidied as a milky tuberose.
  •  it’s overwhelming me in the most unpleasant way. I tested a small sample upon my wrist hours ago and the florals attacked my nose in an aggressive manner. I can’t believe there are only three notes in this bottle of juice. I smell florals, on top of florals, on top of florals, in the top, middle and base notes. The smell is really intense but not in an invigorating manner. [… The] florals in this perfume are so heavily dealt in this fragrance to the point that it’s a big turn-off instead of a memorable turn-on. It smells more like an air freshener that has been sprayed way too many times. […] Please don’t buy this one blindly. It’s an experience you’re likely to never forget.

I must say, I don’t smell any tuberose in this as a few of the Fragrantica commentators found, nor any other florals or peach. I do, however, agree that Mademoiselle Piguet hardly seems to be a “Floral Woody Musk,” as Fragrantica contends.

There aren’t a ton of in-depth, blog reviews for Mademoiselle Piguet. The Perfume Magazine loved it, calling it a “head-turning” and one of the most feminine perfumes the reviewer has smelled in years, before adding that it was perfect for brides or for something like a Cotillion. The Perfume Posse‘s Ann liked it quite a bit, despite finding its start to be synthetic:

Mademoiselle Piguet was quite nice on my skin, bergamot and orange blossom making pretty at the start, but easing later into some milky warmth, courtesy of the tonka. No hint of citrusy tang here; the OB is sweetened and smooth, almost candied. And that little something I mentioned above [the synthetic note] bothered me for a moment and then it was gone. […] Mademoiselle Piguet isn’t going to knock any orange blossom favorites out of rotation at my house, but it has a sweet, romantic, uncomplicated vibe that’s pleasing.

Finally, the Persolaise blog received samples of the full Nouvelle Collection from Robert Piguet back in 2012 and seemed to enjoy Mademoiselle more than the rest, writing:

Mademoiselle is the instant smile-inducer. A soft, sweet, pretty-as-daisies citrus-floral (complete with aldehydes and a powdery, vanillic base) it radiates naive charm and an almost adolescent optimism. In those selfish moments when parents of girls hope that their little princesses won’t ever grow up, this is probably the scent that accompanies their tender imaginings.

I wish I could like it, especially given my huge soft spot for Robert Piguet. The most positive thing I can say is that the longevity is extraordinary. But I would never recommend Mademoiselle Piguet — even for those who like incredibly sweet, sugary florals — without a definite skin test first. Please, this is not one to buy blindly. Ever.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Mademoiselle Piguet is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle and which costs $150 or £130.00. It is available from the Robert Piguet website, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t see it listed on the Saks or Nordstrom websites. In Canada, you can probably go through The Perfume Shoppe which has a Canadian branch. You should drop them an email as I can only see the U.S. site. In the UK, Mademoiselle Piguet costs £130.00, and can be found at Harvey Nichols and Liberty London. I don’t see it on the Harrod’s website. In France, Robert Piguet products are usually carried at Printemps or Au Bon Marché. In Australia, you can find Mademoiselle at Libertine where it costs AUS$190. As a general rule, Robert Piguet perfumes can be found at a discount price on eBay. Samples: You can order samples of Mademoiselle Piguet from various sites, including eBay. I bought mine from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial.

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Perfume Review – Robert Piguet Fracas: The History & The Legend

“There are perfume legends, there are perfumer legends, and then there are perfumes that become obsessions. Fracas is all three, which is a hat trick less common that you’d think.”

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

Thus begins the New York Timesreview for Fracas. It is a five-star review by the highly respected perfume critic, Chandler Burr, for a perfume that he rates as “transcendent.” And I couldn’t agree more.

As a very small child of six or seven, and one already obsessed with perfume, there were two fragrances that I loved above all others: YSL’s Opium and Robert Piguet‘s Fracas. Out of the vast array of expensive French bottles littering my mother’s mise à toilette, out of all the Lalique jars and containers filled with various mysterious, adult things, out of all the things that made being a woman seem so fun and magical, there was really only Opium and Fracas that mattered to me. It was the 1970s, we lived in Cannes in a villa on the side of the mountain, overlooking the whole city below. There were exciting and often turbulent things going on, new things to explore, and make-believe adventures to be had. And, yet, I was always drawn back to that table. To be honest, it was primarily for the Opium which is still, to this day, my favorite perfume in all the world (in vintage version). But Fracas was a close second.

It was the empress of all white scents. It was a perfume that, as I recall, brought every man who passed by my mother to a stumbling, stuttering halt as they wondered what was that marvelous, incredible, hypnotic smell. It was a scent that I always thought was exuberantly joyful and happy, but which seemed to seduce whomever came within ten feet of it. It seemed like some cloud of happy white magic, all in one jet black bottle. It was the perfume worn by Marilyn Monroe (when she wasn’t wearing Chanel No. 5), Rita Hayworth, and Brigitte Bardot. And its modern die-hard fans range from such polar opposites as: Madonna to Martha Stewart, Ivana Trump to Courtney Love, Princess Caroline of Monaco to Bianca Jagger. It intoxicated them all. And it intoxicated a tiny seven-year old, too.

Years passed, and I never forgot Fracas. Even though I had my own bottle of Opium by now, I would often talk with my mother about that “amazing white perfume in the black bottle.” When she told me that it was no longer made, we both paused in a moment of sadness — a moment of silence, if you will, for the tragedy of a world without Fracas.

Then, one day, in 1998, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area when I heard that Fracas was back. I remember the exact moment I heard it. It was late afternoon, I was feeling unwell, and lying on a forest green, brocade sofa watching some criminal trial on Court TV when my mother called. She mentioned, in passing, Fracas’s return. Without exaggeration, I got off the phone, literally leapt off the sofa, and drove through horrendous traffic all the way to San Francisco. I bought it that evening, there and then. That is the power of Fracas over those who adore it.

But there is another side to Fracas. The side which sends people reeling with horror, the side which has been described as pure poison, redolent of “rotting fruit,” litter boxes, cat urine, and more. It is a scent which can trigger migraines that will knock out its sufferers for days on end, lying huddled and whimpering in a darkened room. It is a scent that some say should never be worn out to dinner because your neighbors at the table may be too overwhelmed to be able to taste their food. It is a scent where, allegedly, two sprays were enough to send the baristas at Starbucks into a coughing, watery-eyed fit as they gasped for air. It is a scent that can make some beg for an early death. Even one of its adoring male admirers describes it as “[t]he perfume of the black widow: it attracts you and then kills you with a kiss…”

Fracas was released in 1948 by Robert Piguet, one of the top, Parisien haute-couture designers of the time, and a man who trained or taught everyone from Hubert de Givenchy to Balmain to Christian Dior himself. The perfume was created by Germaine Cellier, an enormously respected, avant-garde perfumer who was quite willing to literally grab the underwear off runway models in order to get a better idea of what constituted the core scent of a woman. Cellier made Fracas four years after the release of her Bandit, that infamous, legendary leather chypre that is the black light to Fracas’ white one. The contrast seems to have been intentional. According to the perfume expert, Elena Vosnaki, Cellier was quite explicit in making the distinction between her two fragrances:

Cellier infamously dedicated Fracas ~a voluptuous tuberose scent conceived for ‘femmes’~ to the beautiful Edwige Feuillère, while she promised the butcher Bandit to the ‘dykes’.

In the New York Times article, Chandler Burr explains that tuberose “is notorious among perfumers for being a difficult raw material to master” and that perhaps only Cellier could have managed to create a scent like Fracas. Or, perhaps, she and tuberose’s tempestuous, animalic nature were simply a match made in heaven:

[Cellier was] the creator of a striking style. ‘She transposed Fauvism and Abstractionism into perfume,’ Jeannine Mongin has written. ‘She created in dissonance.’  … It is possible that the secret of Fracas (1948) is an equilibrium between the power of Cellier’s style and the power of tuberose.

That creation “in dissonance” is one reason why Fracas horrified and bewitched people in equal measure. Another is that tuberose — and Fracas in particular — evokes carnal sex. The famous perfumer, Roja Dove, said bluntly:

Fracas is the big tuberose reference of perfumery, and tuberose is the most carnal of the floral notes. It smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex — that’s the bottom line. It’s very much in fashion just now, but current fragrances don’t use such an incredible concentration of it. While they may nod towards something carnal, Fracas is carnal all the way. [via The Independent, 12/14/2002.] [Emphasis added.]

Fracas continued to hold sway until sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s when it faded into the mists of legend. It seems that the house of Robert Piguet essentially died. Then, in the mid 1990s, the Robert Piguet name was bought by

"Fracas" Eau de Toilette. Quite probably, the Arpel version.

“Fracas” Eau de Toilette. Quite probably, the Arpel version.

Adrien Arpel, for his company, Alfin. He re-released Fracas in both eau de parfum form and some rogue eau de toilette version. Neither seemed to be much like the original. (So if you ever see any bottles of Fracas on eBay that come in boxes with the words Arpel on them, stay away.)

In 1995 or 1996, however, the Robert Piguet brand was bought by Fashion Fragrances and Cosmetics (FF&C). They made every attempt to release a version of Fracas that was close to the original in terms of notes and appearance. And, by most accounts, they succeeded as the current version is said to

A small bottle of Fracas in vintage extrait concentration that is currently selling on eBay for an extremely reasonable amount.

A small bottle of Fracas in vintage extrait concentration that is currently selling on eBay for an extremely reasonable amount.

be exceedingly close, though Bois de Jasmin says that the original is more aggressive and animalic, and various commentators around the internet insist that the new version is “watery” in comparison. (They also say to turn to eBay where it’s not hard to find the vintage version from the ’60s and ’70s in extrait form for extremely affordable prices.)

Whatever the changes, the return of Fracas was hailed by all and soon returned to its status as a cult legend. Luca Turin calls it the “Ferrari” of fragrances and, in 2006, it was inducted into the FiFi (Fragrance Foundation) Hall of Fame.

The bottle for Fracas's Pure Parfum (or Extrait de Parfum) concentration.

The bottle for Fracas’s Pure Parfum (or Extrait de Parfum) concentration.

The new Fracas comes in either eau de parfum or pure parfum/extrait concentrations, and, like the original, comes in a jet-black, opaque bottle with a black top and a pink-framed label. The extrait version is said to be creamier, richer and more balanced than the louder eau de parfum version. My 1998 bottle is the eau de parfum concentration and I don’t find it loud in the slightest, but then I was imprinted with the original, full-bodied, hardcore Fracas at a very early age.

Bois de Jasmin says that notes in Fracas are:

bergamot, orange blossom, greens, peach, tuberose, jasmine, violet, iris, lily of the valley, carnation, sandalwood, musk, oakmoss, and cedar.

However, I do not believe that list to be complete at all, particularly as it leaves out vetiver which is well known to be in Fracas, along with jonquil (otherwise known as narcissus). On numerous sites, I have read a far more extensive list of notes and I think we should go with the long list provided by Yesterday’s Perfume blog:

Top notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Hyacinth, Green Notes

Heart notes: Tuberose, Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Lily of the Valley, White Iris, Violet, Jonquil, Carnation, Coriander, Peach, Osmanthus, Pink Geranium

Base notes: Musk, Cedar, Oak Moss, Sandalwood, Orris, Vetiver, Tolu Balsam[.]

Chandler Burr of the New York Times explains the effect and smell of some of the key ingredients:

Cellier packed her formula with Indian tuberose absolute, which gives it huge power and “sillage” (the olfactory trail). Like all good perfumers, she was an illusionist. To achieve an even more lifelike, more raw tuberose (this flower smells of armpit, flesh and decay due to heavy molecules called indoles; jasmine is similarly loaded with them), she used an even larger quantity of Tunisian orange blossom absolute, plus some astronomically expensive French jasmine and Italian iris root butter. Add natural violet leaf to give the sweet, heavy scent a refreshingly harsh, wet green aspect, iris for a woody depth, synthetic civet (the smell of unwashed construction worker) for power, the synthetics C18 for an unctuous, milky, soft tropical quality and methyl anthranilate for fizz. The result is a signature, a persistence on skin, and a diffusion that are – all three – astonishing. Another hat trick.

I’m hesitant to give one of my usually detailed, hour-by-hour breakdowns for Fracas. Some masterpieces can’t be dissected. And, in all honesty, I couldn’t even hope to sum up its key elements as well as that quote by Chandler Burr just did. But there is also something else: Fracas is such a magnificently blended perfume that the notes often merge together in perfect unity to create a strong, buttery, indolic, narcotically heady “sum total.” It is a symphony of buttery, creamy white, even though there are things that cut through the richness, like the green vetiver and the airy, spring-like, green lily-of-the-valley and hyacinth.

Despite that, there is almost a thick, viscous, rubbery richness at the heart of the sweetness. It’s because Fracas contains two of the most indolic flowers around – jasmine and tuberose. And it smells very strongly of another white super-flower that is also very indolic: gardenia. (Gardenia is not one of the official notes, but it’s there and it’s quite powerful.) Indolic flowers can often have a rubbery element to the narcotic richness at their heart; over-blown ripeness that, sometimes, can verge almost on the side of decay. (You can read more about Indoles and Indolic scents at the Glossary.) These indoles are the reason why some people get the the impression of “rotting fruit,” sourness, urine, plastic, or Hawaiian flowers.

I’m fortunate not to experience any of that. On me, it is predominantly tuberose and gardenia, with a touch of green, a base of creamy earthiness and, yes, a strong feeling of a hot body after sex. (Though never the gardenia and “bad-idea sex” that one person amusingly called the scent of Fracas.) The rest — the numerous, subtle nuances and undulating waves of notes — I refuse to break down. I won’t dissect Fracas. I suppose I don’t want to dig into why it creates the magic that it does for me. To me, Fracas is the Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There are a lot of cadences involved, but some things are just meant to be appreciated as a majestic whole and to try for yourself.

For all its glory, I would be the very first to say that you should never buy Fracas blind unless you are sure from ahead of time that you love powerful, heady white floral or tuberose scents. Never. One reason is the powerful projection and longevity of Fracas, which really cannot be emphasized enough. Read the comments on Fragrantica; they are uniform. When someone wrote that Fracas lasted through two showers, I believed it fully. When others write that it can induce searing migraines in even small doses to anyone sensitive to perfumes, I believe them too.

If you are not a fan of heady scents — let alone heady florals — you should not consider Fracas. EVER. In fact, if heavy white scents give you a migraine, you should take a plane to the opposite side of the planet from whomever may be wearing Fracas. I truly am not joking. This is not a scent to apply with reckless abandon if you’re going to be going anywhere close to masses of other human beings. As the perfume site, Now Smell This, said, “[w]hile Fracas doesn’t feel heavy, it packs a hefty sillage. It is exactly the sort of perfume that leads to no-fragrance rules in large office buildings.”

Even if you love heady florals, it may be best if you first try a sample or give it a whiff at a department store. Fracas is…. well, if you love it, words simply can’t do it justice. And, if you hate it, words can’t seem to convey the full depth of the fear or revulsion. Either way, one thing is undeniable: it is a legend which set the standard for all white florals which followed.

The question is: will you find it to be the white empress that seduces you, or the black widow that kills you?

 

PRODUCT INFORMATION, COST, LOCATIONS TO BUY & SAMPLES:

Cost & Type: Fracas is available on the Robert Piguet website in numerous different forms, along with several accompanying body products. The Eau de Parfum costs $95 for 1.7 oz/50ml and $135 for 3.4 oz/100 ml. The Parfum, pure parfum or extrait version costs $235 for 1 oz/30 ml. (There should be a smaller and cheaper size which is usually around $110 for 0.25 oz/7.5 ml but I don’t see it listed on the website.) Fracas also comes in solid Parfum form for $75.

Fracas Pink Box setIn addition to all that, there are gift sets and body lotions. There is a small gift set called the “Fracas Little Pink Box” (that Martha Stewart apparently recommends) that is $65 and which includes: 1 oz. (30 ml) Fracas Eau de Parfum Spray and a .33 oz. (10 ml) Fracas Eau de Parfum Roll-on. There is also a Limited Edition set that is $595. Fragrantica states that the matching body care products include: Silkening Body Wash (250ml), Silkening Body Lotion (250ml) and Silkening Body Crème (200ml). I have only seen the Silkening Body Lotion on most sites.

Where To Buy It: In addition to the Piguet website, you can find Fracas in numerous department stores or online retail sites. In the US, you can also find Fracas available at Saks, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom (which only carries the Eau de Parfum version and the body lotion), and various online retailers. Neiman Marcus carries not only the Eau de Parfum and the 2 different sizes of Pure Parfum or Parfum Extrait, but also the Little Pink Box set. In the UK, you can find Fracas at Harrods which carries the Eau de Parfum, the pure Parfum, and the body silkening lotion. It costs £75.00 for 1.7 oz/50 ml of the Eau de Parfum while the pure parfum costs £80.00 for the 7.5 ml size/0.25 oz and £195.00 for the 30 ml/1 oz size. In Australia, you can find Fracas on Libertine.

Samples: You can also order samples of Fracas from various sample sites. The one I use, Surrender to Chance, carries only the current Eau de Parfum version, not the Extrait/Pure Parfum form. It costs $3 for the smallest 1 ml sample vial and the sizes go all the way up to 15 ml (which costs $39). Surrender to Chance ships worldwide for about $5.95 (though it’s a little bit more for larger orders over $75), and for $2.95 for all orders within the U.S., regardless of the size of the order.