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?



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.

Perfume Review – Robert Piguet Bandit: “Beautiful but Brutal”

Robert Piguet was one of the most famous of the Paris haute couture designers, a man who trained Givenchy, Balmain and Christian Dior himself, and, in 1944, he made perfume history when he released Bandit. It was a year before the end of WWII, and he had just sent his models down the runway in villain masks, brandishing knives, toy revolvers and reeking a “bad boy” image that was shocking for the times.

Bandit, original ad. Source: Fragrantica.

Bandit, original ad. Source: Fragrantica.

According to the Perfume Shrine, “it was this occasion that prompted Germaine Cellier to grab the models’ knickers after they had walked the catwalk, reputedly studying their scent in an effort to ‘capture the best of their femininity’ for the couturier’s first foray into fragrance. Whether she did and how one defines femininity in the first place is food for thought.”

The result was Bandit, one of the most famous leather scents in history, up there in the pantheon with Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie (1924/1927) and Knize Ten (1924). It was given a five-star rating by Luca Turin, and is consistently on three different “best of” lists: best leathers, best chypres, and best feminines for men. The perfume is repeatedly described as a tough, brutal “B****” with references to dominatrixes and how its unbearable in the best way possible. Love and awe echo constantly through the words.

Germaine Cellier made not only Bandit, but Piguet’s most famous scent of all, Fracas, the legendary benchmark for all white florals and the white light to Bandit’s black one. That contrast seems to have been intentional and may have stemmed from the dichotomy that was Cellier herself. According to the Perfume Shrine:

Cellier herself was outwardly conforming to all the perceived ideas of [femininity]: beautiful, slim, blond and tall, she exuded an air of elegance. Yet her reputation was tinged with shades of unconventionality and homosexuality and her creations were aiming to reflect different perceptions of Yin and Yang. Fracas was made for the femmes, Bandit was for the [tough lesbians].

To Fracas’s torrid tuberose that makes you either fall madly in love with or shun forever, Bandit juxtaposes daring, bitter green leather which, according to a male admirer smelling it, exudes aloofness, rebellious intellectuality and absolutely requires an expanse of skin to show for its sensuality to bloom.

In fact, Elena Vosnaki says 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’.

Marlene D

Marlene Dietrich

Things are obviously different these days, and we are less obviously shocked by both sexual identities or preferences, but, in its time, Bandit was revolutionary. It was a bitter green, leather chypre that was nothing like the usual leathers or chypres on the market. It was androgynous, hard, edgy, and “beautiful but brutal,” to quote the famous perfumer, Guy Robert, who wrote about Cellier and her Bandit extensively in his book, Les Sens du Parfum. The epitome of the kind of woman who would wear it was not only Cellier herself, but Marlene Dietrich. And, in fact, it was Dietrich’s signature scent.

"Les Fleurs du Mal," Charles Baudelaire.

“Les Fleurs du Mal,” Charles Baudelaire.

If the accounts are true, then Bandit was the essence of Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal,” capturing his theories of rotting excess, unconventional or anti-social eroticism, and slightly twisted malevolence. (Serge Lutens only wishes his Tubereuse Criminelle was about returning the evil back to the flowers!) Bandit horrified and bewitched people in equal measure, creating polarizing waves until sometime in the 1970s when it seemed to have faded into the mists. It’s unclear what happened to it or when.

Then, sometime, in the early to mid-1990s, perhaps 1996, it seems to have been re-released in Eau de Toilette form by Andrian Arpel for his company, Alfin. (Are you confused yet? We still have a way to go in this saga.) Arpel may have bought control of Robert Piguet, Inc. and hence, obtained the right to release a new version of Bandit. It is said to be far from the original scent, though there seems to be no consistent explanation as to why. Some say it is a more floral version that minimizes the leather. Others claim that the eau de toilette was just leather and civet, nothing more, and that it had almost nonexistent longevity.

Bandit, intermediary 1990s version from Arpel/Alfin, in Eau de Toilette form. Note the gold top.

Bandit, intermediary 1990s version from Arpel/Alfin, in Eau de Toilette form. Note the gold top.

Whatever its scent, it’s not too hard to determine the Arpel intermediary version because its bottle tops are gold, instead of the tradional Piguet black. Furthermore, according to the Perfume Shrine,

the eau de toilette that circulated under Andrian Arpel (Alfin inc. being his previous company name) bears this label:

Made in France
New York NY 10019

In 1999, however, the Robert Piguet brand was bought by Fashion Fragrances and Cosmetics (FF&C). They made every attempt to release a version of Bandit that was close to the original in terms of notes and appearance. Bandit was released in eau de parfum or extrait de parfum concentrations, and, like the original, comes in a black bottle with a black lid.

It is extremely difficult to keep track of the timeline and the different versions of Bandit but, to summarize, there was:

  1. original, vintage Bandit eau de parfum in a black bottle with a black lid, along with original, vintage Bandit extrait de parfum that had a crystal top to a black bottle.I have even seen all crystal bottles on eBay for the extrait de parfum or pure parfum version that are obviously really ancient, 1960s or 1970s bottles. Reports on Basenotes would seem to indicate that this was, indeed, the form for the super old extrait version;
  2. 1990s intermediary Bandit in eau de toilette concentration and in a black bottle with a gold top (which is frequently sold on eBay);
  3. post-1999 version in eau de parfum and extrait versions with the original black bottle and black lid.

    Bandit eau de parfum in its current bottle which is exactly like the original bottle.

    Bandit eau de parfum in its current bottle which is exactly like the original bottle.

I have always longed to smell original Bandit, but I was happy to obtain a sample of the post-1999 eau de parfum version from Surrender to Chance. (Surrender to Chance also carries the intermediary eau de toilette version and the post-1999 version in extrait or pure parfum form. Links will be at the end of this post.) I’m glad I had the chance now, as Robert Piguet announced a few months ago, in October 2012, that a new formulation of Bandit was under way due to the increasingly severe IFRA restrictions regarding oakmoss as an ingredient in perfumes.

The notes in Bandit are:

galbanum, artemisia, neroli, orange, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, tuberose, carnation, leather, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, patchouli.

You can read the Glossary for further details but, in a nutshell, artemisia is wormwood and galbanum is a type of plant resin. According to the site, I Smell, Therefore I Am, galbanum has “a penetrating, pine-like top note and a slightly bitter, woody base.” Artemisia is said to smell like tarragon, concentrated to the umpteenth degree. It is pungent, bitter, bitter green, sharp, and frequently used along side oakmoss, patchouli or civet to cut through the cloying heaviness of those notes. In fact, it is said to be akin to a filtering lens that lets you diffuse some of the stronger ingredients (like civet, for example) and to let you smell the more subtle notes.

The galbanum and artemisia are apparent from the opening blast of Bandit. It is GREEEEEEEEN, in all capital letters! People weren’t kidding when they said this was a bitter green scent, but I am disappointed that there is none of that “blood-curdling scream” which I had expected from the opening. It is sharp, yes, but hardly as sharp or as pungent as I had expected. There is actually a slight softness, which surprises me. The scent is definitely vegetal and, for a few fleeting seconds, I sniff brackish, slightly funky, left-over vase water after some flowers have died. It is a note of faint decay that instantly makes me think of Les Fleurs du Mal but, to my surprise, I quite like it. It is nothing as offensive as the fetid, cloyingly filthy, murky, dead plant water scent that I have encountered in some other fragrances and, again, it is quite fleeting.

There is a greenness to Bandit that ranges all across the middle to darker end of the spectrum. At times, I feel as though I smell bright green, almost like absinthe but really closer to raw, young tree bark. Most of the time, however, I smell dark olive green with grey-green, the latter from the oakmoss in particular. The mental image is of one endlessly shimmering green haze where there are occasionally peeks of bright, glowing absinthe green, amidst the darkness of vegetal weeds, decaying herbs and bitter blackened woods.

Speaking of oakmoss, this is one very unusual oakmoss scent! It doesn’t have that dusty pungency that I can find so difficult in some chypre perfumes. There is no impression of dusty litchen or grey minerals pulverised into grey dust. No, this is a weirdly fresh sort of oakmoss, as if taken just seconds before off a tree. It feels living, almost. I suddenly start to understand all the comments about artemisia working as a filter or highlighter to some scents. It must be the artemesia which is cutting through some of the more dominant head notes in oakmoss and concentrating the smell of its essence at its freshest state. The oakmoss is so much more aromatically woody than the more cloying, pungent, almost excessively dusty and “old” notes that I often smell in chypre perfumes.

For much of the opening 15 minutes, Bandit is dominated by the pungent oakmoss, galbanum and artemisia. I don’t smell any of the orange citrus flowers mentioned in the notes and which usually herald the start of a chypre perfume. Instead, I smell carnation. Dry, green, and with just the faintest floral note to counter the bitter green vegetal and wood scent. There is also a faint hint of soap but, again, I’m surprised to like it. Perhaps because it’s not the waxy, cloying soap that I smell in perfumes with aldehydes, nor is it the synthetic, laundry detergent soap scent of so many modern perfumes today. It’s just an odd hint of fresh cleanness to counter the vegetal impression of weeds growing out of control at the base of a tree with bitter bark rolling off it and covered by fresh grey-green moss. There is vetiver, balsam-like pine, and something astutely noted by one commentator on Basenotes, MontMorency, that seems to resemble a salty,  maritime note, like seaweed or kelp.

After an hour, the leather starts to make an appearance. It’s soft, softer than I had expected. That said, this is not soft leather that I’m smelling. It is not the soft, buttery, warm leather of a new jacket, nor the buttery leather of a car interior. This is all cold. It’s the cold, and most definitely black leather, of a whip. It’s a stony, severe, smell of leather. But, still, I’m disappointed. There is none of that “blood curdling” shriek, that almost horrified “dominatrix” or “bad ass biker chick” impression that I had read about repeatedly across different perfume sites like Fragrantica or Basenotes. There is no rubber, no harshness, none of what made Bandit so shocking. There is only one explanation: the current version is only a pale shadow of the original. (And the thought that this is going to be reformulated to an even weaker version is, quite frankly, rather horrific.)

Joining the leather are a few odd companions. I could swear that I smell camomile at one point, giving me an impression of softly herbal Alpine meadows and Heidi. There is also a faint animalistic muskiness but it’s not the harsh civet-type note of some animalic scents. The trio of Alpine Heidi, muskiness and the cold black leather of a whip has one final member: cigarettes. There is a fleeting, flickering whisper of an ashtray. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t start smelling of a dirty ashtray. I still smelled mostly of dark green bitter woods, pungent moss and herbs, but the leather undertone had a faint whiff of ash at times, though it was extremely light.

It helps that Bandit’s leather tones were much closer to the skin than the more dominant green notes. The sillage on Bandit is huge, especially at first, but it surprised me by how quickly it became close to the skin for something that is consistently reported to be a powerhouse fragrance. The musky, leather undertones are all soft and close, almost intimate. It is incredibly sexy after such a fascinating start, and I resolve — for the umpteenth time — to try to get a hold of the vintage. Because, I have to be honest, I wanted so much more than what I got from this current version. More leather, more green, more pungency, more sillage, more of everything that I’m always reading about when it comes to Bandit. What I smell is so different and so intriguingly edgy that I dream about the vintage version.

Ultimately, the way Bandit smells on me is the way that the master perfumer, Guy Robert, describes the scent — only in a diluted, faint form. I cannot put it better than he did, so I shall use the Roberts quote provided on the Girvin blog:

[It is] “a beautiful but brutal perfume”, and that is as apt a description as any: Bandit is not a fragrance for the timid. It starts with heavy green notes, and moves slowly into a lovely floral blend with hints of spice, but the leather is apparent from the onset, and as it dries down, it is joined by an earthy-mossy accord that vaguely recalls a full ashtray. There is the slightest hint of powder, but it adds nothing of delicacy or girliness, and while Bandit stops short of being feral, the far dry down can only be described as decidedly animalic.

Like Fracas, Bandit is in-your-face sexy, but it is the dark, rebellious side of sexy — the bad girl, if you will. It is a sophisticated fragrance, mind you, but in spirit it is younger than Fracas, and it has more energy. Bandit is drinking and smoking and leather jackets, and running around at all hours getting into all sorts of mischief.  I’ve been trying to think of what would be the modern version of such a fragrance, and nothing comes to mind: perhaps there is no such thing?

I wish my version of Bandit were the fierce Bandit that Robert encountered. I see her form and her face, but it’s hazy and faint. The leather is tamed, the animalistic musk is soft, and I smell absolutely none of the florals that are part of it. No jasmine, no tuberose, no ylang-ylang and definitely no rose. (I truly don’t think many people do, from what I’ve read. At least, not for the current eau de parfum formulation.) That said, I definitely agree with Guy Robert that Bandit is an extremely original scent and for a very original woman.

A 2 oz. bottle of vintage Extrait de Parfum, selling on eBay.

A 2 oz. bottle of vintage Extrait de Parfum, selling on eBay.

In my dreams, I buy the 2.0 oz/60 ml bottle of dark vintage pure parfum or extrait that is currently on eBay for $899. I splash it on, dress all in black in my leather jacket, leather pants and leather thigh-high boots, snap on some diamond earrings, put on my silver choker with spikes and baubles, along with the chunkiest of my men’s watches, then fly to Shanghai with nary a suitcase or companion. I would go to one of the dark, sophisticated bars in the old International District (I even know which one and they make a damn good cocktail!), and I would sip a bright green absinthe drink as I contemplated something infinitely risky, wild and dangerous. And I know I would get up to no good. No good at all! But that is the thing with Bandit, even in its diluted form. It seems oh so wrong, in such a good way.

Sillage & Longevity: Great sillage for the first hour, then close to the skin. However, on others, it is reported to have enormous sillage for much, much longer. As for longevity, it is quite remarkable. On me, I could smell traces of it on my arm 8 hours after putting it on. It was soft, but it was there. On others, the longevity is reported to be even greater.
Cost & Availability: Bandit is available on the Robert Piguet website in all forms (except the rogue eau de toilette version), along with a body lotion version. 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 $110 for 0.25 oz/7.5 ml and $235 for 1 oz/30 ml. In the US, you can also find Bandit available at Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, and various online retailers. In the UK, you can find Bandit at Harrods where it costs £75.00 for 1.7 oz/50 ml. In Australia, you can find Bandit on Libertine. You can also find Bandit on eBay, starting around $60 for the 1.7 oz size. But please, be careful as to which version you’re ordering and pay heed to the appearance of the bottles in the photos!
Samples: You can also order samples of Bandit from various sample sites. The one I use, Surrender to Chance, carries all versions of the scent except for the vintage. The mid-1990s Eau de Toilette version costs $3 for the smallest 1 ml sample vial, the Eau de Parfum costs the same, and the Pure Parfum costs $3.99 for 1/4 of the usual 1 ml vial, or $15.96 for the 1 ml vial. 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.