Peaches, Fracas, and Iris Gris

Early Fracas advertising

Early Fracas advertising

Peaches unexpectedly have a great deal to do with 20th century perfume.  Peach sits so prominently in so many formulas, as it does in Fracas, next to the orange blossoms and the bergamot.   What made this omnipresence  possible? Success. Or sales. Or aldehyde C14 if you prefer. It’s in Chant d’Aromes, and yes , everyone points out the peach in Mitsouko, (that’s practically a tourist attraction by now.) Well, ditto Fracas.

Somehow or other Fracas is often the perfume of respectable women.  How does that come about?One explanation may be that the heart has built in restraint, like a camisole over a bosom, consisting of orris and carnation, in other words the exuberant tuberose is there buxom as can be, but so is the fabric smell from orris, while carnation provides the starch.

Fracas knows when to cover up, and that sense of propriety is in the base notes as well. There is musk, but contrary to expectation, everything else is austere: a little moss, some benzoin, some woods, about as much wood as you’d get from waving your carved sandalwood fan past your nose.The point is there is no civet.  Fracas is sensual, perpetually enjoying a humid afternoon on the veranda, but never overtly sexy. Fracas is a flirt not a floozy.

Peach in all its glory

Peach in all its glory

Composed in 1945 by Germaine Cellier for Robert Piguet, the fragrance certainly has acquired a reputation for being wanton, but much less in the States than Europe. Fracas is mostly a location perfume here.  Southern ladies appreciate Fracas just as their mothers and grandmothers loved White Shoulders.  It’s that peach note, beloved of all Southeners that seals this pact, and I sometimes wonder if Vincent Roubert who must have been working on the fabulously expensive Iris Gris for Jacques Fath in 1945, didn’t emulate it?  Peaches and tuberose seem a logical pair, but few would force peach and iris into a relationship. Nonetheless, Iris Gris came out the very next year in 1946, became legendary, and legendarily hard to keep in production because of its pricey materials.

Fragrant Lilac from Schreiners' Catalog

Fragrant Lilac from Schreiners’ Catalog

I’ve never been able to smell Iris Gris and the descriptions I have read suggest that Roubert’s formula was elegant and restrained, more perfumey than foody, without the fresh baked bread scent that makes Iris appetizing.  Of course both houses had hits with their respective perfumes and continued to compete. Piguet went on to have considerable success with his perfumes, including Bandit, and Baghari, and  his apprentices, among whom were Christian Dior.  Fath profited from his cologne Green Water, and gave starts to Hubert de Givenchy and Valentino Garavani.

Over time Fracas won, though very likely by attrition.  Iris Gris is now a museum piece, but Fracas is alive on the air, worn by a new generation of women now. The reason for its long time sales?  Well, I’d guess it’s that peach. There is something soft and homely about peaches that makes any perfume which contains their fuzzy scent much more accessible to skin.  You can live with peaches, whereas gigantic carniverous tuberoses need a domestic partner to downsize them, and make them safe for everyday life.  Maybe the iris needs something similar to lighten its melancholy?  Either way, the peach is the key component.

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2 thoughts on “Peaches, Fracas, and Iris Gris

  1. I know what you mean about Fracas being ‘a flirt, not a floozy’, and I enjoyed your image of how the buxom curves are restrained in the perfume’s structure. And I had no idea there was peach in there! I didn’t think I liked peach, but I do like Fracas, in moderation.;)

    • My experience is that too few people use Fracas in moderation. But it is one of those perfumes you smell and say to yourself …”Ah here we are in Savannah!” which is rather nice 😉

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