2013 marks the 65th anniversary of Robert Piguet’s Fracas and the brand’s CEO, Joe Garces is currently in Australia as a guest of Agence de Parfum, Piguet’s Oceania distributor. This week I visited Mcleay on Manning in Sydney’s inner suburb, Potts Point to attend a masterclass with Joe Garces, a New Yorker who serendipitously took over the management of the Piguet trademark in the early 1990s. His masterclass was a look into the inner workings of the brand and the collection of classics and new creations that make up Robert Piguet Parfums.
Fracas needs no introduction; most perfume fans know it as the archetypal tuberose perfume that has inspired countless white florals over the years. The fact that it needs no introduction in 2013 is largely due to Joe Garces. After the Coty family sold the Piguet trademark the brand went through some changes that diminished the original formula of Fracas in the spirit of cost cutting. This business strategy was unsuccessful and within years the trademark was back on the market. After Joe took charge of the brand and the formulas of Fracas and Bandit were reinstated back to their original glory, Fracas was back in the game. Faithful devotees were able to find the perfume they once loved and a younger generation was introduced to a classic. After moving the business out of the red, Joe’s next step was to find out why there had been so many failures.
“Even though Piguet was sold in luxury stores in the United States, the fragrances were of Parisian heritage so one of my first endevours was a trip to Paris only to find that the Robert Piguet fragrances did not exist there. I could not understand why the French would not embrace Fracas, if not for Robert Piguet born Swiss but for Germaine Cellier, her place with their history as first female perfumer. The reason made sense: how can a luxury French department store carry a French brand made in the U.S.A? I immediately began working to bring the manufacturing back to France and then once again Robert Piguet products began to carry the Made in France label”
Joe’s journey took him to Givaudan, where he was assigned a perfumer from the fine fragrance producer’s Paris office. He was introduced to Aurelien Guichard, a young Grassois perfumer who Joe now works with exclusively on every new Piguet project.
In his masterclass, Joe discussed Fracas and Bandit. The only bottle Joe was missing for his masterclass was Bandit and it just so happened that the only bottle of perfume I was carrying in my bag that day was Bandit. Smelling the two together amazed me that they came from the same perfumer and were created only four years apart. I asked Joe if he believed such a heavy contrast was intentional. No definitive information exists but Joe theorised that Cellier was interested in exploring olfactory families. Bandit is the first leather chypre, Fracas the first white floral. In between she co-created an oriental for Piguet and her work with Balmain around this time saw the creation of the first green fragrance.
Next we discussed Baghari and Visa. “Fracas and Bandit are the ultimate niche fragrances and were already there for me so the first fragrance to revive was Baghari.” Baghari was the last fragrance Robert Piguet made before his passing in 1955. Visa is another perfume revived from the house’s archives. Joe gave us insight into how he approaches these olfactive restorations.
“Visa was the second scent Piguet had made in 1945 with perfumers Germaine Cellier and Jean Charles, who also made Tabu. The original Visa smelled like it and would not work again.” A discussion Joe had with a perfume department store was an unforgettable moment for him, “we love classics and the history but this is a store not a museum; if the fragrance does not sell we do not want to carry it.” With Aurelien’s panache for tasteful reconstruction the pair worked on a fruit accord of pear and peach to modernise Visa whilst remaining faithful to the original in the base of the fragrance. Adding a contemporary spin to a historic perfume proved successful and Visa is the most recognised Piguet perfume after Fracas.
Joe is the first to admit that reviving classics does not always create commercial success. He used Futur as one example of a misfire. After reviving a number of the house’s classics and an interesting collaboration that resulted in a light Fraces for New York designer Douglas Hannant, Joe’s vision was set on creating new fragrances for the house of Piguet.
Robert Piguet’s Nouvelle Collection reflects Joe’s interest in travel and different cultures. His aim was to create a line with broad cultural appeal. An easy wearing fougere called Notes had the women in the masterclass swooning in symphony, “oh this is a sexy man scent.” Joe told us the story of Oud, likely pre-empting the common reaction, “another oud?” Piguet’s Oud captures Joe’s impression of the Arabic wood from a visit to the Middle East where he asked one of his distributors to teach him about oud. After dabbing the oil behind his ears and letting the odour of burning bakhoor permeate his suit he asked to be taken back to his hotel for a shower; he didn’t like the smell. It wasn’t until the following day when he picked up his suit he smelled something of interest. Excited he returned to his perfumer wanting to capture the scent of oud he had experienced.
Casbah, a composition of incense, myrrh and tobacco is my favourite perfume from the Nouvelle Collection. Thinking back to my Moroccan trip last year it reminds me of the old bazaars and souks you find wandering the Medina streets of Marrakech. I commented to Joe that it also has a biblical connotation. He smiled and said, yes, Casbah is selling well in Italy, perhaps because there is a Catholic church on every street corner.
The Pacific series is a collection that takes inspiration from our geographical doorstep. Chai was inspired by a visit to Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford. Joe saw a challenge to create a perfume that connected with the Asian market. Many have tried but few truly succeed in this respect. Chai is a light wave of citrus infused tealeaves that have been warmed with beeswax.
Petit Fracas is the house’s most recent creation. Joe jokingly remarked, “this was the most stupid brief I have ever written.” For the brief, he simply asked Aurelien what Fracas would be like if he mixed in a little chocolate. According to the Perfume Retail Association in the UK it was not a stupid idea at all, in fact they thought it was wonderful and Petit Fracas was acknowledged as the second best female fragrance in limited distribution for 2012.
Joe shared information on the house’s next launch, Rose Perfection and his future release that is based on the concept of insomnia. He said he is pushing Aurelien to think outside of the box. Thinking outside of the box is what Joe as well as many New Yorkers seem to do well. It will be interesting to see what comes next from the many faceted house of Piguet.
For your local stockist of Robert Piguet Parfums visit the brand’s website: