Still Hot, Still Haute: Sexiest Vintage French Perfumes

Fracas 1Two stylish perfumes created to withstand the passage of time: Fracas by Robert Piguet and Indiscret by Lucien Lelong.

Commissioned decades ago by two French couturiers, these perfumes are quite exclusive. Both were resurrected and relaunched after disappearing from the market.

And both are in the floral perfume family—lovely choices for spring.

Fracas is an explosive tuberose fragrance, a romantic harbinger of spring. Created by Germaine Sellier, one of the few female perfumers of the 1940s, Fracas is a post-World War II era fragrance, and reflects the joy that people felt after the end of the war.

Incredibly romantic and elegant, Indiscret from couturier Lucien Lelong hails from 1936, but Lelong was active during World War II, and is known for keeping the fashion industry in Paris alive during the war.

For Scent of Triumph readers, Indiscret would have been in vogue at the beginning of the book, while Fracas would correspond to the period at the end of the book.

FracasFracas by Robert Piguet (1948) – Fracas, by Parisian couturier Robert Piguet, is a classic French floral bouquet, bursting with the white flowers for which Grasse is famous. Fracas, meaning “violet noise” in French, is a cacophony of tuberose, an expansive white floral. The tuberose flower has a scent so intense, a single stalk will drench a room with intoxicating, sensual scent. Free-spirited female perfumer Germaine Sellier created the Fracas formula for Piguet, which was launched just after World War II.

Piguet was known for his designs of simple elegance. During World War II, Nazi orders directed the top couture houses to relocate to Berlin. Piguet rebelled and resisted, and rode out the war in occupied Paris, continuing his work in fashion and fragrance. During this period he developed Fracas and Bandit, fragrant points of light in a dark time of history. Today, after a lengthy absence, both fragrances have been formulated according to their original versions. Fracas and Bandit have become cult favorites of the celebrity crowd.

Heady, mysterious, frank sensuality—the hallmark of Fracas is obvious. Look for Fracas in a black glass cube with simple pink accents. Retro-glamour at its finest.

Indiscret 1Indiscret by Lucien Lelong (1936) – Indiscret is one of the great classic fragrances of the twentieth century and the legacy of Lucien Lelong, renowned French couturier. Introduced in 1936, this magnificent perfume faded from the scene after Lelong’s death, but was lovingly resurrected in 1997 by until Lelong perfume and couture collectors Arnold Hayward Neis and his wife, Lucy de Puig Neis.

Rich and dramatic, Indiscret is a fragrance of impeccable pedigree. After being awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his efforts in World War I, Lucien Lelong opened his first maison de couture in 1919. By 1937, he was elected president of the French Fashion Syndicate, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Française. While Nazi troops occupied France from 1940 to 1945, Lelong toiled to keep the French fashion industry alive by foiling German attempts to move the industry to Berlin. He is widely credited with maintaining the fashion industry in Paris during World War II and, in the process, keeping some three hundred thousand people employed. Among Lelong’s staff were Hubert de Givenchy, Christian Dior, and Pierre Balmain, who later made their own marks in the world of fashion and fragrance.

Indiscret 2 1947In 1924, Lelong embarked upon his fragrant journey, establishing the Societé des Parfums Lucien Lelong. A prolific entrepreneur, he created more than twenty-five fragrances. Among them were lettered scents: N (for his wife, Princess Nathalie Paley), J, L, A, B, and C. Many of his fragrances masqueraded under different names in English-speaking markets: La Première (Opening Night), Orgueil (Pride), Joli Bouquet (Pretty Bouquet), Murmure (Whisper), and Mon Image (My Image). One of the most popular of these scents was Indiscret, the scent Arnold and Lucy Neis chose to commemorate the ideals of Lucien Lelong.

Indiscret, meaning “indiscreet,” was reformulated with care by the French perfume house of Mane. The dramatic soul of the original formula prevails: sensual, captivating, expressive, sophisticated. Yesteryear’s glamour is artfully blended with a new, modern attitude. Today’s Indiscret features fresh top notes of mandarin, orange blossom and orange flower, with a green lift of galbanum. Following is an intensely feminine heart of jasmine, rose, and tuberose, with a twist of cypress and violet leaves, and finishing with a sultry, long-lasting base of sandalwood, amber, and vetiver. Indiscret is a fragrance for the art of grand living.

A sculptor and glass collector, Lelong favored glass for his bottle designs. Most of Lelong’s many and varied bottles are priceless collectibles today. In designing the Indiscret bottle, Lelong draped a silk handkerchief and said, “That is how I want the Indiscret bottle to look—as if they were folds of classical drapery.” Bottle designer Marc Rosen served as a consultant in the re-creation of the Indiscret bottle. Faithful to Lelong’s original vision, Indiscret is captured in a frosted glass bottle, then nestled in brilliant fuschia satin, and boxed in shades of black and gold.

Finally, with deep admiration, this author bids a fond adieu to the man who left this world the day she entered it (May 10th). Perhaps we passed in the corridor of life.

SCENT OF TRIUMPHIn Scent of Triumph, the protagonist, Danielle Bretancourt, comes from a family of perfumers. Perfumery is her profession and her passion, so genuine vintage perfumes from the period were important to the story and setting.

For more reading on vintage perfumes, visit these blog posts:

Leave a comment about some of your favorite fragrances or memories!

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