Andy discovers a gem in Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel.
I thought I had seen all the facets of violet: powdery, sweet, innocent—but a violet “pour homme”? While the masculine violet theme of Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel sounded rather sophisticated, I couldn’t help noticing that the fittingly monochromatic boxes of this perfume sat untouched at my local discount shop for months on end. Was Grey Flannel a hidden gem? Or was it better left forgotten? Deliberating by the clearance shelf last winter, I finally decided to take the plunge, and soon realized I had been missing out on a classic that I now consider my ultimate violet perfume.
Grey Flannel, released in 1975, owes its name to the soft fabric that designer Geoffrey Beene was inspired to use for couture dresses and menswear alike. Like some of Beene’s inimitable fashion designs, Grey Flannel seems to be neither derivative nor have any copycats. Men’s fragrances have long featured floral accords, but few do so as interestingly as Grey Flannel, which entwines violet and moss covered woods in a unique embrace. It subsequently inspired Dior Fahrenheit, itself a major trendsetter, and it still remains a distinctive, memorable fragrance.
Grey Flannel opens with what smells like a freshly mown lawn of violet leaves and a touch of lemon. The top notes, reminiscent of crushed leaves and dried citrus peels, are exhilarating and refreshing, with an interesting metallic edge. Gradually, a clean and powdery violet note blossoms out of the initial verdant impression, backed by a base of oakmoss and woods. As the perfume takes shape, a touch of mimosa, geranium, and other gentle florals help to soften the breath of woods and mossy green notes, simultaneously adding dimension and richness to Grey Flannel’s violet flower heart. Due to its clever balance of woods and crisp green floral notes, Grey Flannel smells fresh through its entire development, but not at all thin or sanitized.
Wearing as comfortingly as a flannel shirt, Grey Flannel envelops the wearer in a soft cloud, and as with many violet perfumes, it seems to float off the skin in gentle waves. As I wear Grey Flannel, I enjoy getting occasional wafts of the perfume throughout the day, and it lasts well despite its soft aura. When I wear it, I often imagine scented talcum powder, creamy bars of soap, and badger hair shaving brushes, for Grey Flannel smells to me like it would suit the sort of classical gentleman whose daily toilet contains these very items.
Having gone through many reformulations, I find that the current Grey Flannel is still distinctive enough to be recognized next to earlier versions, which had a stronger undercurrent of oakmoss and green woods. Today’s Grey Flannel lacks the natural complexity that a generous dose of oakmoss likely gave it in the past, though the current version still retains much of the original character. Also, while technically marketed to men, Grey Flannel smells entirely unisex to me. If for nothing more, the perfume is worth trying or revisiting to experience its distinctive interpretation of violet, which to me makes it not only unique, but also an unforgettable classic.
Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel includes notes of bergamot, lemon, orange, neroli, galbanum, violet leaves, sage, iris, jasmine, mimosa, rose, violet, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, oakmoss, and musk. Available at drugstores and discounters.