Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel : Fragrance Review

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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

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.

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42 Comments

  • FearsMice: I was just thinking about my favorite bang-for-the-buck fragrance, and came up with Grey Flannel! I’ve loved it since I was a teen. Thanks for posting about it. October 17, 2013 at 8:03am Reply

    • Andy: I agree, Grey Flannel is one of the best bargain perfumes around. I got my bottle for $5! I love a value, especially when it is as delightful as Grey Flannel. October 17, 2013 at 8:15am Reply

      • zari: Andy, this fragrance sounds so good! The list of notes is such a range of different moods and emotions. I love men’s fragrance, but the only ones I have been able to wear are Prada Infusion d’homme and CD Eau Sauvage EDT, but hope to test this out. Is it too strong for female skin? Thanks for this review! October 17, 2013 at 10:48am Reply

        • Andy: Don’t fear Grey Flannel at all! While the top notes are quite exhilarating, the drydown is soft and caressing, and contains a lot of beautifully balanced florals. Grey Flannel smells far more sophisticated than its price tag would suggest, and if I had been given it to smell blindly, I would have probably thought it was a release from a niche fragrance house. October 17, 2013 at 4:04pm Reply

          • zari: Thanks, Andy! I’ll be on the lookout for it. October 18, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

        • Gianluca: Hi Zari, honestly I fell in love of it the very first time I smelled it… I ordered it on-line just because the package and the ingredients were very interesting to me… and when I got it the first smell was realy a surprise… a good one! It’s so delicate, long lasting, and from time to time you could smell different scents.. not just for men in my opinion! Try it, you won’t regret, definitely. Enjoy, Gian June 6, 2014 at 5:23am Reply

  • Aisha: Grey Flannel and Fahrenheit are two of my favorite fragrances for men. I know some can’t stand the scent and think it’s too loud, but if applied with a light hand the scent is very elegant. My husband doesn’t wear cologne everyday (such a shame) but has two bottles of GF. One I purchased long ago when we graduated from college, and the other I purchased recently because I thought he had lost the first one. Happy mistake, because I found the first one while organizing a closet. He’s set for the rest of his life. 😉

    You got a fantastic deal on your bottle, by the way! I think I paid $20 for a rather large bottle, which is a great deal too come to think of it. October 17, 2013 at 8:46am Reply

    • Andy: Especially applied from the splash-style bottles (which I prefer to use), I never find Grey Flannel overpowering. I am wearing it right now, and it smells so soft and cozy that I am tempted to spend the day cuddled up with a blanket. I’d be curious to hear what you think of the smell of your husband’s old bottle compared to the new one, because Grey Flannel has had many different reformulations over the decades.

      The bottle I have is only two-ounces, so that may be why it was such a value. But I also see the larger spray ones for a great price. October 17, 2013 at 10:36am Reply

      • Aisha: This is the first time I’ve actually tried them side-by-side, and so this is the first time I’ve realized that there is a difference. But the difference seems subtle, unlike the difference between vintage Lauren, and the current one. Grey Flannel, despite being reformulated, still smells like Grey Flannel.

        The fragrance from the old bottle (a 2 oz. splash which I think I bought in the early 1990s), smells sporty, woody and green. There is still a hint of something powder-like, but it’s subtle. The new one (a 4 oz. spray bottle) is softer and much more powdery, and maybe the sillage isn’t as strong as the old one? But it’s still good.

        Really, the character hasn’t changed at all. I’m not a trained nose so I can’t tell you what it is that I’m smelling that brings the same soothing quality to both. Is that the violet?

        Anyway… I love them both! October 17, 2013 at 12:20pm Reply

        • Andy: Yes, it amazes me that despite the reformulations, Grey Flannel has held up pretty well. It is certainly different, but retains a lot of its original character and I think is still pretty unmistakeable.

          As for the soothing quality (which I entirely agree with!) I think that really is the result of the entire artful composition. The balance of soft florals and powdery violet with woods and moss comes across as gentle yet nonetheless solidly grounded to me. It helps that the fragrance seems to envelop the wearer in a soft cloud–almost like wearing a fluffy blanket of fragrance. October 17, 2013 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Anne: I love this scent! It is beautiful! It s my little black dress scent, and my husband is not allowed to still it from me! October 17, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

    • Andy: I love your use of Grey Flannel! Now that you mention it, I can totally see it as a perfume for an elegant night out, since it smells so polished and sophisticated. Your husband must have a lot of self-discipline, because if it were me, I know I’d be stealing your Grey Flannel all the time! October 17, 2013 at 10:41am Reply

  • Allison C.: Great description! My father wore Grey Flannel for years and he was a classic New England gentleman – a banker who spent his retirement tending his garden and small apple orchard wearing his old khakis and flannel shirt. The fragrance suited him perfectly. I will definitely buy a bottle for the nostalgia! October 17, 2013 at 9:35am Reply

    • Andy: Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your father. By your description, it sounds like Grey Flannel would have smelled exactly right on him. Smelling the perfume of a loved one can be so meaningful, so I hope you enjoy revisiting his scent. I have a small collection of perfumes that were my grandmother’s, and I smell them whenever I need a little comforting. For me, it’s almost like getting one of her reassuring hugs. 🙂 October 17, 2013 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Clothilde: I have barely met anyone wearing Grey Flannel – but my boyfriend does, this is actually the first perfume he bought for himself. His skin is usually prone to magnify scents with Tonka bean or vanilla, but Grey Flannel’s bouquet blooms so delicately on him, and a powdery cloud is like floating around him all day long – because yes, this lastes SO well!
    This is such an underestimated perfume which would deserve so much more attention! Thank you for this article Andy 🙂 October 17, 2013 at 10:20am Reply

    • Andy: I don’t know anyone of my age group (young adults) other than myself who wears Grey Flannel, but I do get compliments on it from time to time, so I like to think of it as a timeless fragrance. I wish I could say I’ve had the pleasure of smelling this on somebody else though. I can just imagine how delightful it must be to smell the “powdery cloud” (a wonderful description, by the way) you describe on your boyfriend. October 17, 2013 at 1:41pm Reply

  • nikki: I love Grey Flannel. I first encountered it 1984 I think….A great fragrance! I also adore the teal colored inkbottle flacon, so stylish.

    This is definitely a keeper and for the price, it is unbeatable. I wear it myself at times as I feel it is similar to my Jolie Madame fragrance. I have also given it to some of my friends who enjoy fresh perfumes like O de Lancôme or chypres like Niki de St Phalle. Somehow it works.

    Thank you for bringing Grey Flannel back into our minds, Andy, especially now when one loves to wear flannel! October 17, 2013 at 10:44am Reply

    • Andy: I love the bottle too. It is so simple, yet still looks polished and elegant. I can understand how Grey Flannel would appeal to those who like either fresh fragrances or chypres. In a sense, Grey Flannel might be described as a “fresh chypre” since it contains green notes and citrus alongside the oakmoss that is so reminiscent of some chypres. October 17, 2013 at 2:06pm Reply

  • Jillie: Hi, Andy, and thank you for writing about this little gem. GF and Fahrenheit have been my husband’s staples for more years than I care to mention!

    I used to like wearing very much Ultima’s Sheer Scent, which was almost a dead ringer for Fahrenheit, and I still regret giving my last bottle to my husband a few years ago when he had run out of his Dior; naturally it was discontinued and I couldn’t replace it. Perhaps I should now steal his Fahrenheit??? October 17, 2013 at 12:06pm Reply

    • Andy: I really like Dior’s Fahrenheit, and I definitely think you could wear it without a problem. In any case, it is a very interesting and well-crafted fragrance, and like Grey Flannel, I think it can easily be worn by men and women alike. I say steal his Fahrenheit! 🙂 October 17, 2013 at 2:47pm Reply

  • george: I see this perfume so rarely, and have had to note where the Geoffrey Beene shop is on google maps (it’s somewhere a bit obscure) as your review has reminded me I would love a bottle of this. I tried Bottega Veneta (the women’s version) recently, and my snapshot impression was that that would make a great alternative to Fahrenheit or Grey Flannel. October 17, 2013 at 1:25pm Reply

    • Andy: Grey Flannel should be easy to find online, and for a great price too. You could also check discount stores (in the U.S., stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx often have it).

      I agree with your impressions of Bottega Veneta. The patchouli and leather make it a fairly unisex fragrance. October 17, 2013 at 3:16pm Reply

  • yomi: Andy, I love the review. Though a fragrance manufacturer / perfumer myself I often get given perfumes as gifts – I was given grey flannel as a sort of pre wedding gift in 2011.

    I enjoyed wearing it – as it is quite different from any of my own creations. Its lovely, fresh and assertive- I noticed a peppery naunce in the scent – did you notice that ? And a suede like note in the dry down.

    Its a really lovely and original scent!
    Lovely review once again October 17, 2013 at 1:45pm Reply

    • Andy: There are definitely peppery nuances in Grey Flannel. Sharp green notes like violet leaf often can come across as quite crisp and slightly peppery. And the combination of powdery violet notes and smooth woods and musks might explain the suede-like impression you’ve noticed. Nonetheless, Grey Flannel is incredibly original and truly beautiful! October 17, 2013 at 3:41pm Reply

  • Jenny: After reading the review with my morning tea, I drove by my neighborhood drugstore on way to work — just to find a bottle of GF — which I did. What fun we’ve had in my office today — people remembering GF on boyfriends, dads, teachers, and friends…….how fun it is to bring people together with perfume! Thanks for the post today — and thanks for bringing violets to my day. J

    Also, snagged a mini bottle of Lady Stetson just to play around with…… October 17, 2013 at 2:21pm Reply

    • Andy: I’m so glad to hear about the fun you had with Grey Flannel today! As with any fragrance that’s been around for many years, it inevitably has touched the memories of so many people. It’s great to hear that you were able to bring so many of your co-workers together over memories of this classic perfume. Enjoy your new bottle! October 17, 2013 at 3:47pm Reply

  • Annikky: This is a beautiful review, Andy! I know one place where I should be able to smell Grey Flannel, and you have convinced me I must. As I love violets and Fahrenheit, this should appeal to me.

    Have you tried Arquiste Aleksandr, by the way? It is a great violet fragrance inspired by a man and I have a feeling you would like it. I find it very subtle and refined and just lovely.

    Also, I’ve been meaning to tell you that Iris Nazarena has turned much rounder and warmer on me lately – just as you described in your review. October 17, 2013 at 2:28pm Reply

    • Andy: I have not smelled Aleksandr, but after looking it up, I think I really would love it. Part of what I love so much about violet perfumes as a whole is that subtle, refined nature that you’ve described so well. There is a sort of “ghost” impression of Grey Flannel that I smell in Fahrenheit, so I think you should enjoy it.

      Also, I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying Iris Nazarena. It has been one of my favorite new launches I’ve tried this year. October 17, 2013 at 3:53pm Reply

  • Sarah: When I was 16 (1988) my best friend in New Zealand wore Grey Flannel and he smelled much more sophisticated and yummy than anyone else. His Mum had bought in while holidaying in America so it was a unique fragrance for a Kiwi male to wear.

    When my nephew turned 16 in February this year I took a chance and bought him Grey Flannel – his first bottle of fragrance. He loves it! His bottle now has only a few drops left while the CKOne bottle next to it is completely full. My nephew doesn’t know about perfume notes but he’s said many times about how much he likes the smell of GF and how it’s different from everything else. All his young friends love it too. Might get him to try Fahrenheit next! October 17, 2013 at 4:52pm Reply

    • Andy: Thank you for sharing your Grey Flannel memories! I’ve enjoyed reading these stories so much. To be honest, your nephew (I think he and you have great taste, by the way) gives me hope for another generation of Grey Flannel wearers! I was a high school teenager not so long ago, and I found (as he apparently has) that classmates did often compliment Grey Flannel. It is amazing to me that such a unique men’s fragrance has stood the test of time and can still smell “good” to young people. Even more impressive considering that no other modern masculine launches really resemble it, making it a truly unique fragrance. October 17, 2013 at 7:12pm Reply

  • Barbara: I absolutely adore Grey Flannel! The first time I dated a man who showed up at my door, ushering in this fragrance with him, I promised I’d love him forever as long as he never wore any other cologne. A co-worker of mine came in wearing a scent that immediately reminded me of Grey Flannel, so I asked what she was wearing, and she said it was Cashmere by Donna Karan. Dear perfume expert, can you tell me if they have the same base? top notes? bottom notes? (I know nothing about the science or art of fragrance.) October 17, 2013 at 6:47pm Reply

    • Andy: Almost immediately after I first tried it, I found Grey Flannel as irresistible as you’ve described. As I’ve come to see reading your and others’ comments, it is a fragrance that has clearly touched so many people.

      As for the Donna Karan connection, I am assuming your co-worker might have been wearing Cashmere Mist (or one of its many flankers)? The main impression I get from Grey Flannel is mossy woods overlaid with powdery violet and green florals. So perhaps a powdery floral aspect of your co-worker’s perfume smelled similar? It is hard for me to say, because I’m not that familiar with Cashmere Mist, and haven’t smelled any of the flankers. October 18, 2013 at 1:29pm Reply

  • Mike Perez: My Grandfather used to wear Grey Flannel. I have a distinct memory of him walking out of the shower into the living room and that unmistakable violet-soapy-green scent filling the air. He had a splash bottle too, I remember snooping on it when I would go into his bathroom (Grandma wore Beautiful by Estée Lauder). He’s been gone for more than 10 years so it’s difficult for me to smell it because it is inextricably tied to him. Makes me sort of sad to wear it. But…now that I think of it, maybe I will try it again next time in see a bottle of it.

    Personally I like violet notes but I rarely buy FB’s of them. I fell into love with the long-discontinued Midnight Violet by Ava Luxe and thereafter the only other one that’s gotten me to really take notice is Violet Blonde by Tom Ford.

    Andy have you smelled Narciso Rodriguez For Him? The original one not the Musk or the EdP? I think it has a lot of similarities to GF. October 17, 2013 at 8:14pm Reply

    • Andy: As difficult as it can be to revisit the fragrances of loved ones, it is also quite a blessing, to have scents that can remind us of cherished people and times. After all, our sense of smell is so closely tied to our memories. Thank you for sharing your own memories of your grandfather, who it sounds like wore Grey Flannel wonderfully.

      I don’t always find that violet notes suit me well either. I find Violet Blonde to be very nicely done though.

      I’ve never smelled Narciso Rodriguez For Him. But after looking it up, it sounds like a fragrance I would like. Thanks for the recommendation. October 18, 2013 at 3:22pm Reply

    • Robert: Couldn’t agree more on NR for him (which is good on her, too). October 19, 2013 at 5:51pm Reply

  • Robert: Not having worn this since the early eighties, I’m a little scared of revisiting this old love. I don’t know what memories could be reanimated. Temptation, your name is Andy. October 19, 2013 at 8:03am Reply

    • Andy: Well, you never know until you (re)try! For better or for worse, it can be fun to revisit past fragrances and see just what memories they conjure up. And if you do revisit Grey Flannel, I’d love to hear your thoughts on smelling it again! October 19, 2013 at 2:07pm Reply

  • Bryan Ross: Great review! To me this particular masculine from Beene is the obvious precursor of Green Irish Tweed, while Bowling Green may have presaged things like Cool Water or other “fresh” nineties frags. In my opinion, GIT and Grey Flannel have much more in common than GF and Fahrenheit, which is nice but nowhere near as natural-smelling as Beene’s fragrance. Eau de Grey Flannel is an interesting and more contemporary update, stripping the mossiness out and leaving a clean, transparent violet note with some spicy trimmings – give it a try if you haven’t already! This house is one of my favorites. October 19, 2013 at 6:37pm Reply

    • Andy: Thank you for the information on some of the other Geoffrey Beene fragrances. I’ve been aware of them but have never seen them for sale anywhere, so I wasn’t sure whether or not they were still in production (I’ll be on the lookout!). October 19, 2013 at 8:56pm Reply

  • Ariadne: Lovely review of something fabulous ‘right in front of our noses’!
    I have never smelled GF but let me tell you I ADORE Beene’s clothing! I have multiple Vogue sewing patterns of his designs and they are truly timeless in their elegance & effortless styling. October 19, 2013 at 10:15pm Reply

    • Andy: When I was writing this review, I couldn’t help but look at pictures of Beene’s fashion designs. I totally agree, the pieces I saw were so wonderfully timeless that I think they would still look stylish today. October 20, 2013 at 9:41am Reply

  • Deka: I recently looking for a new fragrance and interested in GF based on its bottle.
    After read this review, i have a strong urge to click order ASAP 😀
    Thank you!
    Anw, greetings from Indonesia! June 29, 2015 at 2:44pm Reply

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