Geoffrey Beene : Grey Flannel

Created by : André Fromentin

Date : 1975

Genre : Synthetic green violet (leaf)

Concentration : eau de toilette

For those familiar with violet notes, Grey Flannel has violet in it but it’s the leaf, not the flower.  So if you love the fairly recent Balenciaga (2010), don’t go out and buy this one.  It’s very different.

The distinctive methyl heptin carbonate molecule (MHC) was isolated from violet leaves in 1903 and, although expensive, was used fairly commonly.  According to Luca Turin, MHC has a gassy-peppery aspect and it is LOUD although I wouldn’t know having never smelled it on its own.  In fact, I don’t remember EXACTLY what the Grey Flannel of the 80s smelled like.  I only remember it was green but also chic and complex… mossy, lemony (barely), woody.

I wore Grey Flannel in the 80s because I had tired of citrus scents and I was looking for something more sophisticated for special occasions.  I was a very different person then… working for a national railway as a management trainee and later at a high-tech company and wearing tailored business suits eager to climb the corporate ladder.  Of course, the ladder came crashing down during the recession of the early 90s… but I had alot of fun at the time and I often wore Grey Flannel when I wanted to feel like a businessman.

But today’s Grey Flannel is shrill and synthetic… it has no moving parts.  It feels not like a shadow of its former self… but more like the skeleton.  There’s no flesh which makes me suspect that it is almost entirely synthetic.  It’s got throw and it lasts longer than most other fragrances but the accord is so loud, you almost wish it didn’t have longevity.  When it was launched, Grey Flannel was a masterpiece but today it’s worth, sadly, what I paid for it at a discount store.  If you’re a man and you’re looking for something similar and you don’t mind wearing a woman’s fragrance, Chanel No. 19 is green, poisonous and wonderful.

I feel bad about what Grey Flannel is like today.  But I enjoyed the following video immensely (particularly part 2 when we see the archives), remembering what a genius Geoffrey Beene was and giving us an idea of how great the original fragrance was like.  By the way, those archives should travel, if they haven’t already!  They would make a great museum exhibit.

Have a nice week everyone!

Top image : Award-winning Geoffrey Beene in 1999

Leave a comment


  1. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  July 2, 2012

    Sigh…so another classic bites the dust. There have been many violet men’s scents since then but Grey Flannel was the benchmark. I haven’t smelled the current version, Normand, but judging by your comments, one can’t help asking why? It seems unnecessary for today’s version to be harsh and synthetic as there are a number of violet-leaf perfumes of quality on the market today. Obviously good-quality violet aromachemicals are available (eg. Guerlain, Tom Ford, Givenchy). Why can’t Grey Flannel do it?

    • I think that once Geoffrey Beene had passed away… well… the brand probably took a great financial hit and so there was some pressure to try and keep profits up (and so they substituted quality materials for cheap ones). On other blogs, people still seem to love it but I couldn’t tolerate it past the first hour… particularly since it didn’t evolve. I noticed today that L’Artisan Parfumeur has Verte Violette and I should have tried it. It is, according to their website, “a lush and detailed still life of violet leaves, flowers and stems.” But when I saw the word “violette”, I thought… no way! Will go back this week and ask for a sample… 😉

  2. Judging by the ingredients list on my box of new Grey Flannel, they still have oakmoss in it, and I smell the peppery kick of violet leaf that you mentioned. It smells to me like the same complex Grey Flannel of yesteryear. Funny how different scent perceptions can be. Thanks for this review, I enjoyed it, and the video as well.

    • How old is your bottle? If it was manufactured after February 16th 2011, according to the 43rd amendment to the IFRA regulations, it won’t have more than .1% of natural oakmoss in it… which is negligible. But, if it predates 2011, it might have 10 or even 20 times that amount. However, I understand that Mane laboratories makes a mean oakmoss synthetic that smells “almost” like the real thing… so… maybe that’s what in it. Mine just feels bony and harsh but, you know, that could just be me.

      Thanks for writing!


  3. I have three bottles. Two are the older formulation. One is the newer. The older formula has an odd grey-green tinge to it. The new one is clear. The reference number on my more recent one is GRYF423051, but honestly I have no clue how to reference it.

    • My juice is also clear… and my reference number is #125544. The bottle was made in France but the juice was made in the U.S. Mine also has oakmoss extract in it (according to the box)… evernia prunastri.. but how much is anyone’s guess. I’ll take your word for it… maybe mine is from a mediocre batch… or maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. It wouldn’t be the first time. Thanks for following up!

  4. I have a bottle of this and of course I don’t know its millessime but I think this fragrance is so unique, understated and daring that everyone should try to smell it, no matter what formulation they can get their hands on.

    • I agree with you on that… it IS very different and was no doubt a breakthrough in its day. It’s still quite unique but it was difficult for me to wear.

      Thanks for writing!

  1. Scent Memory – Grey Flannel – Geoffrey Beane – 1975 – l’élégance est un rituel | The Fragrant Man

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