WINTER MEETING ~ Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene

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It was more than I could bear the thought of being in Manhattan and not doing it.  So with very little planning or thought I was up an hour before the sun and out of the Park Central Hotel on 7th avenue. My pajamas were cleverly covered with wool slacks and my feeble California winter jacket, a small bath towel was standing in for a muffler all in an effort to stay warm on my trek. Still the shock of the February freeze was paralyzing and the wind that came with it took the top layer skin of my cheeks off as quick as powdered sugar flies off a donut in a hurricane. It was the coldest I had ever been. But it didn’t stop me. In few brisk blocks and I would be warmed up I was sure of it.

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   I was struck as I headed north on 7th toward Central Park at how deserted the streets were. Not a cab or bus, not a person, pigeon, rat or cat. I was as alone in The City as Harry Belafonte was in “The World, The Flesh and The Devil”. Only there had been no atom bomb to leave me alone on the streets. It was just a Saturday morning in the dead of winter.  I loved the feeling. For the time being New York belonged only to me.  I trudged past Carnegie Hall as a blast of steam from a manhole engulfed me and carried Judy’s ghost within its comforting fog. “We’ll sing em all and we’ll stay all night! ”  The wind grabbed the memory of her and whisked it away down 57th street toward the East River and on to the morning star.

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I pushed on up the Avenue. The street lights along Central Park South winked in the icy mist that swirled around them.  There ahead where West Drive cut into the park I saw a man crossing heading east on Central Park South. We would meet at the corner to head east together if indeed he was going to continue east. There was something familiar about his walk, his shape, his aura, just before he stepped up on the curb I smiled in my recognition. As I turned and we fell into step beside each other I nodded.

“Good Morning.”

“Good morning” He smiled. He was dressed like a proper New Yorker for winter. And very stylishly too.

For the next long block we said nothing but kept time with our feet. I could hear music in the air sharp with the threat of snow. Music I had heard since childhood. I was comfortable walking and not talking to him, both of us pretending that I didn’t know who he was.

Just before the Plaza Hotel the man nodded. “Have a nice day kid.”  He disappeared into a glowing golden foyer before he could hear my response.

“You too sir…”

Walking in the predawn darkness with Tony Bennett and not a soul around added magic to my mission.

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When I reached the Plaza I knew I couldn’t go another block without getting warmed up. I scooted in the side door as quickly as Cary Grant heading for a cocktail and his date with destiny in “North by Northwest”.  As I warmed up a bit along the walk past the Oak Room to the main lobby I remembered that Grant had lived here, also a little girl by the name of Heloise. “Psst! Hey Mister want to have an Elevator race?” Her real name was Liza Minnelli and she had inspired Kay Thomson to tell her tale to the world.

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Sweeping out the doors of the Plaza like I too belonged there and down the red carpeted stairs onto Grand Army Plaza I pushed into the wind and nearly ran to the shelter of good old Bergdorf Goodman and its glamorous glittering imperious widows. My face was instantly numb nullifying my visit to the Plaza. There was nothing to do but cover my lower face with the bath towel like Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago and solder on down 5th Avenue. At 57th on the sidewalk next to Van Cleef and Arpels was salvation, a little silver coffee wagon, more like a small mobile home steaming and gleaming with the promise of hot coffee and Danish.

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   The East Indian man served me pronto and then slammed the little window in my face against the winds hands that threatened to slap him hard across the face. Mitten-less I cupped my java and turned to behold my objective.

“When I get the mean reds the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and head straight to Tiffany’s!” I barley whispered the line.

There it stood in the very grey blue light at 5:56 a.m., Tiffany’s. I wasn’t cold anymore. I walked to the corner and crossed the empty intersection against the light on the diagonal from the northwest corner of 57th to the southeast corner. I sipped my coffee and looked down 5th… Picture 46

A cab was coming along at a good clip, an old one from the early 1960’s. It bounce gracefully twice on the dips along the street and pulled up in front of me and stopped. The back door opened and a black satin evening pump extended to touch the street. In a blink of time it was gone. I turned back to look in the window. Just the setting for the jewels was there, the jewels themselves were locked away. I nibbled on my Danish and walked to the next window see what wasn’t there and imagine what might be.

“Here’s to you Truman, and to you Holly and most of all to you Audrey.”  The wind kicked hard against my back and grabbed my empty Danish bag out of my frozen hand sending up against the building and around the corner to disappear down 57th. My breakfast at Tiffany’s was over.

 tiffany at dawn

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Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene is a classic from 1975 created by Andre Fromentin. This Woody Oriental has been a part of my perfume life almost since it hit the market back in the first years of the rise of Disco and a new age in men’s fashion and style, along with the ascent of the GQ man and the death of the hippie as fashion god.  It is a classic that to me embodies New York and the sartorial glamour of that city as few other American fragrances can.

It opens with a stylish warm citrus blast of Neroli, bergamot and lemon which are made unusually sophisticated by the addition of a very bitter rich green galbanum and a woody citrus petitgrain. This opening is bright and sharp and swiftly over to be followed by what I think is the showstopper surprise.

Here we move into a floral perfume for men that is stunning in its complexity and daring by today’s standards and ideas for a masculine fragrance.  Spring is in full bloom along 5th avenue atop the gardened terraces of the deco apartment buildings that face Central Park; it is all here in the middle notes. A sensuous blend of bold Violet, irreverent Iris, rose over flowing the planters, golden Mimose, green heady Narcissus, are tethered to a grounding desert sage, and dirty earthy geranium.  This Sage and the geranium keep the notes all low like a humming baritone cello and pull the chorus of soprano florals into a beautiful masculine tone. It is Tony Bennett singing “Maybe September”, smooth, sophisticated and a little melancholy.

The base notes are a strong foundation of the old standards of Oakmoss, Tonka bean, Cedar and a sharp very green vetiver. This is spiked with a bit of almond that gives the perfume a woody nutty warmth in the dry down.  There is a bit of a soapy feeling too but not detergent or cheap bar soap, but rather a very superior rich soap reminiscent of some of Roger e Gallet’s fine soap scents.

As for longevity it is a real long distance runner. Well paced for the long haul and comes in a winner every time. People always comment in the positive when I wear Grey Flannel. The sillage is out there as is the norm of these old classics from the 70’s so it is something to use with discretion. After 8 hours it moves in close and stays there.

This fine woody oriental fragrance is something for a man of taste and a well developed nose. Often younger noses find Grey Flannel to be a bit more than challenging.  I believe that is from the over glut of the Cool Water’s and Aqua Di Gio’s of the last twenty five years. Not to mention the supper sweets of A-Men and sickly bubble gum 1Millions. The watering down of the public tasted in perfume. Mainstream perfumers have moved away from complex and challenging creations to meet the demands of the buying public that only want to smell “clean and fresh” One only hopes that time will bring style and originality back into the mainstream.

Grey Broşür

GREY FLANNEL BY GEOFFREY BEENE FIVE GOLD STARS *****

(MAYBE SEPTEMBER ~ TONY BENNETT)

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22 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, Lanier, this was one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a while and particularly poignant as the streets of Manhattan were my haunts for the first 31 years of my life…loved this! And I love Grey Flannel,,,had my own bottle in the early 80s and was the 18 year old blonde wafting in Grey Flannel… a groundbreaking scent for me….nothing like it in the world!

    • OK Lanier…I think you will get a kick out of this….I went to my post on Grey Flannel and was attempting to see if you had read it…(there has been a bit of conversation on this cologne in the fragrant stratosphere lately…in fact the Black Narcissus is who wrote about it and inspired me to write my story). So I was in the “like” section attempting to look at all the pictures when I accidentally hit the “like” button and up popped my pic! I am a techno-moron! I get a wordpress e-mail telling me that I liked myself and that I am “so vain”….well, at least I can laugh at myself and I hope this has made you laugh as well! I need to be more careful with pushing buttons at 5am! Hopefully Jordan can fix it!

    • Thank Brei. It amazes me how much I remember of that Pre-dawn walk in 1999, I think Grey Flannel was indeed ground breaking.

    • Oh… and I forgot. I feel we must all be psychically linked.
      For before reading this I posted my scent of the day, and who should be looking out from my page….
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  2. When I was in high school all the guys wore Polo or z-14 or Drakkar. Only real men wore Grey Flannel. At least that was the belief at the time. Perhaps there is something to the theory that it takes a well developed nose to appreciate it. I haven’t smelled it in years but I remember liking it.
    Great story. Breakfast at Tiffany’s sounds like such a wonderful thing.

    • Thanks Poodle! I do believe in what I say about a mature well educated nose when it comes to Grey Flannel. I also believe that everyone should have a breakfast at Tiffany’s experiance where ever they are.

  3. Dear Lanier
    Walking in cities in the early morning is always almost like strolling with spirits.
    Thank you as ever, dear friend, for sharing this walk with some of the most amiable imaginable ghosts.
    Oh, and for raising once more the spectre of Grey Flannel, I feel as this has been haunting me, in a firendly sort of way, for some time.
    So you have given me ideas not only for a perambulation around the Big Apple when I am there later this month, but what to wear while stretching my legs at dawn.
    Wonderful.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • All ghosts except for Tony Bennett dear friend. He was very much alive and in the flesh when we met. I am so glad I gave you some ideas! I can see you in Manhattan in Grey Flannel.

      • It really happened!?!
        Why bravo! I thought it was an imagining.
        This has given my an idea too, for something more than a walk though.
        I will give your regards to Manhattan when I see it.
        And maybe, just maybe, this might be the time I try Geoffrey Beene.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  4. Loved it and want to smell it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You are definitely the best way to start the day, Mon..M! Off to work! H

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    • Thank you! It is always a real treat when Mad. H drops by! See you later Madame!

  5. Stunning. Moody, too. Lanier. I loved the Tony Bennett passage. Gosh, I know this stroll so well. It’s a favorite. Ah, but the next time I make the trek and pay homage to the Plaza and Tiffany & Co., I’ll have your words with me. I’ll carry them (along with a hotel towel if it’s cold) in my black patent leather pocket book. Thanks for adding another rich layer to my New York City memory bank. Merci, sir! T. (Oh. Flashback as I type this. One of my high school beaus wore Grey Flannel. . .)

    • Theadora, I just loved reading what your reaction to my tale is. Made me smile. I will be honored to take that walk tucked in your pocket. Yes! it seems everyone has a Grey Flannel story. Cheers!

  6. I had to peek! But I’ll be back tonight for story time 😉 xo, V

  7. This New Yorker thanks you, Lanier. Love the images, especially the Plaza at night and the little coffee wagon. I agree with Dandy, walking through the city in the early hours is like walking with spirits. The city that doesn’t sleep is strangely very quite and still before the sun comes up. You really captured the mood. Nice job.

    • For you to say I captured New York just made my day! Thank you so much.
      xo
      L

  8. Oh Lanier, that was just beautiful. I remember getting a boatload of caution before I first visited NY – and then it turned out to be the most wonderful place, architectural canyons, wide open parks, the Met… and the incomparable Mr. Bennett. And now to bed in the city that turns in early 😉

  9. Oh my God. I feel like a child in the wrong side of a toy shop, I mean, outside. but the window gives so much glitter, indeed, I felt I was also in. I can only imagene how the scen from Convent Garden would be like, yes, Mr Higgins. About Grey Flannel, what else can i say? I am a great fan, although it is very cheap, I only wear for very special occasions and don’t tell anybody what it is, only that “it is not available here”. and for that only I know I won’t go to hell. I am afraid label IS everything for some people. If it were sold at U$ 200 it would be a hit. As usual, bravo Mr Lanier. and please, my regards to Audrey.

    • Yes it is inexpensive, but it didn’t used to be. Funny how that happens. It just proves that a great perfume can be affordable. Always nice to see you here Jose!

  10. That was fun, and haunting for me, as I once lived in NYC…so I was with you every step of the way. I can’t say I miss those icy winds in winter! I love Grey Flannel. My husband has an old bottle that I think has mellowed with age. I treasure it and enjoy wearing it on occasion.

  11. Hi Lanier. Grey Flannel was one of my favs also. I was in charge of the Grey Flannel brand from about 1984 to 1989 and worked directly with Geoffrey Beene for several years. Creative genius, etc. etc.; a little Capote to him. Loved his clothes and Beene’s fashion shows at The Pierre were to die for – so very elegant and finished. One forgets Beene’s Bowling Green scent – really ahead of its time. What I recall mostly though is men’s brands back in the 1980’s – before computers and inventory tracking killed the fragrance business – all had complete ranges. So the range of Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel included Cologne [American men’s brands were ALL Colognes back then, never EDT’s and certainly not EDP’s] in 2.0 oz and 4.0 oz [no global 50 ml and 100 ml sizes, After Shave Pours in two sizes, After Shave Balm, Face Cream, Shaving Cream in a tube, Deodorant Stick, Antiperspirant Spray, Shower Gel, Soap, Soap on a Rope, Hair Shampoo, Hair Conditioner, Body Lotion and, lest we forget – Shaker Talc. Now of course the Grey Flannel fragrance formula has been tinkered with so often who knows what you might hold in your hand, and the brand is basically down to one reference, a 100 ml EDT spray for sale at $12.99 at Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and Ross Stores. It will make me sound like a crabby old dude whining about the good old days, but I’ll take the men’s fragrance business circa 1985 anytime over the souless men’s stuff on offer today. Thank you for the memories. J.


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