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.
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.
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” 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 FLANNEL BY GEOFFREY BEENE FIVE GOLD STARS *****
(MAYBE SEPTEMBER ~ TONY BENNETT)