Serge Lutens Gris Clair…: this used to be my playground

Lavender is a primordial ingredient. It has been there since the beginning of using nature to scent life. Abundant, useful to keep linen scented and moth-free, soothing, calming, masculine, infantile. Simple and reliable. You will not find many people raving about it and you will find even fewer people talking about lavender-prominent fragrances passionately mainly because lavender is like the Old Faithful. You take for granted that it is going to be there, it has been done in all its forms and you can find traces of it everywhere. It is a good note to have around but its concentration in a composition is usually inversely proportionate to originality and creativity. Use too much and you end up smelling like your grandfather’s barbershop or your grandmother’s linen chest. And nobody actually misses it when it is not there!

Enter Gris Clair… (ellipsis is part of the name). One of the very first Serge Lutens that I tried and perhaps the only fragrance that has really made me have a synaesthetic experience. It takes a lot of talent for a lavender centred fragrance to be able to achieve this…! It opens plain and simple with a lavender explosion. Camphorated, medicinal, dry and simple. It huffs and puffs in your face, aggressive and not soothing at all! This goes on for a few minutes and then the weirdest thing happens: the cloud of lavender implodes leaving an empty space, like a room that ages ago was used for storing huge lavender stacks. Now the room is empty, all you can see is grey stone walls but still lavender fumes have permeated the air, the stone, the humidity trapped inside the stone walls. The only sign of life in this arid composition of medicinal lavender, cold stone and humid air is a hot iron on an ironing board, steaming and sizzling next to a stack of white, freshly ironed cotton shirts. The hot iron note becomes a ghost that haunts the big room and the composition as well. Someone was there but not any more. The every day chore of ironing becomes a metaphor for everything simple and intimate that binds people together in their every day lives. Love that becomes routine, begging to be redefined in order to continue existing.

All these images sprung to my mind upon smelling Gris Clair… A sense of everyday life, comforting and burdening at the same time. I could actually see the room, the clothes, the hot iron. I could even see the grey autumn skies outside the window. For a very long time after this I didn’t know how I felt about it. Mixed emotions of familiarity and contempt, admiration and  disaffection, came from a rather mature before its time childhood and were mirrored on my bottle of Gris Clair… Nothing in particular happened that made me mature before my time, I was born this way. With time I resolved my issues and was able to face both my childhood and Gris Clair… and love them for being part of me.

Gris Clair… is unique in many ways. It truly stands out from the rest of the Serge Lutens releases as it is as cold and dry as lavender can be. There are no sweet notes, no embellishments in this fragrance.  It is austere and ascetic. No oriental tendencies in this one. The unique hot iron/ironed clothes accord appeared in 2006 in this one, disappeared completely and resurfaced in 2010 in L’Eau Serge Lutens in a composition with similar effects. The same note there gives a  a sense of coldness and remoteness. As a lavender scent Gris Clair… stands out as being abstract. Although it starts medicinal it doesn’t use any other elements that would allow it to be categorised as a fougere or an oriental or a herbal fregrance. Tonka is listed in the notes but here it is dry and not typical. Gris Clair… remains a mystery scent to me. I cannot begin guessing what was going on in Serge Lutens’s mind, how he communicated it to Christopher Sheldrake and what mystical ingredients he used to make this vision come true. Maybe the answer is in the elipsis.

Notes from Parfumo.net: Old wood, Amber, Iris, Lavender, Tonka bean, Frankincense

Notes from my nose: lavender, stone, autumn sky, hot iron, cotton

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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

20 comments

  1. Gris Clair is a deeply emotional fragrance indeed. I ve been in that cold, haunting, but somehow hospitable room too, and the feelings are more or less the same as yours. Pour Un Homme is a great lavender centred fragrance, the legendary Jicky also features lavender as the main ingredient but only Gris Clair manages to capture the soul of it in any possible form (fresh & dry, floral & herbal, cold & warm). Great review Christo.

    • What I love about Gris Clair is that it introduces a very common note in an otherworldly shape. It is just a matter of ingenuity, I also read AromiErotic’s review on Parfumo and although he describes the perfume a little differently his images are exactly the same. It is like Gris Clair contains a hallucinogen note.

  2. I was knocked-over-the-head-in-love by Gris Clair when I first came to know it. But as years went by, it became too ‘masculine’ for me (whatever ‘masculine” means to me, I still haven’t figured that one out). I wish I could re-visit GC as I knew it when we first met.

    Beautiful review!!

    • I understand what you mean, lavender tends to be a masculine or rather sexless note and Gris Clair offers its driest rendition. But I am sure many men would feel extremely uncomfortable wearing something so imposing.

  3. Oh, Christos!! I have no true affection for Gris Clair, but now I might change my mind, if only because it inspired this exquisite post from you. This is you at your best … saying what you know of life and love through perfume.

    • Gris Clair was a very special experience for me. It is probably the darkest Serge Lutens fragrance. It was really difficult to put everything down in writing and still make it read like a perfume review

  4. A splendid review! Thank you for the effort which you obviously invested in this perfect piece of prose. Makes me wish that I could read you in Greek! (-;

    I should add: you somehow managed to capture my very own attitude toward lavender in perfume. Now, I’ll have to give this one a try…

    • This is very special lavender. It is interesting how most people see the exact same dramatic atmosphere in this.

      To tell you the truth I haven’t written like this in Greek for ages and I may feel a little more spontaneous writing in English, a little bit less self-judging. But I have been thinking of trying to do a Greek version of my blog since I saw that I have so many readers from Greece. I will give it a try and let you know..

      • If you do, it will be Greek to me! I am sorry for the lack of clarity, but I meant to express a different idea, that if you write this well in English, I’d love to be capable of reading what you write in your native language. Alas, I am ignorant of Greek, aside from a few philosophical terms such as ‘telos’, ‘eudaemonia’, ‘nomos’… Oh yes, and let us not forget:: philo + sophos

        (-;

        • I think I got what you wrote. I just wish I could read me in Greek because I have never tried writing anything similar in Greek. All of my perfume reading and most of my professional written communication is in English so it comes so much easier for me to express my thoughts in English.

  5. I have no idea why I haven’t tried this one: I love lavender! It definitely wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s just that every time I get to the store that carries Serge Lutens perfumes there is something else (including in SL line) that I want to test first… But I will definitely try Gris Clair soon: you wrote a very convincing review :)

    • If you are one of those rare lavender loving creatures then you should definitely rush out and try this. As Carol said it leans more masculine but still it is a unique treatment of lavender, very evocative and very simple at the same time.

  6. Pingback: Laughs, Lemmings, Loves – Episode 24 « Undina's Looking Glass

  7. Gris Clair inexplicably transports me to a mountainside and though I don’t often wear it these days and I will always have it in my wardrobe. Thoroughly enjoyed the loving details of this post. Thank you!

  8. ginzaintherain

    This is brilliant. The ironing board void at the centre!
    In my case, I just can’t take the synthetic ‘amber’ or whatever it is at the centre, and so, outrageously, over the years I have polluted (improved) my bottle with whatever exquisite lavender essential oils I come across. It is now wrecked in a way, but I prefer it. The lavenders rise, and THAT NOTE, which I ultimately hate ( I never got phoenixes rising from the volcanic ashes or any of that, just a nitrile insistency) is relegated to the background. I now use my ‘Gris Clair’ when I have run out of anti-panic essential oils.

    However, this beautiful review will make me go and sniff the original again in Isetan, Tokyo. Thankyou

    • I go the opposite way with my Gris Clair: I use it add a lavender layer, especially to other Serge Lutens perfumes and it works beautifully. Gris Clair and Cuir Mauresque are very good friends.

  9. Jeanne

    lovely review…

  10. Mimi

    Gris clair made a thorough impression on me, too. Among other things, the smelling strip kept hypnotizing me for 3 full days, until I had to go back to the store and get a bottle. And yes, it makes me see things, too.
    And it takes me to a place where time hardly exists, and where unimportant things or nasty little peole can’t touch me. Lovely!

    By the way, I originaIly went to the Lutens counter to try Muscs Koublai Khan which you recommended me a while ago. I did like it, by the way, but it didn’t shock me as either amazing, or amazingly “dirty”, maybe something is weird about my nose when it comes to the nasty stuff… Gris Clair however is thoroughly blowing my mind! Clean is my new dirty ;)

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