Gravel – A Man’s Cologne: this is the essence of discontinuation

I have been going through my samples trying to make some sort of a catalogue so that I can actually be able to go back and find what I really want. So I came across this vial I knew I had but haven’t touched for ages: having something is not enough, you must also be able to know where it is.

Gravel – A Man’s Cologne

This is as hard to get as it gets and as historical. Gravel was composed by Michael Knudson in 1957, a chemist from New Jersey. He got his big break when Dave Garroway, original host of the Today Show, discovered this scent and presented it on television. Gravel was an effort to attract men in wearing cologne. To make his product more unique and distinctive, Knudson added real gravels inside every bottle. The bottle design and logo were classic but today look like something out of Tom Ford’s Private Blend series.

The humble rocks inside each bottle aspired to promote the idea of manliness and ruggedness, something necessary to sell perfume to men at the time. I do not know how well the perfume and packaging performed in sales and how much the Today Show promotion helped. Enough to keep Micael Knudson blending, bottling and gravel-filling these beautiful bottles I guess. At least up until a few years ago Gravel was sold at a modest price form the man himself and he even had a contract with First in Fragrance for selling his perfume online. This is where I got my sample from.

Unlike what one would expect from the name and packaging, Gravel is not the monster scent of masculinity. It is a sweet, powdery sandalwood scent with a citric kick. It is very soft with mild projection, but I can witness that the sandalwood used is of excellent quality. It reminds me of the salty sandalwood in Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Santal Noble. Overall it smells like Paul Sebastian PS or Lancome SagamoreI would say that Gravel is not so much a man’s cologne. A Gentleman’s Cologne would be more fitting and it is certainly a scent that could be worn by women.

It will not be worn any more though. Michael Knudson was mixing and selling Gravel well into his late 90’s. A passion and dedication I cannot help but envy and admire. He has now passed away, and with him Gravel has been forever (?) discontinued. Perhaps I am a purist but I find a strange sense of dignity and true artistic endeavour in the idea of a perfume being hand blended and bottled by the perfumer and eventually being discontinued with his death. The world of perfume and fashion have suffered enough from the death of creators who have been forced to haunt the world of the living with products that bear the name of the original creators and nothing much from their spirit, in a way that makes their name rattle meaninglessly like a chain.

 

Notes from Parfumo:  Balsamic notes, Resins, Woods, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Citric notes

Notes from my nose: Lemon, Sandalwod, Salt, Earth, Powder

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MemoryOfScent by Christos Karageorgos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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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.

32 comments

  1. Nice! Never heard of it and therefore never smelt it. Hopefully one day I will. I like Sagamore and this era of masculines so I am sure Gravel will be appealing. I also like this slightly naive marketing towards men. I was watching some old perfume commercials on Youtube the other week and was cringing at how terrible the marketing of men’s fragrance used to be. Whether we have become more sophisticated or more cynical or a combination of both, today’s man would not fall for a lot of these ads and perfume concepts marketers aimed at them in the past. Interesting though, that a good fragrance will survive all types of shoddy marketing. I’ve reached for Old Spice a couple of times in the past month! As always, thanks for your insight Christos.

    • I tend to think cynicism is the key now, especially when I see campaigns like Tom Ford’s which showcase a combination of stupidity and provocation that ultimately have nothing to do with the perfumes.

      These classic scents always manage to connect us with memories and emotions. i hope you manage to smell this not only because it is a good scent but also because Michale Knudson will live as long as Gravel lives.

  2. Great story and research. Definitely agree about departed artists been forced to haunt the world of the living via brands. This would be a great bottle find, rocks and all.

  3. I so do not want to spend the next 5 hours on e-bay when I could be writing. Besides there is no way I will be bidding against Clayton who I reckon is on e-bay right now along with a few others who have read this post. This is a collectors item.

  4. Dear Christos
    What a thoughtful and poignant piece.
    I too have often wondered in one thought whether it might not be better to allow perfumes to pass away with their creators, then, a moment later I imagine a world without Mitsouko, Shalimar, l’Heure Bleue anything early by Chanel or Dior and then I change my mind.
    The article had an additional dimension for The Dandy as I have yet, sharp intake of breath, to find a sandalwood scent I am truly at home with.
    Gravel may be gone, but I will renew my pledge to try Santal Noble and Sagamore again.
    Thank you.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I do not if Santal Noble is going to be the sandalwood for you, but if sandalwood has not proved to be the right note for you, you should try it. Completely different than anything else.

      Thank you as always

  5. Christos, I think the only way that there is eternal life, for people and things, is via what lives on in memory. So with your words, you are keeping this perfumer and his perfume alive (and I had never heard of him or of Gravel before, so reading this is especially lovely … and very fitting for a blog called Memory of Scent).

    • This story has always fascinated be. Think of the passion and inventiveness of this man, in a time when wearing perfuming was not even fashionable, let alone making perfume

  6. What a wonderful tribute to the perfumer and to the scent. If I ever come across Gravel I’ll definitely give it a try. I like the bottle with stones.

    • I believe the pebbles contribute something to the perfume. For a few brief minutes in the opening I can smell something slightly metallic and earthy, like stone.

  7. And a day later I have found the special edition with moon rocks! Gravel Moon.
    Just kidding. I have alerted the community in the States. I see Undina is also onto it.

  8. Pingback: Laughs, Lemmings, Loves – Episode 33 | Undina's Looking Glass

  9. Apicius

    Sad to hear that this very special perfumer has passed away. I am glad I own a bottle of it.

    Although it never appeared in the scent pyramids I think I get some sort of lavender, actually pretty much of it.

    • You must have bought one of the last bottles available through Aus Liebe zum Duft. I think it was amazing of them to find and include this to their collection.

      For some strange reason lavender is one of the hardest note for me to focus on and identify. It sort of melts into the background and I have to work really hard to pin it down although it is obviously extremely familiar.

  10. Christoph Thiede

    only today I learned when I went to buy another bottle of gravel, that they have none left.
    I was so disappointed I nearly was in tears – honestly – I spent years of searching for a scent that would fit to/for me and was so happy I had finally found something I really did like and which would be different than all the latest en-vogue high-street perfumes –
    my question: where could I still get some – if anybody could point me to any stocks left over, I would definitely be interested!

    • I know the feeling of losing your favourite scent… It is like hearing a good friend has moved without saying goodbye. I hope you find a replacement bottle. If you don’t, try getting hold of Lancome Sagamore. It is not exactly the same but they are close in spirit. Sagamore is a rather old scent that has been re-released a few years ago. There is nothing en-vogue about it.

  11. Christoph Thiede

    Hi Christos, thanks for your suggestion which I tried to follow up – and many a questioning look did I get when I started to ask for Sagamore – only a few remembered and new from afar – and last week I learned that Sagamore does not seem to be available in Germany any more (at least not with Douglas) and they told me that it was last available in 2009 –
    so I am at something of a cross-road – will I buy something on the internet I have never smelled and which may not really be available for long and thus leave me with my next “dear friend that will turn and say good-bye without telling me” or shall I start looking for something entirely new?
    if you have any other advice – you seem to be a learned person

    I am personally absolutely thrilled and amazed how emotional loosing Gravel is for me as well as my girlfriend – if anyone has the Contact Details of Mrs. Knudson – I would even offer, to quit my job, take my girlfriend and move to the US to continue the story the Knudson couple started long ago.
    bests from Munich
    Chris

    • Chris I think Sagamore is still available but in limited release as part of La Collection (Fragrantica erroneously lists this as a feminine, if you look the original Sagamore is listed as masculine). So probably you can smell it in Paris or anywhere else where La Collection is available. While you are at it also try Cuir de Lancome, part of the same limited release group.

      As a cheap, so cheap it ca be a blind buy, I can offer Paul Sebastian PS. Very close to Gravel and probably very easy to find online. If you try it let me know what you think.

  12. In the age of Meto Sexuals and Emo’s, it is hard to believe that there was a time when men thought it was unmanly to wear a cologne or perfume. If I saw that on the shelf, I would buy it. What could be more rugged than actual gravel in the bottle? That was some great marketing. Truly ground-breaking.

  13. Donn Greenberg

    I just came across your post. I was able to buy several bottles from the last batch of Gravel that Michael Knudson had in his home after he passed away. I still have a bottle that I use and several empty ones. I didn’t know of his passing until I sent an email to his wife Sabrina to place my annual order. I had been a long standing customer of Michael’s and purchased Gravel directly from him for more than 20 years. Where I had never met him in person we did speak on the phone over the years so I knew the history of his passion for making cologne and the joy he got when he would personally be able to talk to his long time customers who would call him to place their Gravel cologne orders. The man was very special in many ways. Creator, salesman and a really great person. I do miss being able to buy a cologne I have been wearing for over twenty years but also miss my conversations with Michael. If anyone knows if there are any bottles still available in the US for sale I would appreciate you letting me know.

    • Thank you for this personal contribution to this post which was intended more as a memorial note for Knudson and less as a bona fide review. It seems that he was a remarkable person. I hope you manage to find some backup bottles although I imagine they must be extremely rare by now. Out of curiosity, how much did Knudson sell Gravel for? The last time it was available in Europe the asking price was around 140 euro I think and I believe that it was much more reasonable priced on your side of the Atlantic.

  14. Eugene Teslovic

    I have been using Gravel since 1968. About 20 years ago I contacted Michael when select stores no longer had Gravel available. I would order quantities directly from him. My supply lasted me 20 years and I was looking to buy more when I discovered that Michael had passed. I have one bottle left and will use it sparingly until I find another comparable scent.

    • It is so unique to hear the personal stories of those who were buying personally from Michael. If you run into Varvatos 10th Anniversary Edition, the one in the silver bottle but not Platinum, give it a try. It is not identical but it has something that reminded me of Gravel

  15. I just posted a lenghtly comment, about Mike Knudsen, Gravel, pricing, etc. but my Post was not sent. Unfortunately, I did’t save a copy. reason? Too long, etc?

  16. Thanks, I did register with them so I could post. i will follow up with them to rectify if possible. Is there any on going interest in this topic?

  17. Marijean

    What a beautifully written piece. And the memories have flooded me to the extent that I have had to stop everything in order to remember as much as I can. My father wore Gravel. I can remember the fragrance so distinctively to this day. Because I loved the fragrance so much I would ask my father to let me smell his neck right after he applied the cologne on his ‘date night’ with my mother. There was a pine note that I recall. I was obsessed with the bottle and the little pink and yellowish rocks floating along the bottom. They made a gentle sound as they rolled back and forth. After my father aged to the extent that ‘A Man’s Cologne’ was not really something he bothered with any longer, I would still go into his room, pick up the rather large bottle, clink the little stones together and take a long, slow smell and remember how my parents transformed from mom and dad to a very attractive couple heading out for a night of dancing. Thank you Christos for transporting me back to those beautiful memories!

    • Thank you for leaving this personal and beautifully written comment. In a sense this is what this blog is about, the way we all inhale the same molecules but end up smelling pieces of our life. My childhood smells and scents are always a compass in my journeys

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