For the love of Grey Flannel

GREY FLANNEL FRAGRANCEGiven that today is National Fragrance Day it seemed appropriate to post something about the importance of the smelly stuff. Certainly, the relationship it’s possible to have with your favourite fragrance can be complex and surprisingly intimate. I have known my signature scent, Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel, for example, longer than I have known most of my friends or my other half.

It has been my favourite fragrance for nearly 30 years (yes, I am that old) and has been there on my skin when I have laughed, cried, worked, travelled, fallen in love and – on occasion – fallen over blind drunk. It was there when I went to University in the mid Eighties, when I secured my first journalism job in the Nineties and when I tied the knot in the Noughties. And I’m still wearing it now, in whatever the current decade we’re in happens to be called.

Acquaintances have come and gone but Grey Flannel, like the most steadfast and loyal of friends, has stuck by me through thick and thin – literally and figuratively as it happens since I was once considerably slighter than I am now. Frankly, I only hope that someone has the decency to spritz my lifeless cadaver with it when I eventually pop my clogs/favourite pair of Tricker’s boots.

Oh, I’ll admit here and now that there have been times when I’ve been, you know, less than faithful to Grey Flannel: other fragrances have entered my life and caused me to stray occasionally. What can I say? I write about fragrance for a living so the temptation is there on a plate – and in a bottle. But though I do have a fondness for Givenchy Gentleman, Helmut Lang Cologne, Roja Parfum’s Vetiver Extrait and Lagerfeld Classic, Grey Flannel is the fragrance I always come home to after a dalliance of the eau de toilette kind.

grey copyAlthough launched in the mid Seventies, I first discovered GF though an ad in Eighties’ style bible Blitz magazine which featured a naked James Dean lookalike (or was it Dean himself?) and instantly fell in love with its quirky grey flannel pouch and intoxicating (if polarising) mix of galbanum, geranium, rose, oakmoss, tonka bean and violet. And especially the violet.

People who smell it on me often say it reminds them of the Parma Violet sweets they sucked on as kids. A oriental woody scent with green, powdery and slightly soapy vibes, it’s a lot more complex than that, of course, but I get where they’re coming from and, like the smell of the childhood sweets they refer to, it’s a concoction I find strangely comforting. So much so, in fact, that it’s my lucky charm when I need a little good fortune and in times of crisis I’ve been known to spray a little of it on my pillow. Yep, Linus from Charlie Brown has his security blanket and I have my bottle of Grey Flannel. But that’s how it is with a fragrance that you fall in love with: it’s always there for you.

The truth is, Grey Flannel is not the coolest of fragrances to wear (though the perfumers I know seem to rate it highly) nor is it a particularly expensive one.  But don’t be fooled by the lack of street cred or disrespectful discounting; there’s nothing bargain basement about this award-winning fragrance (it won a prestigious FiFi  –  the equivalent of a fragrance Oscar – in 1976).

Naturally, over the years the formula has changed a bit (pesky new ingredient rules have seen to that) but it’s still pretty faithful to the fragrance I remember back  when I was in my student digs so I’m not complaining. My only concern these days is that Grey Flannel will be discontinued before I am  – which explains why I have a small, nuclear holocaust-style stockpile – but it must be doing something right to be here 40 years after it launched – not to mention to still be in my life after all these years. Franky, I count myself very lucky indeed to have picked a fragrance that has lasted so long. Many young guys I know are falling in love with fragrances that will have vanished off the shelves in three years time once the company that produces them decides to replace them – modern record company stylee – with a younger, fresher, more aggressively commercial model.

So, on the day we’re celebrating all that the fragrance industry has given us my message is this:  if you find a fragrance that means as much to you as Grey Flannel means to me enjoy it, cherish it and keep it close: it’s much more than something that can make you smell nice – it really can be your very best friend.

A version of this post originally appeared on

DSquared Potion Royal Black: the old black magic is back

potion royal blackMy love affair with DSquared’s POTION is a bit like love affairs in general; I have fallen in love with it, out of love with it and now – I’m pleased to report – I am, at the very least, considering having another fling with it.

I adored the original POTION which launched back in 2011 (as you can see here) but POTION Blue Cadet, its follow up, left me massively underwhelmed  (as you can see here). The latest flanker, POTION Royal Black, however, puts things back on track somewhat.

Warm, woody and spicy, with a touch of oud and tobacco, it’s deliciously intense and punchy, with echoes of Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather. I’m sure some people will find its initial intensity a bit much and summer seems an odd time for its launch (it very much feels like an Autumnal fragrance to me) but if you’re in the mood for something deep, smoky and sexy it’s well worth a go. My only criticism is to do with its staying power which could be better and which is why it’s a fling for me rather than a full blown affair.


Top: bergamot, incense, pimento

Middle: rose, cedar wood, Balcanic tobacco absolute, oud

Base: leather accord, cahsmere wood, gaiac wood, musk

DSquared’s POTION Royal Black is available from 15th July from Harrods priced £67 for 100ml eau de parfum. 

Tom Ford Sahara Noir: worth crossing a desert for

TOM FORD SAHARA NOIRLike Kate Bush albums and really good soufflés Tom Ford fragrances are almost always worth the wait.  His latest fragrance, Sahara Noir, is absolutely no exception and I fell in love with it the moment I got a preview of it earlier today. It may have a raft of supporting notes like bitter orange, Egyptian jasmine, labdnam, beeswax, agarwood and cedar but this fragrance is all about one of my favourite ingredients – frankincense. So much so, in fact, that I should really write FRANKINCENSE when I tell you this. And add a couple of exclamations marks just to make the point.  But anyway, you get the picture.

tom-ford-sahara-noirThough aimed at women (see the advertising to the right) it’s also a fragrance perfect for men who like big, ballsy statement scents with warmth, depth and tenacious longevity. Not everyone will love it – it’s not a “focus group fragrance” after all – but if you’re into luxury, opulence and, well, the rich, evocative smell of frankincense, I strongly suggest you give it a try.

Tom Ford Sahara Noir is available nationwide from May priced £100 for 50ml EDP.

Bentley For Men Intense: my favourite fragrance launch of the year so far

Bentley For Men Intense 100ml_72dpiThere have already been lots of brand new men’s fragrances this year but of all the ones so far the Intense version of Bentley For Men, the first fragrance from the luxury car brand, is by far my favourite. Yes, I know it’s only February still but I’ve been lucky enough to sample what coming up as far as June so that covers pretty much half of 2013.

In a way, it should come as no surprise that it’s so good (the nose, Nathalie Lorson, also created Lalique’s fantastically dark vetiver creation Encre Noir after all) but what’s ironic is that it should take a luxury car company, rather than an experienced fashion house, to come up with the goods.

But then, this is no stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap mass-market fragrance: it’s something that clearly puts integrity before all else. The regular version, Bentley For Men  a woody, fresh and leathery number with black pepper,  bergamot, musk, patchouli and a hint of rum  –  is great in itself but the Intense version is superb.

A “high-impact” take of the signature fragrance Intense replaces the freshness provided by Bentley For Men’s bergamot and bay leaves and replaces them with labdanum and sandalwood, in a brief that’s basically all about bigging up the leather, spices and patchouli. The result is one of the sexiest fragrances I’ve smelt in years. It’s long lasting too. In fact, the base notes were still lingering on my skin the morning after the night of the official press launch.

BENTLEYEven the bottle, with its blunderbuss weightiness, sensual curves and meticulous attention to detail (“Bentley Fragrances” is even embossed under the lid), is nop-notch. So if you’re looking for a seriously good fragrance for 2013 make Bentley For Him Intense your first stop.

Bentley For Men Intense is available from Harrods from 24th March priced £69.50 for 100 ml eau de parfum.

The Notes:

Top: Black Pepper, Incense, African Geranium

Heart: Clary Sage, Labdanum resin, Leather

Base: Cedarwood, Patchouli, Sandalwood

Disclosure Notice: I received a free sample of this fragrance for review purposes

The Grooming Guru Awards 2012: Dud of The Year: James Bond 007 (the fragrance)

james-bond-007-a-movie-of-action-style-and-no-L-LE2TUcggawrd12lIn the beauty industry – where, by and large everything is fabulous, wonderful and beautiful  – criticising a product is not an act without consequences. So I thought long and hard (for a full 12 seconds) about whether to give out an award for the product that least lived up to expectations this year.

But, hey, I’m a straight-talking northerner and didn’t start this blog to be afraid of giving my opinion. And that’s all it is – my own personal opinion. So…when it comes to picking out a real stinker of a fragrance his year, for me it has to be the James Bond 007 one.

It’s not that this eagerly-anticipated fragrance from Procter & Gamble is particularly pernicious (it’s terminally bland rather than offensive, suffering the fate of most fragrances that probably came into the world with the assistance of that most cack-handed of midwives – the focus group). No, it’s that it should be so much better. This is the James Bond brand we’re talking about here after all. In its 50th year and smashing box office records with Skyfall – a film regarded by many as the best Bond film ever.

The bottom line  – and I’m not the first to say this – is that James Bond himself would never wear this sharp, rather acrid concoction with its signature apple note (who knew 007 was so fond of a Cox’s Pippin?). He might spray it to repel enemies perhaps but certainly not to bed the girl. As someone on one of my favourite fragrance sites said, though, its main crime is of being a wasted opportunity. Another  simply wrote “it’s the cheaper smell of Burberry For Men” but even I wouldn’t be that scathing.

2978749Having said all this I suspect it’ll initially do ok sales-wise. Not least because, with the 50th anniversary celebrations and release of Skyfall,  it’s riding on the crest of a 007 publicity frenzy. It’s also had the advantage of some very shrewd marketing. There’s a rather fetching limited edition gold flacon version (though that to me is a bit like opening the bonnet of your Aston Martin only to find the engine of a 2CV inside) and GQ heavily promoted it as “the most dangerously sophisticated fragrance in the world” earlier this year – an endorsement which one reviewer called “quite a claim” and which I call “quite bonkers”.

Undergreen Black: at last a fragrance with balls

The fragrance industry,when it comes to men’s fragrances at least, is in the doldrums: there I’ve said it. Launch after launch produces generic, nondescript scents aimed at followers rather than leaders. Fragrance by focus group rules.  As I’ve said before, it’s all about bland ambition. Increasingly fragrances rely on fancy bottles to disguise the pedestrian juices inside, like someone masking unwashed hair with a dry shampoo. There are no classics in the making anymore. And I seriously worry for the guy who’s 22 today because his current scent squeeze will be dead and gone by the time he’s 30 (if not 25). He’ll certainly be hard pushed to have anything to reminisce about when he’s 40.

So when I come across something at least having a go I cling to it like a life raft. Which is where Undergreen‘s latest fragrance Black comes in. It actually launched exclusively at Harvey Nichols last month and a sample has been sitting on my desk since then, hidden under a pile of press releases.

Anyway, the upshot is that I love it. Key to its allure is a mega-punchy liquorice note which works beautifully with the black pepper top note and trio of woods at its base. It also has that fusty, churchy smell I absolutely love in fragrances.

Ok, so Undergreen is a niche brand able to take risks and a bottle will set you back three times as much as something from the high street (though you do get a 100ml eau de parfum for your investment) but trust me, it’s worth it. Trust me, right now, niche is where it’s at.

Undergreen Black Classic Edition costs £120 for 100ml eau de parfum. Available from Harvey Nichols.

Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino is about to create an even bigger splash.

Regular followers of this blog will know that I’m a. a big fan of Tom Ford fragrances (esp his Private Blend Oud Wood which is one of my favourite scents of all time) and b. an equally big fan of his gobsmacking gorgeous Neroli Portofino collection.

With its sparkling blend of citrus, floral and amber notes Neroil Portofino has always been the perfect fragrance for summer and from May you’ll be able to live out the infamous ‘splashing’ adverts for real with the introduction of the Neroli Portofino Eau Fraiche Body Splash.

Perfect if you like layering your fragrances, it comes in a generous 236ml sized bottle and is designed to be splashed all over (within reason). For me, it’s this summer’s must-have product.

Available from May priced £85 for 236ml body splash. For stockists call 0870 034 2566


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