Gris Clair by Serge Lutens

I cannot think of a fragrance that captures solitude and reflection more effectively than Gris Clair, altogether able to find itself quiet yet intense. It is indeed a scent of light grey, but in no way evoking a melancholic mood. Instead, it is the olfactory equivalent of isolated deep thought.

The endearing feature of Gris Clair is how it is capable of grey but not of melancholy or nostalgia. This separation of its features intrigues me, because the grey of the lavender and the perfume in itself smoothly shifts into a scent of soft burning – a metallic warmth at its core. This is not at all overt, nor does one effect take primacy over the other. Rather, it appears to exist in parallel, cleverly but not completely indistinguishable from each other.

Isolation-as-an-effect in perfume is abstract. Amouage’s Dia Man I have described quite aptly as the sort of scent in which you sink into an Eames chair. I believe such qualities are achieved when the equilibrium between fullness and sparseness is met, where nothing seems in excess and nothing is missing or lacking. Furthermore, the scent as a whole is one elucidated idea rather than a complex construction of intense dimensions. Prada’s Infusion d’Iris is grey, containing a minimalism without it being absolute. It delineates plainly. They both smell considered and at times lonely and isolated. Dans Tes Bras is postmodern isolation situated in intimacy. All three examples are, in my mind, intelligent scents.

This effect is pushed considerably in Gris Clair, for its austere dusty dryness is pushed by lavender, iris, and incense, and its stiffness is cut with a dosage of tonka bean; one elucidated idea of isolation without slouchiness.

Gris Clair, however, wobbles into dangerous territory – a combination of lavender and tonka, whilst on one hand it may read as Jicky-esque, can also quite quickly move into a more aquatic, metallic territory. I can indeed see both aspects in Gris Clair, admittedly more aquatic-fougere than classic aromatic. Despite this, there’s adequate purity and clarity of expression in Gris Clair that this never becomes a problem.


© 2015 Liam Sardea

It is unavoidable to make comparisons. Serge’s other lavenders, Encens et Lavande and Fourreau Noir, are in no way similar in its ability to capture the thinking mood of Gris Clair. The former is minimalistic yet still full in some regards, as the tonka bean intervenes between the isolated qualities of lavender and a dispersive, thin incense, providing a subtle lacquer-like aspect in itself full and thick, and not at all minimalistic. Fourreau Noir whilst beautiful in its internal right presents a sheer gourmand facet of tonka bean, chocolate, and a likeness to milky sandalwood, yet has a disposition far too curvaceous and generous in timbre to be pensive. I am drawn to this pensiveness and seduced by both its abstractness and its ability to be present in certain perfumes.

Like many treatments of lavender, a particular characteristic facet is focused on and constructed upon. Here, the crisp camphor-like aspects are tilted with a cool and healing herbal slant moved further into grey. The grey approaches warmth in Gris Clair, and that in itself is technically fascinating. It has an emergent quality, approaching but never arriving at full expression. This creates a mysteriousness in a sort of introverted manner; observant yet silent.

The problem with styles creating isolation is that it must remain convincing, demure at a balance without smelling too confident or too quiet. Gris Clair falls at the more confident end of the balance.

For another thinker’s lavender, considerably more technical and gregarious in nature, Brin de Reglisse is imperative. Chanel’s Jersey is also worthwhile, textural and outstandingly clear – but practical. Both alternatives are not isolated, however. 

Thinker’s Lavender.

Subjective rating: 3.5 – 4 / 5

Objective rating: 3.5/5

One thought on “Gris Clair by Serge Lutens

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