Review En Bref: Serge Lutens Gris Clair

My Reviews en Bref are always for scents that, for whatever reason, may not warrant one of my more exhaustive, detailed assessments. Today, it’s for Gris Clair, a Serge Lutens fragrance that I found utterly unbearable all five times that I tried it over the last seven months.

Source: Luckyscent.

Source: Luckyscent.

Gris Clair is a lavender-centric eau de parfum created by Christopher Sheldrake and released nine years ago in 2006. The Serge Lutens website describes the scent in the usual abstract terms:

“Like pollen blowing over a lifeless city.

As grey as ashes floating through a sky of sunbeams. Lavender, then, to add grey to clarity, I added incense. I’m crazy about it! In every sense, incense makes sense to my senses.” Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens always keeps the note list secret, but Luckyscent guesses Gris Clair includes:

lavender, amber, tonka bean, iris, dry wood, incense.

Source: de.wallpaperswiki.org

Source: de.wallpaperswiki.org

I would add laundry clean musk to that list because Gris Clair opens on my skin with icy lavender that has been crystallized with sugar then flash-frozen in a dense fog of laundry clean musk. Slivers of dry cedar poke out here and there, as does a handful of hay from the tonka/coumarin, but the overwhelming impression is of candied lavender hairspray turned from vapour into something icier. I’ve noticed that the newer Lutens fragrances that explore chilly or glassy themes all do so via copious amounts of white musk, like the hideous Laine de Verre. Gris Clair seems to have been the first foray into the icy genre.

Lavender in a French market in the South of France. Source: 123rf.com

Lavender in a French market in the South of France. Source: 123rf.com

It’s a difficult opening that only gets worse, so much so that I’m not sure where to begin. Take the lavender. For a brief moment, it was actually nice, despite the candied quality. A subtle creaminess infused it, while the sweetness worked to muzzle its usual pungency, herbaceousness, and medicinal facets. Yet, 10 minutes in, those emerge in full force, blasting with a grey ferocity that recalls all the reasons why I ran screaming from the smallest whiff of the plant for decades. My hatred for lavender may have softened over the last few years, but it is primarily gourmand, lavender tonka ice-cream that I can tolerate, not this hideously pungent version so common in the Provençal dried sachets that tormented me as a child.

There is little in Gris Clair to make things better as a counterbalance. The hairspray vibe softens, but it is replaced by soapiness that evokes laundry drier sheets instead. Much more problematic are two elements that suddenly appear less than 10 minutes into Gris Clair’s development: an aggressively sharp incense smokiness and an equally synthetic dry woodiness. Both explode on the scene, completely shifting the fragrance’s profile from fresh, creamy, and candied lavender with iciness and cleanness to extremely pungent, dry lavender that is wrapped up with black smokiness on a bed of raspy woods. The clean musk remains (alas) to serve as a bridge between the two layers.

Source: nexus-wallpaper.com

Source: nexus-wallpaper.com

From this point forth, Gris Clair is essentially a constantly fluctuating race between five main, completely overlapping chords: pungent lavender, incense, candied sweetness, laundry clean musk, and dry woods. For a while, the sweetness is the very least of my problems, but that soon changes. Roughly 20 minutes in, the sugar returns with such force that it is positively jarring. It feels as though the back of my throat were actually coated with scratchy sugar granules, and the fragrance left a sore, irritated effect each time I tried it. It reminds me of the really cheap white icing on supermarket cupcakes, only this is far more excessive. The lavender’s herbaceous pungency fights the sugar for supremacy, each one screeching louder and louder until I feel as though I were wearing a candied lavender medicine.

The laundry musk is not far behind, emitting now an industrial chemical twinge, but it is the incense which is the final nail in the coffin. It is just plain off — in ways that I cannot adequately describe. It is simply nasty with a jarring, harsh scratchiness that conjured up the image of Brillo pads. That said, the incense is so fully intertwined with the other problematic elements that it’s difficult for me to pinpoint which one is really to blame. Even the woodiness feels raspy, and don’t get me started again on the sugar. Have I mentioned just how egregiously synthetic this fragrance is as a whole?

The first hour is utterly brutal for me in its imbalanced, unrefined cacophonic mix of pungency, smokiness, sweetness, cleanness, and woodiness, but Gris Clair does fractionally improve and soften later on. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. As I said at the start of the review, I’ve tried Gris Clair five times over the last seven months, and I’ve scrubbed it off each time. The first time, I lasted a mere 10 minutes but, by my 3rd test, I had worked my way up to an hour. The fifth and last time, I managed a full 4 hours before I could no longer bear it and gave up. The mix of aggressively pungent lavender with diabetes-inducing saccharine, industrial cleanness, desiccated woods, and scratchy incense was too much.

Source: colonialmarble.net

Source: colonialmarble.net

It doesn’t help that Gris Clair’s core essence never changes dramatically from this hideous barrage. The various notes jockey for the lead and often change places as the dominant chord, but that is a merely a question of degree. For the most part, the scent is linear, lacking the twists and turns so common to other Lutens creations. That said, Gris Clair does see some minor variations. A caramel sweetness arrives at the end of the first hour; the raspy woods join the main notes on center stage; and a quiet tonka creaminess stirs in the base. Eventually, it seeps up top, turning Gris Clair into a bouquet of crystallized, sugared lavender and cream, laced with harsh incense, drenched with laundry musk, and resting atop a base of synthetic creamy woods. It’s somewhat more tolerable (barely) than the ghastly opening, but I was too exhausted after 4 hours to want another moment of it.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

All I could do when wearing Gris Clair was to compare it to Fourreau Noir, a Lutens bell jar fragrance that is so superb, this lavender-phobe bought a full bottle. It was my first lavender fragrance ever, and one that I found compulsively addictive from the start. Like Gris Clair, it has smoky incense, sweetness, tonka creaminess, and woodiness, albeit via the use of woody, spicy patchouli instead of cedar. But that is as far as the similarities go, in my opinion. To use a fashion simile, Gris Clair is like a ’70s, scratchy, polyester jumpsuit with a hodgepodge of jarring elements, while Fourreau Noir would be Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture, one of the Master’s silky outfits from his oriental period fused with his beloved ambered goldenness and his black. The two scents are worlds apart. I suspect reformulation is partially to blame for Gris Clair’s current profile, since every old Lutens has been significantly changed after a period of time and Gris Clair is now nine years old, but I think Oncle Serge’s interest in juxtaposed olfactory contrasts and his 10-year long obsession with iciness play an even greater role in why Gris Clair is the way it is.

Generally, in my full reviews, I like to provide other people’s perspectives on a scent, but I rarely do that in the Reviews en Bref and I’m not going to do so here. I want to block the whole experience out as soon as possible, so you’re free to look up comments on Fragrantica where most people seem to adore it. The majority of Luckyscent reviews are really positive, too, though a few found the scent was either medicinal, overly soapy like shaving cream, or bearing a Grape Kool-Aid note. They, like me, are in a definite minority because Gris Clair is quite a popular scent. And, honestly, it pains me that I loathe Gris Clair as I do because there is no-one whom I worship more in the perfume world on an individual, personal level than Oncle Serge. Unfortunately, I think Gris Clair is simply unbearable, but if you adore sugar-frosted gourmands, smoky lavender, and clean freshness, you will probably feel quite differently.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Gris Clair is a eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml bottle for $135, €90, or £75. Discount Pricing: Gris Clair is sold for significantly less by U.S. discount retailers, some of which ship worldwide. On FragranceNet, using a coupon given right on the page, Gris Clair costs $59.99 for a sealed, boxed version and roughly $53 for an unboxed tester, both with free shipping. FragranceNet has a number of international sub-sites ranging from Brazil to Canada, the EU, UK, South Africa, Scandinavia, Japan, and Australia. Simply change the currency symbol at the top of the page to match your region. StrawberryNet also discounts Lutens. Their prices are not as low, but they sell in even more international currencies, from Asian to Middle Eastern, Australian, Brazilian, etc.. In America, to my disbelief, I saw Gris Clair sold on CVS (!!!), though it’s more expensive at $89.99 than on FragranceNet. On Amazon, it’s $79 with free shipping and sold via BeautyEncounter. On Pricefalls, it’s $62, while Overstock sells it for $72.99 with an extra 10% discount if you’re signing up for the first time. Regular U.S. sellers: Gris Clair is sold at Luckyscent, Twisted Lily, Barney’s, and Aedes. The first two sell samples, and also ship worldwide. You can also buy it from Serge Lutens USOutside the U.S.: you can buy Gris Clair from Serge Lutens International. Generally, you can find Lutens fragrances at Canada’s The Perfume Shoppe; British department stores like Harrods or Selfridges; France’s Sephora and Premiere Avenue; Italy’s Alla Violetta; or Australia’s Mecca Cosmetics. For all other countries, you can use the Lutens Store Locator guide. Samples: Surrender to Chance has Gris Clair starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

43 thoughts on “Review En Bref: Serge Lutens Gris Clair

    • Well, Fourreau Noir changed my view on lavender, as stated in the review, at least for one particular type/treatment of it. Fourreau Noir’s creamy lavender is superb. I also really like the lavender-tonka ice cream in Patricia de Nicolai’s Amber Oud which is a non-oud scent that actually pays homage to Jicky. Amber Oud became my 2nd lavender scent that I purchased. I like the same lavender accord in Jicky EDP as well. Really beautiful there. My problem with Jicky in its current version is the sharpness of the very synthetic civet, not the lavender at all.

      • Le Galion has a ‘Jicky/Shalimar’ homage that I think you might enjoy. Lavender atop creamy vanilla leather, with just some castoreum. Special for Gentlemen. Nothing like Foureau Noir but a lot like older Jicky!

  1. I have to agree with you on this one. Vile stuff. I too love Fourreau Noir but not this. I tried to give it a chance to smell what others seemed to smell but I couldn’t do it. I love lavender and couldn’t wash this off fast enough. It just made my throat feel scratchy. I suppose they can’t all work for everyone so I passed my decant on to someone who really loves it.
    I hope you and the Hairy German are well. He hasn’t made a blog appearance in a while it seems.

    • You can come sit with me in the Tiny Minority Corner of Outcasts then. LOL. I am rather relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one, especially with regard to experiencing a scratchy throat. It has to be from the sugar which feels so damn granulated, unless it’s the Brillo-pad incense.

      The Hairy German has had a very rough few weeks, alas. Skin allergies leading to a big lesion and sore near his bottom, related in part to some impacted anal glad issues (for the first time in his life!) and an abscess there. A truly long regimen of antibiotics and Prednisone did nothing unfortunately, so the poor baby has another visit to the doctor this week. He’s clearly so mortified by the situation and by what is emanating from his back parts. And the E-Collar of shame that he had to wear at one point did not help matters. He looked at me as though I were torturing him. I hope your furry one is faring much better. Give him a kiss from me, my dearest, and I send you a very big hug.

  2. Gris Clair didn’t agree with me either. I love lavender in its pure form, as an aromatherapy scent though.
    Gris Clair has been DH’s signature for more than 6 years now (one bottle lasts him more than 3 years!!), and both bottles were/are the pre-reformulated version. After smelling the renewed Chergui I wept, and decided I had to give up on it: a lost love. So of course I feared for the new formulation of Gris Clair too, and decided to buy something else for DH. He doesn’t like many perfumes, and I don’t want him to be disappointed like I was in a scent he has enjoyed for so long.
    The new contender is MFK Amyris. I chose it because it has a similar clean herbal vibe with some elegance and depth.
    If SL is going to change all his beautiful perfumes in this way, I may need to find another house to explore, but in the meantime I will cherish my collection of original formulations.

    • Serge Lutens admitted a few years back, in 2011 I think it was, in a Fragrantica interview that he has reformulated many of his fragrances. He said so with his usual indirectness, but it was pretty clear nonetheless. It did not seem to be solely due to IFRA/EU reasons, either. We’re now almost 5 years later, so I think it’s a sure bet that every longstanding Lutens fragrance has been impacted in some way.

      In the case of your husband, I’m glad you’ve found an alternative for him. I hope he likes Amyris almost as much.

  3. I have nothing against lavender usually, but I washed this one off, too. What’s left after an honest scrubbing–the toned-down remnants–isn’t too, too bad, though. 🙂

  4. I do not like Gris Clair either because of it’s suffocating sweetness. I tried several times as well and it just became more and more annoying each time I wore it. I do not like Chergui either. The mix of tobacco and treacle sweetness is nauseating. Some of Oncle Serge’s cedar notes are quite perturbing to me. I wear cedar EO mixed with moisturizer so this is a note I know and love but not always in Lutensian concoctions. I like Borneo 1834….

    • I don’t think Chergui was always that way, Katy. I think it has been badly reformulated. Very badly. Actually, I think reformulation has made a number of the Lutens fragrances extra sweet, like Un Bois Vanillé. The other trend I’ve noticed with the reformulations is that he’s heightened the white musk, undoubtedly to compensate for the dilution of more fundamental, primary ingredients. I can promise you that Chergui used to be, once upon a time, rather a dry scent with only a touch of quiet sweetness. As for the cedar, I think it’s become painfully synthetic and raspy in a number of the Lutens scents. It’s an unfortunate turn of events, but I can quite understand your lack of enthusiasm for some of the fragrances as they stand now.

      • That is a shame. It seems like it would almost be better to discontinue a fragrance then reformulate it so badly that it is virtually unidentifiable as the original scent. Thank you for verifying that cedar rasp, it is very noticeable to me and has ruined a number of fragrances I might really have enjoyed if the real stuff or a better synthetic had been used.

  5. Thank you! This review made me laugh out loud. I feel your pain. Gris Clair showcased everything I run from in a fragrance. One of only two failed blind buys. I tried it once and gave it to a colleague the next day. I have always had an aversion to Lavender in perfumes. Recently, however, I found one that I actually love, one that is worlds apart from any I have tried, and one that I purchased a full bottle of: Rania J’s Lavande 44.

    • You’ve mentioned Lavande 44 in the past, Rich, and I shall definitely keep an eye out for it. I will be doing a review for another Rania J scent soon, but it’s for the amber, not the lavender. BTW, have you ever tried Serge Lutens’ Fourreau Noir? It’s a great one for even a lavender hater.

  6. Gris Clair was not included in my last batch of Lutens samples from STC, but I did pick Fourreau
    Noir, which I thought was very wearable for me. In fact, my partner wore Cedre today when he went to work. I laughed when you mentioned lavender sachets because my grandmother always scattered them around her home, in closets, drawers, under pillows. My bottle of Chergui is about 1/4 full. I love it so much that I’ll want to buy another. There’s just something about the Lutens line that I find extremely appealing. Serge Noire is my last sample and *that* one definitely will be on my full bottle list!
    The Hairy German has been thru the mill. Poor guy. I can’t believe antibiotics and steroids didn’t help. He must feel miserable but going to the doctor is only for his
    own good. I can imagine the looks he gives you because GSDs have such intelligent faces
    and those eyes too. Give him a hug for me and I hope he gets well asap. 🙂

  7. I love Gris Clair and I love your review! Negative reviews can open up whole new explorations and conversations. Hurray for dissenting opinions.

    • First, welcome to the blog, JennL. Second, thank you for your open-mindedness and your enormous graciousness. In general, people can get quite touchy when something they love is criticized, and my negative reviews in particular seem to offend quite a number of people in the fragrance community. But I try to write for the consumer, and I strongly believe that nothing but gushing, rave, adoring reviews helps no-one, except the perfume houses and advertisers. I always give my honest opinion, for better or for worse, and, in my usual reviews, I always to provide as much detail as possible to let people know what they might expect from start to finish. Before I started the blog, I blindly bought fragrances on the basis of gushing stories and purely emotional descriptions without specifics — and I hated every single one of those purchases, all of which are now hidden out of sight in a closet. How much money I wasted; it irritates me still. So, my goal was to write for someone like me, someone who loves details and is a little OCD, and never to shy away from giving a negative review. It’s not to everyone’s taste…. 😉

      So, thank you for your graciousness here with a fragrance you love. I look forward to getting to know you and your perfume tastes better.

  8. Gris Clair was very barbershoppy on me, disliked it a lot. Encens et Lavande is better. Fourreau Noir has some aromachemical in it that bothers me, although I like the scent overall. Lavender is just very difficult for me overall, so I avoid it mostly.

    • I’m glad you’ve found a Lutens lavender that works for you. I have to smile at how many people here struggle with the note. I had no idea.

  9. I do not like Gris Clair at all.
    Long ago, I read many many raving reviews and there I went, inexperienced at heart, and bought the bottle only to discover, at first sniff, I couldn’t even be in the same room with my bottle. More than your hated lavender I get an ugly musc accompanied by something watery and acrid. (Brillo pad! too funny). You got me last year into Fourreau Noir and I love it! but then again, I don’t get too much lavender just something incredibly juicy, sticky, almost nutty and herbaceous.
    Happy Monday my dear K.

    • Fourreau Noir is so delicious. I hope Oncle Serge doesn’t ruin it with a poor reformulation job, because you know it’s going to be altered, if it hasn’t already.

  10. Another Gris Clair loather here! I was so shocked at how much I hated it, I had to get another sample. I thought maybe there was something wrong with the first one! Nope.

    • HA, you actually bought a second sample to be sure you weren’t mistaken about how bad it was? Hilarious! 😀 I can understand, though. One reason why I persisted so much with the fragrance is because so many people RAVE about it. Well, that and the fact that I have to wear a fragrance for SOME period of time before reviewing it, and 10 minutes just doesn’t cut it. It took me months to work up to 4 hours simply because I dreaded having to undergo the process and kept putting it off. But, seriously, we’re all in a tiny minority here because everyone else seems to adore this fragrance. :\

      • To be honest, the first sample was a freebie. But, really, I did think something HAD to be wrong with it, because at that point, I’d at least liked everything I’d tried from Lutens.

        But also, the manufacturer’s spray samples from SL can vary wildly, at least in my experience.

  11. I too prefer pairing lavender with warm, creamy notes as in Fourreau Noir, but Gris Clair… is one of the rare cold lavenders that I enjoy. On me, it has a burnt dust smell in a cold, clean way, which I find wierdly appealing. 😀

    By the way, have you tried Encens et Lavande? If you haven’t yet, don’t! 😛 It’s even colder than Gris Clair…. Considering that it was created in 1996, Uncle Serge may have been planning to go this chilly route all along? 😛

    • No, I haven’t tried Encens et Lavande — primarily for the reason which you stated. lol. I’m not keen on either clean scents or cold ones. But I’m glad Gris Clair works for you, Yinghao. 🙂

  12. I hate lavender, and probably would not like this. Thank you for the review, though. Honestly, I haven’t clicked with most of the Serges I have tried… very few that made me think, wow! That’s really worth buying! Although I liked Chergui very much.

    • Have you tried his Bell Jar/Paris Exclusive line at all, Septimus? If not, I think you should because that is where his real masterpieces lie. Perhaps you’ll find one or two to be more conceptual art than anything really wearable, but perhaps one or two will really surprise you.

      I don’t know your tastes well enough to make suggestions as to the particular ones you should try, and what you may have tested already, but you may want to consider: Un Voix Noire (tobacco, booze & the most unisex gardenia around), Boxeuses (smooth birch tar leather), La Myrrhe (if you like myrrhe, anise, ouzo/pastis, and aldehydes), Fourreau Noir (amber, patchouli, incense, tonka lavender), and Sarrasins (if you like jasmine w/ an animalic side). Un Voix Noire is really special and evocative, imo. Billie Holiday’s mournful gardenia after a nightclub’s closing. I know a number of guys who hate gardenia and are leery of florals who love that one.

      • Thank you for the suggestions…! Of the Bell Jars I have only tried Iris Silver Mist so far, which I really did not like (although I appreciated its uniqueness, it’s certainly nothing like any iris I have smelled before), and Sarrasins, which was also too much for me, even though I love white florals. The dirty-hair aspect of irises was turned up to 9000% with ISM, and I couldn’t handle it, haha!

        Un Voix Noire sounds beautiful though, I love tobacco, booze and white florals in my fragrance… will probably snag a sample from SUrrender to Chance or the like. 🙂

        • Iris Silver Mist….!!! Good God, that is a tough scent. It’s not one I would ever recommend as an introduction to the bell jar line, or to most people in general. lol. Brilliant and high-level conceptual art, but far from easy to wear. I’m fascinated, though, that you got “dirty hair” from it! I got iced vodka and some intergalactic… weirdness. Ha.

          Un Voix Noire, what a melancholic beauty that one is. Okay, others don’t find it melancholic at all — only evocative, transportative, and elegant — but, either way, it’s definitely one of the Bell Jar scents worth trying. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think and how it manifests itself on your skin. 🙂

          PS — I sent you an email a few hours ago at the address you used for your comment. Hope that’s okay.

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  14. I went and sniffed this last week when I was down in London–because I finally found a bottle in the wild at Liberty. The first few minutes caught my attention, but then, what a disappointment when it turned into a mouthful of cold sugar. But this sad tale had a happy ending: I bought Fourreau Noir instead.

    (Snagged a sample of Ormonde Woman, elsewhere, too… gorgeous, but it gave me a whacking great headache after half an hour. Which was a surprise, as I am about as sensitive as half a brick when it comes to aromachemical reactions. Perhaps it was coincidence. I hope so, because I think it’s something I’d like to wear. I will try it again.)

  15. Hated Gris Clair. Hated, hated, hated it. I have Lavender Issues anyway, but I also seem to have Shaving Cream Issues, and Acrid Woody Incense Issues as well. It punched almost all of my “Dear God, I’d rather slide down razor blades than wear this” buttons.

  16. I didn’t hate this, and thought it was sort of generically pretty but wholly unremarkable. That said, I only ever smelled it fleetingly on a test strip in the store. I’m not a huge lavender fiend, but I am a little more open to it than I used to be.

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