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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