Over at the FromPyrgos blog, Mr. Ross has done an admirable job of piecing together the probable sequence of labels/companies for this historically significant scent. Apparently, this sequence was: Epocha to Jacqueline Cochran to Sanofi to French Fragrances to EA Fragrances (EA meaning Elizabeth Arden). For some reason, Mr. Ross seems concerned about whether the Sanofi formulation should be considered an “80s scent” or a “90s scent.” By contrast, I’m interested in determining if these different names on the labels are meaningful, in terms of what I’m smelling.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a sample swap with a Fragrantica.com member (Mr. Ross in fact told her to contact me in this context) who wanted to try different versions of Grey Flannel. I sent her a French Fragrances EdT sample as well as an EA Fragrances one (which stated that it contained oakmoss on the box). Here is what that person had to say:
The newest incarnation of Grey Flannel by EA Fragrances, is much more of a crowd pleaser than the vintage version. It is a citrusy, fresh and flowery, bright green aura opening right away with the juicy chopped green pepper. The new version dries down to something that could have been created by L’Occitane. It is masculine but flowery and citrusy enough to be unisex for anyone who loves green landscapes or light filtering through leaves.
It smells uncannily familiar, but not because I know anyone who wears it. It’s just that accessible and good.
The vintage GF opens with something sharp, chemical and also extremely familiar only not in a welcoming way. It’s almost like aerosol fixative, industrial adhesive, or something similar that I know but I just can’t put my finger on.
It literally smells toxic in the opening, such that I could see someone trying to get high off of it.
However, it very quickly transitions out of that, into the chopped green pepper note which was hiding under that sharp chemical veil. The whole composition remains less flowery, airy, and fresh throughout its development. Something in the greenery is dark and decomposing.
The dry down of the vintage GF is spicier, drier, and arguably more interesting than the new version. Instead of being well rounded and luminous like the new GF, the vintage is a dark green silver color in my mind. The vintage smells more serious. Potentially lethal. A plant that kills. I would go for the new one over the vintage, but can see the appeal of both…
Mr. Ross points out that one might regard French Fragrances as EA Fragrances, which may be true in a financial context, but again, I only care about what the scent smells like. I agree with the review quoted above, and would further argue that the composition for these two formulations is quite distinct, though one can certainly tell many notes are in common and it’s the same “general idea.” Another possibility that complicates things is that some companies apparently use old bottles (same labels) even if they fill those bottles with a new formulation (which may be quite distinct form the previous one), or vice versa!
I have tried least four formulations of GF (I once had a carded sample but don’t know which formulation it was; I’d guess French Fragrances EdT). These are all clearly distinct to me. The earliest, Sanofi, has an almost tea-like quality and is the most complex and natural smelling, but also quite soft (considering how many view GF). The French Fragrances EdT is the harshest, by a wide margin, and more complex at drydown than the EA one. The EA one is the most muddled, and while not terrible I doubt the aficionado who really enjoys one of these earlier formulations would consider it important to own. Then there’s a French Fragrances aftershave, which is crisp without being harsh, and I think best exemplifies the concept, but as you might guess, it doesn’t last for that long.
So, if you have just begun to read about formulations/reformulations, keep in mind that unless the company makes things very clear (which is rare), it’s highly unlikely you can be certain of what you are getting, and of course top notes might become less potent over time as well. However, what I’ve found is that the information people have posted about various formulations/reformulations is usually correct. One can disagree about how important an apparent change in formulation is, but some of us (certainly including myself) want to have such information before we decide to buy a scent. In this case, let’s say I own the French Fragrances GF and adore the sharpness. At some point, I decide to buy a new bottle. Isn’t it better to be able to read that I probably won’t be satisfied by the EA version than to buy it and be disappointed? I could have used the time and money to put towards trying to acquire a French Fragrances version.
UPDATE: So that there’s no confusion, when I say “tea-like,” I don’t mean literal tea, just that there is a slight tea impression to the Sanofi formulation, whereas I get nothing remotely resembling tea from either the French Fragrances nor the EA Fragrances formulations. Also, some of us think of the tea smell but it’s mixed with bergamot, whereas others are more familiar with specific teas. I’ve tried so many tea varieties that when I think “generic tea” I think of the basic Lipton’s type tea bag smell, so when I say a “tea-like” note I mean that it reminds me a bit of that kind of smell.