Gris Clair by Serge Lutens
Gris Clair is the newest addition to Serge Lutens’s “export” line of fragrances; it will be officially released in March 2006. With notes of Mediterranean lavender, amber, tonka bean, iris, dry wood and “notes d’encens brûlé” (notes of burned incense), it is described by Serge Lutens himself in the following obscure, poetic manner:
“This wandering pollen, like ashes dropped on a dead city, deploys its humble crowning with despair in the name of light from an adolescent sky. This magic dust brought by wind, has come to this austere and arid landscape made of rocks, luminous and sublime. Inaccessible, surrounded by stones, this flower – is it really a flower? – has made dew its watering hole. Insensitive to the burning of the sun, miracle in abandon, it survives. A magician, soft, hanging from its fingers of lace… slender roots. Eternal nectar; in its poor king’s cloak, stripped of its honours, “Lavender” I call it… grey the colour I give it. Poetic, marvel, diamond silk in eternal exile, she deploys her dry fragrance in a heart of flames which carries inside, in the name of beauty, the point of a star.” (From Senteurs d’Ailleurs)
“Dry fragrance in a heart of flames” is quite a fitting description for this scent. Cool dryness and sweet smokiness compete for prominence all throughout the development of Gris Clair. It starts with a cold, indeed “clear gray” accord of lavender, which makes me think about expensive, classic men’s after shaves and colognes. In a moment however, an unexpectedly sweet accord of amber and tonka bean appears; without reminding me of any fruit in particular, it somehow manages to convey a vague, abstract fruitiness. It is an enjoyable stage, but the best part of Gris Clair is undoubtedly the promised dry wood and “burned incense”. When these two notes come into play, Gris Clair acquires the wonderful depth and richness one associates with the best Lutens’s creations. At this point, all the notes are apparent on my skin at once: the chilly lavender, the honeyed amber, the smoldering ashes of wood and incense.
Gris Clair is not the first Lutens’s scent to explore the theme of lavender and ashes. Encens et Lavande, a blend of lavender, amber, incense and sage, also combines the luminous coolness and the subtle smokiness. The two are by no means identical. Firstly, the smoky aspect is almost immediately apparent in Encens et Lavande, while Gris Clair takes time to arrive to that wonderful stage. Whereas Encens et Lavande graduates from the pleasantly brûlant blend of lavender and incense, with a hint of amber, to the coolly herbal drydown of sage, Gris Clair’s development is reverse; it goes from cold to smoky. Sage has quite a prominent position in the composition of Encens et Lavande, lending it an herbaceous quality, which is completely absent in Gris Clair. In turn, amber, paired with tonka bean, brings a sweet, almost “fruity” quality to Gris Clair, and there is certainly no fruitiness and not much sweetness in Encens et Lavande.
I like both Encens et Lavande and Gris Clair and couldn’t possibly say which one is my favorite. I imagine that fans of lavender fragrances would be quite pleased with Gris Clair. Encens et Lavande is a non-export scent, only available at Les Salons du Palais-Royal Shiseido in Paris. At the moment, Gris Clair is available at Senteurs d’Alleurs (€76.00 for 50ml), and as far as I know, they do not ship outside of European Union, however Gris Clair is an export scent and will be more widely available in March.
*Many thanks to T. who made it possible for me to sample Gris Clair!