Weird Reformulations - Grey Flannel & Kouros

Today I bought back-up bottles of my two favorites, Grey Flannel and Kouros. I was running a little low on both, and decided it was worth the investment to purchase follow-ups.

I went to Marshalls for Grey Flannel, as I've seen it there countless times and figured they'd have at least one bottle available. Sure enough, they just restocked a bunch of 4 ounce bottles, the ones that come in the box that says "eau de toilette spray vaporisateur." I grabbed one and went on my merry way.

When I opened it a few minutes later, I was confused. Immediately, something didn't look right. Naturally I hadn't brought my current bottle with me to compare, but I could tell that the new juice was a totally different color - in fact, it was clear. My older bottle is of the same color glass, but holds a slightly greenish fluid, which darkens the bottle when it's full. With some trepidation, I gave the new bottle a spritz on the back of my hand.

Wow, what a massive anise note, mixed with naked alcohol. Gradually the oakmoss steps in and balances the anise a bit, but where are all the dense violets and that cool violet leaf that I love so much?

Thirty minutes later, the drydown introduces the violet leaf, with a hit of metallic sweetness to it. At this stage I recognize the scent a lot better than I did initially.

So I went home and compared. I was right, the older bottle has a darker perfume in it, and the label is different, too. Instead of announcing that it has an atomizer, the older bottle simply says "eau de toilette." Aside from the coloring and label differences, the two bottles are identical.

I did a sniff test next. There was a lump in my throat because I expected the new to smell inferior to the old, and blatantly different. First I applied them to paper, and shockingly, they smelled identical. Both had a strong anise note! Why hadn't I noticed this before?

Then came the skin test. This was a little more revealing, although not as much as I had thought. I put the current stuff on my left hand, and the new stuff on my right. Both had an anisic, alcoholic opening. Again, very surprising. However, as they dried, I notice the juice on my left is slightly, almost imperceptibly deeper in its mossy tonality than the new juice. The new stuff is the same, but the violet note - not the violet leaf - has been shaved just a hair. The anise note in the new juice is definitely clearer, sharper than the old. These are the only differences I can see, and are negligible at best.

I took the new purchase to Villa Fleur, a brick and mortar shop in Hamden on Dixwell Avenue. I know the guy there because I've purchased from him several times, and figured he could help me make heads or tails out of this situation. I know, this is what I do with my Saturday off.

He took one look at the box from Marshalls and immediately said, "Oh, that's really old. I haven't seen a box like that for Grey Flannel in many years."

I begged to differ. "I've been seeing these boxes all over the place, and this one is made by EA Fragrances, so it can't be that old."

"EA has been making Grey Flannel for a long time," he replied. "No, this is old. Usually you only see the flannel sack, or a box for smaller bottles."

"What about the color?" I showed him the clear juice in front of a light.

"Old stock," he said. "These things sit in warehouses, and they get auctioned at ten cents to the dollar to places like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx."

Again, I begged to differ. Why had I decided to ask this guy? He's the same person who tried to sell me a bottle of Green Frich Tweed, assured me that he bought his Creed stock from Creed itself, and explained that they spelled the fragrance with the "Frich" only for Christmas time.

"Well," I said, humoring him, "I guess that must be it." Damned if I've ever heard of perfume becoming paler with age. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the opposite usually happen, particularly with these older, mossier woody scents that contain oakmoss?

Fortunately, both the older bottle and the newer bottle have labels that list the exact same ingredients, in the exact same order. So according to the two packages, the formula is the same. Still, I can't help but feel that the "anise alcohol" listed for Grey Flannel is far more prominent in the new bottle. My only guess as to why this would be is that there has been a slight modification to the dying of the juice, and the boxed bottle features a dreaded "batch variation." I thought batch variations only existed in the world of Creed. Guess I was wrong.

And then there's Kouros.

While at Villa Fleur, I decided to grab a 3.3 ouncer of Kouros. Villa Fleur's prices are usually exorbitant, but the pricing on Kouros was more than fair. The box looked legitimate (I'm sometimes uncomfortable buying more popular scents from this vendor after my wacky encounter with the counterfeit Creed), and summer is coming, so there's no time to waste.

When I got home, I opened the box, and this time there was no doubt about it - the bottle had changed. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I've included one here showing my current Kouros on the left, and the new bottle on the right:

For cost-cutting reasons they removed the metal trim from the bottle (but inexplicably, not from the atomizer), and for aesthetic reasons changed the font from a blueish grey to an exact grey. The Kouros font is also a little thinner on the new bottle.

How does the juice smell? My current bottle has a gorgeous musky citrus opening, with a massive wallop of civet. The new bottle has a very nice but noticeably muted citrus opening, with a little less musk and a lot less civet. Both ingredients are still present, but dialed back a notch or two. The movements into the middle and far drydowns of both scents are identical.

Another reformulation that has the packaging slightly different, and the juice a tiny bit different as well. There's no one to ask about this, but with Kouros, the density of the scent makes differences totally unnoticeable to anyone other than a freak like me. Still, it's worrisome, because you never know what you're in for when you purchase what should be a familiar product.

Why, I ask? Why?


  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I recently saw a bottle of Grey Flannel at TJ Maxx and thought about picking it up because I want to convert my husband into a fan (I love it), but I didn't. Now I think I'll investigate the bottle a little more carefully. I like anise, but I don't want to end up with something that's going to be different from what I expect when I think of Grey Flannel. I'm with you: why do they do this?! I'd appreciate a change in the exterior packaging, at least, so folks can know what they are looking at.

    1. You know, on further investigation, my new bottle smells identical to the old one, but it definitely didn't for the first five or six sprays. I'm wondering if some alcohol settled on the top of the bottle or something. At this point I can't see any problem with what I just purchased.

      A little tip w/Grey Flannel - seek out the 2 ounce splash bottles. These I see very seldomly, and the one I bought a little while ago was perfect from beginning to end. I think EA isn't making that size anymore, at least not in massive batches. They go for $7.99 at Marshalls.

    2. I never thought of trying the splash. Come to think of it, I think GF would be the perfect frag to have in that format. It's got that clean, crisp smell that I think of when I use old school splash colognes like English Leather and Old Spice.

      Does the splash stuff smell any different? I've got the big spray bottle that just says, "Eau de Toilette".

    3. I don't find any noticeable difference between the atomizer and the splash. Well, maybe just a touch more oakmoss in the splash version, but that could be my imagination. The diffuse nature of the atomizer spray makes the whole scent "evolve" more gradually than just splashing, but I think the scent is the same. Although as I said before, the 2 ounce size seems to be a bit hard to find and I'm thinking it's an earlier formulation with a slight edge over the newer stuff in the 4 ounce atomizer.

  2. I work in the pharmaceutical industry and batch variations exist with every batch preparation. I have to weigh components within a 1% tolerance. Example: when I have to add 100 grams of a component, every amount from 99.00 to 101.00 grams is acceptable. The 1% rule goes for every component I have to add, therefore every new batch is always slightly different in composition from a previously made batch.
    Quality control makes sure that the actual working component level falls between 95% and 105% (or even 90%-110%) of what's printed on the label.

    What's the tolerance that perfume makers use? I don't know, but I'm sure they have to work within a certain tolerance. With perfumes containing sometimes hundreds of components batch variations are the norm rather than the exception. With perfume there's the added fact that natural ingedients may differ in quality form year to year. Can you smell the difference between different batches? Perhaps, perhaps not. Depends on ones sense of smell I guess.

    There's the Basenotes practice of tracking down perfumes with an elusive batch code, the Holy Grail of batch codes so to speak. I say get over it, batch variations are a fact of life!

    1. Interesting to know Bert, thanks for the insight. All the Holy Grail stuff on basenotes is a lot of hooey anyway. Seems to be especially prevalent amongst the Creed crowd. 99% of it is in their heads. The rest is the odd minor deviation from standard potency or note separation with Green Irish Tweed, Aventus, and Millesime Imperial, all of which end up smelling identical regardless of bottle after the user has the scent for more than six months.

  3. Reading your blog I come accross "old acquaintances" from the '80s: Azzaro pour Homme, Kouros, Tsar, Fahrenheit, Antaeus. I think it's funny to see these fragrances still being for sale in department stores. With hundreds of new releases each year these must have something that kept them going all these years. Better compositions than what's made nowadays? I still think Antaeus is excellent. Azzaro and Fahrenheit? No not for me. I must remind myself to take a whiff of Kouros anytime soon. I didn't have that one back then, a friend did, I had Paco Rabanne pour Homme.

    With regard to Grey Flannel, I bought a 1 ounce bottle of to see (smell) what the fuss was all about. Definitly not my cup of tea. Violets don't float my boat. Gave it to my uncle who was very pleased with it.

    1. Are these '80s scents still selling at department stores in your neck of the woods? They aren't here, one has to seek them out online and in small specialty shops. Antaeus isn't even for sale anymore, it's next to impossible to find a bottle, unless you're at a Duty Free shop (proof they're still making it) but Chanel has become notoriously stingy with distribution lately.

      Definitely revisit Kouros. And if you like it but find it a bit too strong, try Creed's Orange Spice for the civilized version. I just love this kind of scent, the "dirty" citrus fougere. It's a very unique type of smell, very masculine and full of graceful tension. Glad your uncle found a use for Grey Flannel, and btw Bert, love your blog!

  4. Finding these '80s scents is very easy in Dutch shops. Two large Dutch perfume chains sell them online too. For Chanel you have to visit a shop though, as Chanel doesn't allow them to sell their products online.

    Grey Flannel however is only available in specialty shops. You would have to pay top dollar too, a 4 oz. bottle for US$ 78...

    1. $78 for Grey Flannel? wow, availability is a funny thing. it's the cheapest scent here in the U.S. A 4 ounce spray is $12. that's crazy.

  5. As I recently discovered (http://www.petitionduweb.com/voirpetition.php?petition=10138) perfume companies outsource the production of classic fragrances and they change their contractors for different reasons. The fact is that the new contractor obviously does not have license on some ingredients that were used in the initial formula. So they paraphrase to get as close as possible. This is why someone started this petition to demand that there is a formula number on each bottle and eventually we can stop obsessing "is it just me or has it chenged?"

  6. dear bryan,

    yesterday in brussels airport, which is my sentinel stronghold to look onto changes and reformulations:
    - armani eau pour homme reformulated (no evernia prunastri and evernia furfuracea any more)
    - kouros (watered down clearly from the ingredient list now water follows alchol...before, "alchol, perfume..." and less oakmoss (evernia furfuracea not more there)
    - lacoste original (no more evernia furfuracea).
    I was completely shocked, considering that armani and YSL had not ywet changed theyr formulas, I was quite confident they would not....
    very sorry for this.
    Kouros is a light years from the original, may be to make it of appeal to the youger crowds who knows....

    1. Hi Corrado, thanks for this information. Sad to say, but it seems many products are being changed into shadows of their former selves. The update on Armani, Kouros, and Lacoste is most unwelcome.

      However, with Kouros I have a theory, based on things I've been reading on the web. The ingredient list has definitely changed for Kouros, with a little more water, and less oakmoss. Also, the civet is toned down.

      However, I have done a side-by-side comparison a few times now, and I am convinced that the outcome is very, very similar, almost to the point of not being able to tell the difference. One is just slightly weaker than the other.

      My theory is that YSL is having batch variation issues with Kouros in recent years. The most recent version in the non-chromed bottle seems to vary bottle to bottle. Some people feel it is very different. Others, like me, detect almost no difference at all.

      A word of advice - if you are dissatisfied with the current version of Kouros, get yourself a bottle (or flacon) of Creed's Orange Spice, while it is still being sold. The punch of civet, citrus, and clove is several notches above Kouros in terms of quality, and the drydown is gorgeous. It's a little different, but at least it is made better, and achieves the same effect.

  7. I'm not one who gets in a lather about reformulations, but your post about the two versions of Grey Flannel interested me. To add more confusion to the puzzle, I just got in the mail this morning one of those 2 oz. splash bottles you wrote about. The juice in it is clear, unlike the older spray bottle I have, which contains brown juice. It smells almost exactly like the old juice, but, like you said, it has a kind of anisic note in the top notes. Actually, I kind of like this clear stuff a little bit better! It's a tad smoother and more floral, and I smell a little bit more of that peppery edge to the violet leaf. Granted, the difference isn't huge, and I love either version, but I'm REALLY pleased with this little splash bottle.

    1. I'm not sure what it is, but the 2 oz. splash of Grey Flannel seems to always be GF at its best. It's like they put the best "batches" of the stuff in that size. Or maybe the oils gather together and gel better, I don't know. Glad you're happy with the purchase. It's interesting that you mention the peppery edge to the violet leaf - that's exactly what I get from the clear version of GF also! And definitely a more complex floral accord, with anise. It's a relief that the reformulation didn't ruin the scent. For a few minutes after I bought my new bottle, I was really worried.

    2. Perhaps the splash version has oxidised slightly more than the spray sealed under vaccum an not so open to the air during storage just thinking out loud maybe also when you apply the splash greater surface area would allow more oxygen to come into contact when applying

    3. Could be, but to be honest I think there's just a different interplay between the alcohol and the oils in the splash version of GF vs. the spray. Probably due in some part to the oxidization you speak of, but also I think due to a minor variance in formula. These small splash bottles are almost impossible to find in stores now, and they're definitely of an older batch than the latest "naturale sprays" that you find in Marshalls. Still, the difference is negligible between them, so I wouldn't worry too much about it in the long run.

  8. Reading your article from 2/1/20 about Vintage Old Spice, I went down a similar route but instead of VOS I chose Geoffrey Beene GF.
    To me it ticks all the right boxes of what I want my perfume to smell like; it's different enough, versatile, timeless, doesn't smell cheap and could easily be a niche fragrance.
    Having bought an 8 oz splash I noticed a difference compared to my last spray.
    Evidently I'm not the best in describing notes but I'd say that the splash is surprisingly well balanced.
    While my last spray bottle did have this prominent dirt or off note that I can only compare to something humid or damp which no doubt was the thing that some people disliked. In this new splash version the 'off' note is toned down and is much better integrated making the whole thing remarkably well executed.

    Comparing both labels I noticed that the last incarnation has one ingredient missing; hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde.

    Oh and by the way, the splash is a joy to use and I love the bottle with its old time apothecary looks - it just looks dignified in the bathroom.

    1. I own multiple bottles of Grey Flannel and find it to be one of the greatest fragrances of all time. Lately I’ve been avoiding it to keep a lower professional profile, but I miss it and will return to it. I honestly think it’s the most important masculine of the last 50 years.


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