8/10/13

The Corporate Distribution History of Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel: From Epocha to EA Fragrances, 1977 - Present



There's a lot of material to cover here, so I'm not going to spend time on a prologue, except to say that much of what is assumed about the different vintages of Grey Flannel is wrong. While bloggers opine on finding "vintage bottles" and Youtubers upload "Grey Flannel Sucks" videos to humor Dan Mickers (love that guy), I went ahead and did some research on the commercial distribution history of Geoffrey Beene's beautiful violet leaf chypre. What I learned was very, very interesting.

The story starts in New York City, 1976. There are two dates given on the internet for when Grey Flannel was released - 1975 and '76, but most bloggers seem to believe it was '76, and indeed it won the FIFI that year, so I'll defer to the time when it was most likely that commercial units had appeared en masse in department stores, and cite the later date. If any reader remembers differently, please comment, and I will research further and possibly make a correction.

Geoffrey Beene's prestigious fashion brand was by this time a thirteen year success story, having garnered several awards and extended itself into the distribution of accessories and housewares. Licensing with a fragrance distributor was inevitable, and the first to file a trademark for Grey Flannel was Epocha Distributors, Inc., a company located on Seventh Avenue in New York City. Jeffrey Dame, former VP of marketing for Sanofi Beauty Products, revealed in a comment under this article that Epocha was Beene's own in-house design brand, so essentially Epocha is Geoffrey Beene. The Epocha filing is below, dated 1977:


This filing suggests that even though Grey Flannel was released in 1976, it was not widely marketed until the year after, when paperwork for distribution rights had entered the appropriate channels. It also corresponds with the resume of Denise DeBaun, current founder and president of DeBaun Development, Inc. According to Ms. DeBaun's employment history, she was Director of Brand Operations for Epocha Distributors from 1978 to 1980.



During this time period, the Epocha sticker was placed on the bottom of all Grey Flannel bottles.


Bottle labels bore only the words "New York" under the fragrance name. Though not apparent in the picture below, the fragrance was also labeled with the word "Cologne" and not "Eau de Toilette" or "Eau de Toilette Spray Vaporasiteur."


Ms. DeBaun's updated resume, a snippet of which is shown below, might be a little more accurate about her starting date than the LinkedIn document, because it cites her employment record with Epocha as beginning in 1977, the same year that the company filed for trademark. Nevertheless, the LinkedIn resume above suggests that Epocha was taken over in 1980 by Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., resulting in the personnel shakeup that forced DeBaun out. She then went on to work for Oscar de la Renta and Parfums Stern, Inc.




This raises the question, where did Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., come from exactly? While Ms. DeBaun's career was taking off in New York, a corporate reorganization was happening in New Jersey. American Cyanamid, owner of Shulton and Jacquelin Cochran Inc., allowed Cochran to take over Contemporary Fragrance Group, and with it the manufacturing and distribution rights to all fine fragrances by CFG under American Cyanamid. Amazingly, someone saved a newspaper page from the end of 1978, which documents the transition, and also notes that esteemed entrepreneur and art collector Carlo Bilotti, the president of Cochran, would continue to head Cochran's division as an enterprise separate from CFG.






This suggests that Jacqueline Cochran, Inc. was well positioned to begin manufacturing and distributing Grey Flannel when it purchased the Epocha license in 1980. Cochran's cosmetics enterprise had been operating since the 1930s, and had also been bought out by Shulton pretty early on. Cochran herself was a famous racing pilot with an entrepreneurial spirit, and her marriage to Atlas Corp. founder Floyd Odlum proved fruitful in moving units of makeup, lipstick, and perfume.

Jacqueline Cochran, Inc. owned and distributed Grey Flannel for most of the 1980s. This is important to note for vintage Grey Flannel enthusiasts, as most of the older bottles still in circulation are from the nineties. Bottles of fragrance, aftershave, and balms bearing the Epocha sticker date from 1977 to 1980. From 1981 onward, Epocha's sticker was replaced by Cochran's.


The next chapter in Grey Flannel's life is intriguing. By 1987 American Cyanamid had decided to sell Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., along with another subsidiary, La Prairie. According to an 1990 affidavit from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Cyanamid sold Cochran to Sanofi Inc., on March 30, 1987. The heading for what was presumably the last motion can be seen here:




The sale resulted in some legal issues for Sanofi. The affidavit contends that a man named Mario Ronzani wanted to buy La Prairie from Cyanamid, but was told that the corporation wanted to sell La Prairie and Jacqueline Cochran "in a single transaction." Ronzani was apparently disinterested in Cochran, and approached Sanofi to see if they would agree to a joint bid. Their communication, according to Ronzani, established that Sanofi was amenable to this idea because they were disinterested in La Prairie, but wanted Cochran and its holdings.

Ronzani claimed that Sanofi agreed to a joint bid, and thus entered into a bidding partnership with him. One party would get all the shares of one company, and the other party would get the shares of the other company. This is described in lines six and seven below (click on picture to enlarge):




Then Sanofi pulled the rug out from under Ronzani (see line eight below):




This appears to have angered Mr. Ronzani, and he filed the first of several complaints. The court struck down his main complaint, citing in legalese that Ronzani's agreement with Sanofi was invalid because he was not legally categorized as a legitimate "purchaser or seller of securities," as highlighted in lines eleven and twelve below:




Why am I bothering to tell you all of this? This legal wrangling over Sanofi's purchase may very well have delayed production of its newly-acquired product line. Note that on line twelve above, the cited court date of Ronzani's complaint dismissal is August 22, 1989, about two and a half years after Sanofi purchased American Cyanamid's holdings package. Because Sanofi bought a company and not just distribution rights, they did not have to file for trademark, and there is no record of Sanofi filing for Grey Flannel's trademark at that time. (There is a record of Sanofi owning the trademark, which can be found further on in this article.) Based on the affidavit, I think the earliest Sanofi could have begun producing and distributing Grey Flannel is 1988, assuming they ignored Ronzani's complaints and forged ahead with business as usual. It is possible that Cyanamid allowed production to continue during the transition, but I think that is unlikely, and doubt there are bottles of Grey Flannel from 1987.

From 1988 to 1995, all Grey Flannel bottles bore the sticker of Sanofi Beaute, Inc.

A Sanofi Grey Flannel gift set.


Sanofi's tenure as Grey Flannel's manufacturer and distributor ended in 1995. French Fragrances, Inc. bought from Sanofi Beaute the license to manufacture and distribute Grey Flannel in March of that year, and their first batches appeared in 1996. From 1996 to 2000, all Grey Flannel bottles bore the sticker of French Fragrances, Inc. By this time Grey Flannel bore both "New York" and "Paris" on its label. The word "Cologne" had also been replaced by "Eau de Toilette," although that change supposedly happened during the Sanofi years.


A French Fragrances bottle.

French Fragrances bought Elizabeth Arden from Unilever in 2000, and changed its company name to Elizabeth Arden, Inc. This is interesting because it basically means that EA Fragrances is the same company as French Fragrances. According to The New York Times, about 1,500 of Arden's employees were expected to transfer to French Fragrances, which suggests that a segment of Arden's Unilever people were laid off.

Of note also is the trademark filing by French Fragrances, which had already assumed the EA moniker. It seems that in July of 2004, EA cancelled its original Grey Flannel trademark, and also owned all of Grey Flannel's previous trademarks. Note that the French Fragrances trademark is not listed.




From 2000 to the present time, Grey Flannel bottles have held the EA Fragrances sticker, and their labels have gone from saying "Eau de Toilette" to "Eau de Toilette Spray Vaporisateur." They also still say "New York" and "Paris."


The label for the current formula of Grey Flannel.


Below is a basic timeline of each of the corporate distribution transitions that were made in Grey Flannel's 37 year history. Click on the image to enlarge:




And that brings us up to speed. How do any of these vintages of Grey Flannel smell? I'm only familiar with EA's version, but I have a bottle of Jacqueline Cochran's version coming in the mail, so I'll have an opportunity to compare it to the current stuff soon. Finding certain vintages of Grey Flannel becomes increasingly difficult the further back you go. It seems that the most readily available "vintage" version is French Fragrance's, before their acquisition of EA. You can sometimes spot a bottle by Sanofi on Ebay, but those are fewer and further between. There are usually no bottles of Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel on the internet, and you can forget about finding Epocha's vintage. I have yet to spot a bottle of the Epocha cologne, although rarely an auxiliary product, like the aftershave balm, will randomly appear (and very quickly disappear again).

There seems to be a widely-held notion that the Sanofi vintages of Grey Flannel are "eighties vintages," and while that may just barely be true (assuming Sanofi picked up production slipstream in 1987), Jacqueline Cochran's bottles definitely comprise the bulk of eighties vintage. I think the soonest Sanofi was able to get production underway would have been 1988, and given that the final legal motion by Ronzani took place in 1990, who knows for certain? Most of the Sanofi bottles are from the first half of the nineties, and all of the French Fragrances bottles are from the late nineties. EA Fragrance's tenure is already thirteen years old.

UPDATE

I received a comment from Jeffrey Dame of Hypoluxe, Inc., formerly of Sanofi Beauty Products, and he revealed some very interesting information regarding Grey Flannel. He was VP of marketing in the men's fragrance division of Sanofi, and he clarified some points about safety regs, and the various crossovers in batches and bottlings during each transition that Grey Flannel made. He also mentioned that Epocha was Beene's own in-house design brand (it's all in his comment below). I'm hoping I can persuade Jeffrey to participate in a brief interview, in which he can field some insider questions about his years at Caron, Sanofi, and the other top brands he has worked for. His stories and insights would be of immeasurable value to us all.











24 comments:

  1. Odd and epic to say the least. Nice work.

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    1. two very good adjectives to describe Grey Flannel.

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  2. Hi Bryan. I have a bottle of Grey Flannel whose label at the bottom of the bottle is dissimilar to all the photos you posted. Is there any way of knowing its approximate production year(s)? I can send you photos of the labels. Alternatively, my bottle says: H078, GEOFFREY BEENE PARFUMS, MIAMI,FL 33169, NO.6325, MADE IN THE U.S.A, 2US FL.OZ, 60ml. The front label says: GREY FLANNEL, eau de toilette, GEOFFREY BEENE, NEW YORK-PARIS.
    Thanks

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    1. Hey there DT, that's interesting about your bottle. If it says "New York - Paris" on the front, it's no older than a nineties bottle, and if it says "Miami" on the bottom, it's definitely a French Fragrances bottle. FF was the only distributor of GF based out of Florida - Beene's company was based out of NY, as was J.Cochran's and Sanofi's.

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  3. Hey Bryan, I was Director of Marketing for Men's Fragrances for Sanofi Beauty Products from 1986 - 1989, both before and after the company bought Cochran and was responsible for the Grey Flannel brand. A couple side notes, Epocha was Geoffrey Beene's own in-house company to sell his scent. The legal discussion you mention had no bearing on our production and marketing, we moved right ahead. Back in the 1970's and 1980's all the American scents were marketed as "Colognes" Obsession, Polo, Lagerfeld, and all of them went through a process changing to EDT so they cold be sold globally to the new European Parent Companies. I added the New York - Paris to the label to try and encourage our French owner to take an interest. Don't get too caught up in labels and boxes timing. When a brand is bought and sold often times you'll inherit years of excess cartons and labels which you use for years until they are used up, so you could easily have the new Sanofi Grey Flannel formula in the bottle with a Cochran label. In 1987, even though it was pre-IFRA, we had to dramatically reduce the violet note in the formula methylheptincarbenate to reach a standard safety level. I was 27 I think, and my Givaudan rep was 27 too, and we sat in my office and reviewed a couple of choices and picked one mod. Didn't show it to anyone, just picked what we liked. Often times, even today, the modifications of scent formulas are handled by junior executives [especially today with 1/2 the formulas being changed. At the time there was Grey Flannel shaving Foam, Deodorant, A/S, A/S Balm, Talc, Soap, Shower Gel, you name it - even face moisturizers - all the good stuff. Feel free to drop me a note anytime with more questions jd@jeffreydame.com.

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    1. That's fascinating Jeffrey, thank you so much for your input! You were at the marketing helm of the one of the greatest fragrances of all time. So my Cochran bottle could very well be a Sanofi formula in an older bottle. That might explain the similarities, and it makes sense. Interesting that you were able to forge past the legal issues, but it seems they were all in your company's favor anyway, so that makes sense also. I will be in touch via email, maybe we can set up a brief question & answer session regarding those golden-olden days of the industry, pre-IFRA. I am also very much interested in what you could tell me about Five Star Fragrances, which is a mildly controversial company in the basenotes and fragrantica forums, mainly because its name is synonymous with "reformulation." Many fragrance blogs are lacking information from industry insiders, and your stories would be of immeasurable value to my readers. Thanks again for commenting, I am updating this article now!

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    2. I would also love to obtain a small sample to smell and have analyzed for learning purposes. I grew up with Grey Flannel as my very favorite, starting in 1980. Yes I was also disheartened with reformulations, even early on.

      My experience with Grey Flannel was/is foundational to my career now as a Perfumer. I also have a Geoffrey Been Parfums, Miami Fl bottle, and thought it was earlier. DRAT!

      I've had it analyzed and found no Methyl Heptine Carbonate, and only 0.16% Methyl Octine Carbonate.

      I guess I'll have to keep looking for good older bottles to experience on Ebay, unless someone's got a vault of this that I can buy a bit from.

      I still have one of my Sanofi 32oz bottles, empty of course. But at least I can put it in my Perfume Lab on a shelf for my historical inspiration. :-)

      I can't seem to find any 32 oz bottles anymore. Mu last one was knocked over by my wife, and she not only broke the 32oz bottle, but also the bathroom sink it fell into, all at once, OUCH! All that juice, *REALLY* down the drain ! ! !

      I was one of those fighting with Dan Mish over the virtues of GF, did you happen to catch any of my interaction with him? :-)

      I've used GF as an inspiration for one of my newest scents, "Kairos".

      Thanks for the post, and I can be reached thru my PK Perfumes website, www.pkperfumes.com

      Fragrantly Yours,
      Paul Kiler
      PK Perfumes

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    3. Hi Paul, very nice to hear from you, I've visited PK Perfumes several times in the past and always wondered about them.

      I had no idea they made 32 oz bottles of GF, that's very interesting. Must have been used frequently for you to go trough it!

      I didn't catch your interaction with Dan, but I do know how he feels about this scent, and I couldn't disagree with him more. Is the exchange on Youtube or BN? I'll never understand how anyone could smell this and hate it, and then smell GIT and claim it's the best thing ever made. My general thouhts on Dan's good natured "cognitive dissonance" is that GIT smells sweet in its mid, while GF is more bitter green and leafy smelling. If it was just a bit sweeter, I'd say it is literally a more natural smelling GIT. A long shot by miles, but let's just say Cary Grant actually wore GIT in the fifties. It would smell like any version of GF, before modern technology and trends caught up to it. Today's GIT smells markedly more synthetic than many other "green" scents I've tried.

      Thanks for your comment and your readership, and best of luck with Kairos!

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    4. Hi,

      I wonder if anyone can give me an information about the actual Grey Flannel product line. I use these products since the late eighties and many years ago they stopped selling the deodorant stick in Europe. Do you know if it is stopped in the US too or are there places where I could buy it?

      Many thanks in advance and kind regards, Felix (from Germany)

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    5. Hi Felix (from Germany),

      Grey Flannel is now an Elizabeth Arden product with only an aftershave as accompaniment. Check around Internet merchant sites and local brick and mortars. The deodorant, talc, and aftershave balm are still out there in vintage eighties and nineties formulas.

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  4. Thanks Bryan for your best wishes for Kairos. Someday when we meet, or talk privately I'll tell you the story of Kairos and Cary Grant. :-)

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  5. What a grat article. I just got a 60ml EA bottle, but I presume it is not the most recent one, as the glass is darker and the inner tube is thick. Is it possible during the now 16 EA years, farmulations have occured?

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    1. Yes, possible and probable - reformulations are a constant in this industry. Mind you, the glass may be the same color, but the liquid may have darkened inside with age. I have a much more recent EA Grey Flannel that started out clear as water, and is now a slightly murky green color, so photosensitive tinting appears to be an issue with this product, though I can't say whether this correlates with a change in the fragrance itself.

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  6. Hi Bryan,

    Thanks for the thorough piece... GF was the first fragrance I ever scraped together by chore-money to buy (spoiled forever at sixteen... This was the mid-late eighties as well, so a very good time for that scent.) I tried out a new bottle in spring of 2015 and found it did not agree with me. To my nose/biased memories, the new version (no moss on the ingredients label) was more top, less chypre base, and relied on musks more than I would have expected. I still think it's a decent scent (I passed it on to my son, who wears it well), but wonder if earlier formulations are more 'balanced.' For example, I have seen bottles online without 'spray vaporisateur' on the label. Given that you have been wearing this stuff all along, do you notice an appreciable difference between these earlier (but not much earlier) vintages and what's out there now? Also, do you have any idea when they stopped using those funny little flannel bags, or making splash bottles for that matter?

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    1. To my knowledge they still make the bags, but splashes were probably nixed in the 1990s. I have foregone the latest Grey Flannel in the fear that my disappointment would be too great, and thus cannot comment on it. Without moss I'm sure it's terrible.

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  7. Hi Bryan, sorry for my english (i'm french guy).
    I love GF since.. i'm too old for remeberwhen! But since the new formula of GF, i lost original spirit and flagrance but because i'm loyal and faithful, i keep myl old friend in grey flanel. My only question: From you know, is there a chance to recover the original fragrance of GF?
    Thanks from Paris

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    1. Is there a chance to recover the original spirit of Grey Flannel? Yes. Let your bottle sit for two years and then wear it. Have a nice day.

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  8. I have a 50 ml bottle "made in France", may I know the year of production? The juice seems so good ...

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    1. What does the sticker on the bottom of the bottle say?

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  9. 6306
    Made in France
    50707 (impressed)
    60 ml - 2 fl oz
    Utif NR244 MI
    ID 0,06 AN 0,0531
    88,5 % Vol
    The bottle is splash

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    1. Strange. It should have the distributor's name. Sorry, can't help you.

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    2. Hi,
      I have a 15ml mini that looks the same:
      6349
      Made in France
      910112 (impressed)
      15 ml - 1/2 fl oz
      Utif NR244 MI
      ID 0,015- AN 0,0133
      88,5 % Vol
      The bottle is splash

      The smell is heavenly gorgeous ....

      I'd like to buy the same in a full-size bottle so I need first to make sure that this one is he current version as it's hard to find in a perfumery .

      Thanks for this very interesting article .

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    3. It's possible you're not seeing a clear labeling of whether the bottle or fragrance was made in France, because none of these marking match anything in Grey Flannel's history AFAICT. Sorry I can't be of more help. My suggestion is to forget about trying to match bottles and just use this article as a guide to the oldest vintage you can find that is clearly marked as "Made In The USA." Try going back to at least the French Fragrances or Sanofi Beaute era. Those bottles are at least 25 years old (and some will be older) and you'll have plenty of the vintage goodness with precious little spoilage to worry about. There are still a few Jacqueline Cochran bottles out there, so keep an eye out for those also. Just be aware that those will smell a bit denser, more like perfume concentrates, with nuclear violet notes. Jacqueline Cochran vintage is the closest to Green Irish Tweed that I've been able to find. Thanks for reading.

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