30 OF THE VERY BEST BEACH & MARINE FRAGRANCES - PART I
It's beach time! (in your mind)
We could look at beach and marine fragrances from a purely practical and functional perspective - it's summer and for some obscure migratory reason, you feel the need to replicate and accompany the change of olfactory atmosphere with sea, sand and marine-floral and marine-animalic notes. Of course, this goes only for people who do not live by the ocean all year round. Perfume is the mountain that comes to you but in some cases, it's the mountain you want to carry an olfactory evocation of while vacationing atop it.
We could also consider these scents as forming a genre which best thrives in the summer. Do you load on suspenseful, arcane thrillers to peruse on the beach? Are you more inclined to read travel books while looking at the blue line of the horizon?
If that kind of seasonal and cultural shift takes place in you, then you may also feel an urge to throw a bottle or two of vacation-time fragrance filled with relaxing, hedonistic notes that scream "Stop and smell the roses!" to help you unwind more quickly through the first days of the holidays.
That's our premise. Of course, things can get more complex after that. Some marine fragrances can be actually pretty challenging to the nose as they play with our borderline perception of the pleasant and foul overlapping taste and scent categories. You may like to eat grilled fish drizzled with lemon juice but you may not necessarily want to replicate the smell of a swell fish eatery on your person precisely for it belonging almost exclusively to the food group in your mind. That is before marine fragrances make you realize you might be wrong about that assumption.
In our 30 of the Very Best Beach and Marine Fragrances List, we look at a mix of old and new while keeping the ones that are memorable, compelling, study-note-worthy, holding their own ground etc. The palette of notes can be farther ranging than initially envisioned, what counts is the olfactory interpretation of a marine theme...
A Man Looking at the Water by the Bosphorus © CHANT WAGNER
Indeed marine perfumes make an attempt at educating your taste more than other perfumes to some extent. They are less easy to love than fruity perfumes. Some beach and marine fragrances can just lull you into a sensation of farniente, while others will occupy your mind as if you were looking at the pictorial details of a marine landscape in a museum. Some sea-inspired scents betray whiffs of the fish market, algae and decaying ambergris but they do so in principle in transformative ways, taking a potentially prosaic reference and turning it into an oddly convincing and appealing impression of coastal balmy air, with a twist or two or three. It is perhaps this that we must not forget, that skin is the living organic surface which receives the scent but that it is the air which is meant to be associated with the marine perfume before our emotions come to be tied to the scent.
From a historical perspective, Beach and Marine fragrances are seen as a modern genre. I have argued in a previous article that the marine landscape was actually a source of inspiration for perfumers from the 19th century certainly - with Guerlain a tangible precursor of this nowadays popular genre - that is, much earlier than the 1990s threshold which is usually given as there is some confusion which exists between the creation of new aromachemicals like Calone and the associated scents that consequently get created. Before Jicky, Guerlain reveal that they were influenced by landscape painting in the open and Impressionism in particular to tackle seaside impressions.
But even further back in time during the antiquity, we know that Plinius refers to a shell called Onix which is fished in India, then burnt at which point it releases a musky aroma which is used in aromatic blends for the gods.
Even today, a marine fragrance does not always mean a Calone-heavy fragrance. You can always create around the same motif using different means.
This is the reason why I am hopeful that perfumery will remain creative for imaginative people even when some ingredients disappear or become regulated to death. If the proposition that perfumery be art be taken seriously, it should never be ingredient-dependent but capable of showing its forces of renewal when faced with scarcity and change. If perfumery is to be considered an art, it should always remain as a necessary, indispensable and vital means of expression of the human mind and sensibility. It cannot thus be that some issues with current available raw materials which are more or less on the wane or which are harvest-dependent should stop the urge to create beautiful, pleasant and/or challenging perfumes.
The global ocean covers the majority of earth. It is the field of exploration of the future. Perhaps we should start appreciating marine fragrances more.
Without further ado, here is the first part of a roll-call of 30 must-smell Beach and Marine fragrances.
- Ocean Rain by Mario Valentino (1990)
The last perfume created by renowned nose Edmond Roudnitska was a marine fragrance for men. It was not the first of its kind even in its own era since it came after Pucci Vivara (1965) and especially New West for Him introduced in 1988, but for someone looking for a fragrance composition straddling old-school French perfumery and the ensuing wave of clean marine fragrances, it is a must-try. Here the smell of the ocean is suggested in great part thanks to the showcasing of ambergris, yet it is also a modern aquatic. It is a little known perfume which can only be a vintage find at this point, plus it will satisfy people with a taste for complex oceanic fragrances that they never suspected they might have. Please stay tuned for a more full-blown review of this interesting historical fragrance.
- New West for Him (1988)
Aramis re-edited this early modern marine perfume for gentlemen last year, certainly a marketing precursor for the new wave of clean marine fragrances. It was initially followed by New West for Her two years later, heralding the vogue for transparent Zen-like eaux (L'Eau d'issey) and oceanic sensations. If you like the herbal accord in Yatagan by Caron, you will find it here ensconced behind the accords of beach hedonism and sun-kissed skin. Casual, relaxed, a bit sporty, masculine.
- Profumum Roma Acqua di Sale
Please see our more detailed review for this perfume suggestive of an eternal antique Mediterranean landscape where the trees could only be gnarled and battered by the wind, the sun mercilessly glaring and tragic, and the sea, untamed.
- Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aqua Motu
It strikes the right, odd balance between earth-animal musk dressed in a metallic space suit (white musk) and what I could only conceive of as its complement, a fish-like "musk." It's a linear fragrance for white-musk lovers who like the feel of a sea resort in a northern region. It is a bit cold, but refreshing at the same time.
- Pucci Variazioni Acqua 330
I appreciate the fact that this composition inserts a deeper, darker accord of Wakame in the midst of a well-balanced and pleasant marine perfume evocative of the sea side with more herbal overtones that is usual to smell in a safe marine scent. It takes the mind away from white yachts and bleachers, suggesting the natural complexity of the fauna and vegetation of the coast a bit more.
- Guerlain Terracotta Voile d'Eté
Please see our review of it. One of its main charms for me is its capacity to evoke the seamless passage from the countryside to the sea. It evokes those coastal landscapes where orchards, flowers and grass are a stone throw away from the sound of the surf.
- Guerlain Tiaré-Mimosa
Please check our review of it. Guerlain, whenever faced with the task of creating a perfume with a beach feel, seem to prefer to evoke the sensual scent of sun-warmed skin and wilting carnal flowers rather than a bracing blast of sea air. This is another proof of this deep instinct and proclivity.
- Guerlain Terracotta Eau Sous Le Vent
Labeled as an "Eau de Soin" it is more than that, a full perfume created by nose Christine Nagel, albeit with a very discreet, self-effacing siren tail of drydown. It starts with a whiplash of tuberose and gardenia before once more demonstrating Guerlain's love of women's skins rather than their muscles as it mellows under the sun rather than conveys the sportier feel of a yacht woman. The composition is on the faint side after the initial buxom notes and meant for those who like to experience an olfactory shock without having to worry later about a less than controlled sillage.
- L'Artisan Parfumeur Côte d'Amour
Please see our review of it. Organic-perfume lovers, this is your ticket to an ethical and atmospheric marine fragrance smelling of white-hot beach pebbles and the board walk.
- Marc Jacobs Apple
Please see our review of it. What has a fragrance from a decadent pastry-shop-themed collection anything to do with the beach and the sea environment? It's the driftwood note that does it. Again, this is another scent that somehow symbolically ties the fruits of the earth and the beach furniture, countryside and sea. The result is an unusual apple and driftwood accord to make you stop and think "Why not?"
You can read Part 2 here