“Thomas, AKA The Candy Perfume Boy, takes you on a journey around the fragrance world with ‘The Escentual A-Z of Fragrance’ a fun and fragrant ride that gives you all you need to know – the notes, the brands and the perfumers – to become a true fragrance addict/nerd”
This instalment of The Candy Perfume Boy’s Escentual A-Z of Fragrance is all about the life aquatic. We’re here to talk about fragrances that take their inspiration from the most essential substances on earth: water. Seeing as it’s the first week of January and we’re all in desperate need of a decent dose of H20 to wash away all that Christmas detritus, it’s fitting that we shall dedicate our first column of 2016 to the refreshing wonder of aquatic fragrances. So, if you feel like you’ve overdone it and need a bit of an fragrant detox, here is the place to be.
Aquatic fragrances rose to prominence in the 1990s, acting as a big olfactory wet wipe to wash away the remnants of all those heavy, sticky and tenacious scents that patterned the 1980s. During this period of repentance the perfume industry started to make good use of an aroma chemical called Calone to create what we so easily recognise today as the marine style of fragrances. Calone is interesting because it brings freshness and transparency in the form of a salty sea air with green and floral nuances, but it does so with remarkable power and presence. This means that aquatic fragrances can achieve what many Eau de Colognes cannot – freshness with excellent projection and longevity, and has been an instrumental tool in crafting one of perfumery’s most prolific genres.
In this guide will be taking a look at three different kinds of water-inspired fragrances – perfumes evocative of the ocean, amphibious tendencies and mythical sea beings. They are the fragrances that make up one of the most unique, polarising and mainstream genres within the world of perfume, and they cannot be ignored. For thousands of years humans have looked to water for sustenance and survival – today we will turn our noses to the sea to seek out some aquatic marvels that smell really rather good.
Oceanic: Swimming in the Surf
Cool Water may seem like an obvious choice for a guide to aquatic fragrances, and it is, but the simple fact remains that it is one of the very best examples of ocean water presented in olfactory form. It’s the purest aquatic on the list and the one that defined a genre, changing the landscape of modern masculine perfumery permanently. One quick spritz of Cool Water sends forth images of roaring tides crashing against rocky landscapes and of daring surfers playing recklessly in the surf. It’s a handsome picture, for sure.
Davidoff’s oceanic signature scent for gents opens loud and bracing like a bucket of water to the face. To say it is fresh doesn’t quite cut it because Cool Water really is Fresh! (note the capital ‘f’ and the exclamation mark). The top notes are minty and dry, with a big hint of sea salt for good measure and the core of the fragrance is based on a hefty dose of Calone and sweet violet leaf. All together this creates a smell that is filled with salty water, cold rocks and spiky seaweed. It’s glorious in its own right and if you’re after a purely oceanic fragrance, there’s nowt better.
Amphibian: Under sea. On land.
If I had a penny for every guy I’ve known (or dated, but that’s another matter) that has or does wear L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme I would probably have enough cash to go out and start my very own fragrance brand. I may joke about L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme’s popularity but in truth, there really are much worse fragrances out there to smell and Issey Miyake’s most famous masculine is intriguing because it occupies a similar space to Cool Water but isn’t quite as obviously aquatic. Instead it feels as if it can live both on land and in the sea as a strange sort of fragrant amphibian.
I’ve always seen L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme as olfactory whiteout. When I spray it I get the impression of a white glossy room filled with white glossy furniture and not much else. It is both minimal and maximal, with a sparse sense of clarity but once again, an expansive sense of size. Musks, Calone and woods are the culprits here and they create the impression of a large, yet calm pond that has been engineered to fit into some luxury apartment for no other purpose than to be looked at and admired. There’s an emptiness to L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme that is fascinating and wonderfully ozonic. L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme iz like a big gulp of fresh air or a massive sip of clear water. It’s the very idea of calm, packaged up and ready to spritz.
If L’Eau d’issey Pour Homme is the glossy white amphibian then Bvlgari’s Aqva Divina is an opalescent pearl bobbing in the shallow waters, soaking up the scents of the sand, sun and sea. Aqva Divina is a Grecian take on a tropical floral with just a hint of oceanic beauty. It presents the idea of a lone white flower with wide pearlescent blooms poking out of the sand. For half of the day it sits glistening under the water but as the tide recedes it’s allowed to see the sun, and it’s at this time that the fragrance shines.
Aqva Divina opens dewy with fresh, zingy bergamot. Unlike many citrus notes, which are juicy and drinkable, this one has a touch of something sharp and plastic-like, hinting at the perfect and almost breakable surface of the sea. The flowers are creamy and thick with sweetness tempered by an ocean-like saltiness and the base is mossy, bitter and honeyed, hinting at trails of sea fauna hiding in the deep. All of this is packed into a beautifully clean and quiet fragrance that really stands out as something intriguingly exotic. It’s an excellent piece of work.
Marine: Mermaids and Monsters
Eden fascinates me because there really is nothing else quite like it. Launched in 1994 just as the world detoxed from all of the Poison and Opium it ingested during the go big or go home mood of the 1980s, Eden is a mythical being that presents an entirely new style of fragrance: the aquatic floral. Housed within an abstract celadon bottle, Eden manages to boast a transparent and luminous trail with remarkable tenacity, hinting at the remarkably clever aroma chemicals deftly used by the masterful Jean Guichard within its composition.
Sniffing Eden, one gets the impression of a fragrance of two halves. On the one hand there is a rich and syrupy bouquet of tropical flowers (tuberose, jasmine and ylang ylang) that is decidedly robust and heady, whilst on the other there is an equally large aqueous note that is plasticky and diffusive. Sure, this particular Cacharel fragrance may be a little bit dated now, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it is completely unique and undeniably fascinating. Eden is the scent of a beautiful mermaid seen through a haze of sea spray. She sits just below the surface, tropical flowers floating in her hair and grazing her green scales. She calls you to dive in, but only if you are brave enough to dare.
If Eden is the ethereal siren calling to the shore, then Womanity is the monster lurking in the deep. Thierry Mugler has always been obsessed with the sharp and abrasive. His couture was cut at angles so sharp they cut the eyes, turning his models into warriors and glamazons ready for battle. He wasn’t afraid to take inspiration from nature too, famously creating a collection of insect-inspired fashions in 1997. It stands to reason then, that his most recent fragrance, Womanity, is a bit of a monster – a beautiful beast, but a monster no less.
Womanity is an unusual aquatic because it’s not the water itself that brings it life, it’s the fruits found within the oceans that sit at its heart. The fragrance is centred around a salty caviar accord that is beautifully briny and wonderfully bread-like. Supporting this novel accord is a diffusive citrus note, a silky drizzle of milky, crushed figs, and a soft leathery base. Much like Eden, Womanity may be as dazzling and transparent as calm water but in terms of projection its the size of Godzilla on a rampage through the city. Womanity is a modern classic in the making and we should thank Mugler for having the audacity and genius for ever creating such a weird and wonderful thing.
Join the Discussion
What are your favourite aquatics?