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Clean, fresh with a splash of salty surf: Aquatic perfumes breathe life and a sexy carefree spirit into today’s scent lineup
In Buddhism, water symbolizes life, purity, freedom, clarity and calmness—nature’s element that unites everything. The essence of this sentiment is shared in holy books around the world, including the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Vedas and the Guru Granth Sahib. After all, water is essential to living and supports life. It’s why we gravitate towards it, drink it, bathe in it, heal from it and even spritz its pure, clean and sometimes salty scent on our bodies.
“Water is one of the key elements of life,” affirms Loc Dong, a perfumer for the International Favors & Fragrances in Paris. “With this importance, it is always there [in perfumery], but will be more or less visible depending on the era.”
A little aquatic perfume history
Water-concept elixirs first made a big splash in the 1920s with Guerlain Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat and Worth Sans Adièu. Other renditions followed, but it wasn’t until 1988 with Davidoff Cool Water for Men and then the cool and utilitarian, aquatic scents of the 1990s (think Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio and Kenzo L’Eau Par Kenzo) that watery eaus became a power player in the fragrance world.
The smell of the ocean: It was big pop culture news. Who remembers the 1992 season-three episode of Seinfeld where Kramer creates a cologne that smells like the beach, only to have it stolen by the noses at Calvin Klein?
“In 1991, Kenzo Pour Homme was one of the first perfumes to ever use the salty note of calone, melting in a green aquatic and woody atmosphere,” says Dong. “I think that this perfume introduced the notion of clean freshness evocated by marine notes, that from that moment on, became one of the great notes in sports and masculine perfume structures.”
“I also think of L’Eau d’Issey, which launched in 1992, was a very daring scent due to the paradox of associating marine and floral notes,” he adds. “At that time it was almost a smell more than a perfume and this perfume introduced this two-way interaction, with the flowers texturizing the fresh marine note and the aquatic feeling enlightening the floral bouquet, making it lighter, aerial and less opulent.”
A counterpoint to the decadent ’80s, many of the first aquatic spritzes had a neutral, zesty, citrus quality. Today, with the current political climate and our desire for choice, scents are more in alignment with the Buddhist metaphor of water as symbol of life and freedom. Some of the latest oceanic, marine and cascalone scents range from having a hint of aquatic in their nature, to being full-blown expressions of water—clean, pure, fresh, with the carefree, salty tang of the seashore.
“Aquatic notes are mainly about freedom and purity, an olfactive escape amidst an urban life,” says Dong. “But oceanic notes can also be powerful and sexy.”
In Paco Rabanne’s Olympéa, Dong was perfumer, and brought a delicate watery mood to the scent’s powerful floral heart via hydroponic jasmine.
“Grown in water, it keeps the seduction of jasmine with an added lightness through its aquatic facet and without the heavy animalic facets that natural jasmine sometimes carries,” he says.
Other scents, like Marc Jacobs Rain and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau Intense incorporate fruit, flowers and musk for a fresh and dewy feel, while CLEAN Lovegrass and Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue contain spicy patchouli, soft wood and sea notes to give a more aromatic impression.
“Watery notes are always relevant,” says Dong. ”I always believed that everything should have a watery facet because water is what brings life.”
The aquatic perfumes to try this season:
Salt and vanilla mingle with a warm base in this sensual scent. Paco Rabanne Olympéa, $125 (80 ml), www.sephora.com
Summer rain, summer grass, summer fruit—what’s not to love? Marc Jacobs Rain, $70 (100 ml), www.thebay.com
Spicy and citrus top notes, a floral heart and a rich heart add depth to this spritz. CLEAN Lovegrass, $95, (60 ml), www.sephora.com
Sea notes, wood and patchouli mingle in this outdoorsy scent. Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue, $156 (100ml), www.holtrenfrew.com
Marigold and jasmine complement citrus top notes and a musky dry down with this classic aquatic scent. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau Intense, $135 (100 ml), www.sephora.com