The evocative scents of summer
There’s nothing in the composition of Drakkar Noir that should reasonably remind me of a beach on Prince Edward Island. And yet one whiff of the stuff ’s famous herbaceous lavender and balsam, with perhaps a bit of clammy sweat, and there it is: the rust-red sands of Cavendish unfurl in my mind.
My cousin Julie and I scamper on scruffy dunes high above the beach, rushing back to the cottage where our parents thought we were still playing UNO around the kitchen table, not making clandestine meetings with boys.
At least, that’s how I remember it now. The edges of the memory are indistinct, melting into the refreshing cool of the twilight Atlantic breeze, the rattle of the tall grass, the colourful, hastily shuffled deck. All that’s left of the boy is his cologne. Given the choice, I’d rather have a bottle of the other memories, waxy playing cards and all.
Perfumers have been thinking along these same lines, with scents that are exercises in idiosyncratic transliteration — and of summer narratives in particular. Maison Martin Margiela’s new Replica collection has just come out in Europe (it will be in Canada in October) and the three perfumes specifically offer “reproductions of familiar scents and moments of varying locations and periods” — including a 1990s evening carnival on the Santa Monica pier and an ersatz spritz of Corsican beach idyll at Calvi beach, circa 1972. Body Shop’s new Honey Bronze summer scent. Fire Island by Bond No. 9 pushes the idea further — it’s essentially the scent of alternately partying and baking, nearly naked, in that hedonistic summer community while slathered in European solar oil.
The brand Demeter evokes this literally with one of its single-idea sprays called Suntan Lotion. Those same notes of old-school Coppertone suntan lotion are why Bobbi Brown’s Beach has been a bestseller for 10 years, and how CB I Hate Perfume first generated headlines for its literal At The Beach 1966 scent.
But from the latter, and not least because of its inspired cinematic name, I prefer Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, which properly belongs in the next category — the salty — with its dry driftwood, salty North Atlantic spray and a bit of leather.
Saltwater scents, a trend I wrote about last year, have made their way from earnest niche perfumes such as Celine Ellena’s Sel de Vetiver at The Different Company and Heeley’s Sel Marin, into more mainstream scents like Bath and Body Works’ Sea Island Cotton. Pierre Guillaume’s 10-year-old niche line Parfumerie Generale’s incredible limited-edition Bois Naufrage (created in spring 2010, there are still a few bottles left) is named for shipwrecked wood and has notes of fig ambergris (to evoke sun-kissed skin) and mineralic fleur de sel.
Notice how whenever mainstream and even niche perfumers conjure the beach, it’s the best stuff, never too literal: I note there’s no elixir of dried algae with drydown of the slight pong of decaying fish in any lineup, for example.
At least they aren’t toploaded with the typical marine note calone (which is the stuff of Davidoff Cool Water) — small mercies!
Instead of floral or spicy notes, perfume houses are pushing the limits with scents that set a scene.