Every year towards the end of winter (or rather right after the holiday season), I crave scents that remind me of lazy beachy days and not needing layers of clothes to keep warm.
One of the reasons for my fond relationship with fragrance is its ability to connect to our feelings and memory and transport us in time and place. Smell perceptions travel directly to our amygdala and hippocampus. And that’s where our emotions and memories are processed.
There are so many perfume accords that can bring on the sunshine – salty marine air, limes, creamy coconut, seaweed notes, pine, driftwood, frangipani (or plumeria), tiare flower (a Tahitian species of gardenia), a dash of rum, heady jasmine, figs, palm leaves, vanilla,… But what will trigger your memories depends on your ideas and memories of beach vacations.
The beachy perfume of mosquito protection
Ironically, one of the most transporting scents that remind me of vacations is citronella essential oil and the chemical smell of OFF spray. Lucky me.
Citronella is often used as a natural mosquito repellent. On one of our holidays, we visited a spice garden (or rather a spice rain forest) in Penang, and they gave everyone a bottle of this to carry around. You could smell its green, citrusy, herbal goodness everywhere. And the rest of our stay was filled with the all-penetrating smell of tropical OFF and some more citronella. The punishment for forgetting to apply these was instant and painful. These scents left a strong impression on my memory, mostly untouched so heavily by OFF until then.
Is there a note or smell you encountered on your holidays that instantly brings the memories back? Let me know in the comments!
After more than a year spent rocking sweatpants instead of boho vacation dresses, I find myself craving tropical beachy perfumes more often than ever (and flip-flops, and exotic foods, and all that stuff). While OFF spray will reliably get me there, I’d rather spritz something a tad more sophisticated. Here are some of my favorites. Some are great for bringing on your vacation, but a few will work well all year round when you need a little extra sunshine. I actually prefer to wear some of these in the colder months, as many tropical notes (especially white flowers) tend to leave a creamy impression, something I’m not too fond of in the heat.
The list is fairly varied, with each of them offering something different. Keep scrolling; maybe you will find a new love here.
1) Philosykos by Diptyque
Speaking of the beach, let’s start from the top. In a village up on the cliffs.
Philosykos is the benchmark of fig leaf fragrances today. While created in 1996 by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti, it’s popularity is still on the rise. (By the way, another fig masterpiece – Premier Figuier – is also her baby, only two years older.)
It is a very realistic green fig tree. Like waking up in a stone-built villa in Italy, opening window shutters framed by fig trees, and getting a whiff of the fresh mid-summer morning breeze with a view of a rocky coastline.
Philosykos is a green, woody, milky fig tree. The whole thing. Little earthiness from the dirt and wood, the freshness of green leaves with the morning dew still lingering on them, creaminess of the milk oozing from unripe fruit. It does have a fair amount of sweetness from the coconut, but the green notes are there from start to finish to tame it. And a tiny bit of ripe fruit, to pull it all together, but never a fruit punch in your face. You may detect some aquatic melony, peachy, or peary notes. The cedar is just enough to make it perfectly unisex (if you care about that sort of labeling).
- Top notes: fig leaf, fig
- Middle notes: green notes, coconut
- Base notes: fig tree, woody notes, cedar
Diptyque does present a note pyramid, but don’t expect any wild development from this scent – it mostly goes from woody green fig to creamy woody fig, depending on your surroundings, skin, and application. The start is sharper, and it gets creamier over time, with the coconut becoming more prominent. But that is it. It is a recognizable fig leaf/fruit in any stage of its life. To me, Philosykos is technically a soliflore (although not simple or one-sided) – coconut, green notes, and woody notes are all a part of fig leaf accord in perfumery. Nothing less, nothing more. But it works beautifully.
If heady flowers are too heavy to your liking for the summer heat, if you don’t want to smell like a suntan lotion and citrusy notes aren’t interesting enough, you need to smell this. Fig note is one of my favorite hot weather companions, and this one is so well done.
2) Soleil blanc by Tom Ford
Alrighty. From the cliffs, let’s get down to the beach, right next to a luxury resort. In this case, an abandoned white sandy beach with crystal clear water, surrounded by inaccessible terrain, where you need a boat to get there. Because this, ladies and gentlemen, is sex on the beach. This is one of the sultriest scents on this list.
Yes, Soleil Blanc does have a strong suntan lotion vibe. But it’s not just that. And very obviously so. Soleil Blanc has beautiful complexity, and it does come off as luxurious. It has to for the price. No one will ever think this actually could be a suntan lotion. It is exotic, heady, and rich.
It starts citrusy and slightly nutty, and soon enough, the exotic sweet bouquet of white flowers in full bloom shows through, opulent and so well blended. I am not a big fan of ylang-ylang, but here, among jasmine and tuberose (and an impression of tiare, too), it found its happy place. This gorgeous bunch of flowers sits on a bed of coconut flesh, rounded up by the dryness of tonka, warm ambery notes, and benzoin. The stars here are coconut and exotic flowers, with carnal tuberose being the most prominent of them.
This is pure beach and luxury. To me, this holds up also in cooler weather – the creamy, almost waxy florals can wrap you in warm fuzzy memory of beach vacations. (But if the coconut is too out of place, check Terracotta on this list.) Another great occasion for this would be breezy summer nights, cruises, and sailboats – when the wind plays around with the notes and the heat is a tad more bearable. This is no summer splash – it certainly has the silage to be noticeable outside.
3) Aqua Allegoria Coconut Fizz by Guerlain
This fairly new Aqua Allegoria addition (2019) turns coconut into a green, aquatic, and only a tad creamy scent – in this case, heavily supported by watermelon. A fairly original concept if you ask me; there aren’t many things that went this route in fine fragrance. Although everything is recognizable. There is nothing out of the ordinary when taken apart. No weird notes you didn’t smell before. In Coconut Fizz, the proverbial sum of its parts truly is more.
It starts with a coconut blast, a creamy one, but only until the aquatics kick-off. Then the milkiness turns into coconut water, just as the melon tones give it a juicy, aquatic vibe. There are some salty marine notes along with melon and coconut water, but they are just lingering there quietly. The watermelon (which can also translate as a cucumber) makes this transparent, not saltiness.
Coconut is the centerpiece here the whole time, but it changes its expression as it develops.
Just a little later, freesia joins in. The freshly cut, a little grassy, green one, with just a tiny bit of sweet little flowers still opening. It seems to me as if freesia throws the composition back to the creaminess.
Coconut water, not milk
It has a tinge of sweetness but always remains more fresh/aquatic than sweet, with no sourness at all here. During its development, it transitions from fresh to creamy and back. On the whole, it remains rather fresh, as the melony and later flowery green vibes are more dominant. The coconut is certainly the boss here, but it won’t become a suntan lotion type at any moment, as Guerlain’s Terracotta or TF Soleil Blanc does. Hours later, as the other parts lose their power, it seems to be greener and greener to a point where it reminds me of Philosykos after a day of wearing it.
It’s adorable in the spring. On a day when you could take the coats off for the first time, and the sun rays warm up your skin, and you end up wearing fewer layers than you should for the temperature because it feels great. This lets me pretend like it’s crazy hot outside, even if it’s just wishful thinking before the last round or two of spring frosts hit.
(My review of Coconut Fizz was originally posted on Fragrantica and updated for this blog).
4) Orchid Soleil by Tom Ford
If Soleil Blanc almost hits the spot for you, but you prefer matters more intricate and complicated, or sweet tropical flowers become too much in the heat, this is where you should look. Mind you; Orchid Soleil is not for the faint of heart. This stuff is divisive and gets its share of dislikes. It might turn into love or make you cringe. But boy, is this mighty! Orchid Soleil was recently discontinued, but there are still plenty of places where a bottle could be hunted down (as of May 2021).
This is Soleil Blanc’s sister, undoubtedly (despite being a flanker to TF’s Black Orchid). Orchid Soleil is more complicated, more grown-up to me – the opening is aromatic, the flowers are heady with tuberose doing the heavy lifting here with a decent dose of indoles. It opens with aromatic, minty, almost camphorous cypress. There is no coconut, but the mix of cream and chestnut accord lend a similar effect – creamy and nutty, all of this held by a touch of very earthy, almost mushroomy patchouli. Apply with a light hand; otherwise, it could wear you. Another great performer and suitable for the cooler months just as well.
5) Virgin Island Water by Creed
Virgin Island Water, or VIW, as the fraghead community affectionately calls it, is the standard of citrusy coconut. A lot has been said about this one. It was launched in 2007, and today it’s the cult among beachy perfumes. VIW is all about coconut through and through, opening limey, sitting on barely detectable tropical flowers in the middle, supported by a more obvious boozy base of rum, sugar cane, and musk. Like sipping a mojito on a beach.
It is neat. Refreshing. It screams Caribbean vacation. The lime leans sweet, the coconut is nice and milky, and thankfully not coming off as synthetic, as is often the case. As nice as it is, there is nothing innovative about it, and it comes with some challenges and a fancy price tag. While it is Eau de parfum concentration, the performance corresponds more to an Eau de toilette or a body splash.
I’d grab it without thinking twice at the right price, but I am having a hard time justifying the price tag for what it is, especially when a random sunscreen could smell just like Virgin Island Water. Alternatively, check Set Sail St. Barts by Tommy Bahama (more green, salty, aquatic), Still Life in Rio (grown-up version described below), or hunt down a bottle of more aromatic CK One Summer 2014 (yes, they can still be found out there).
6) Terracotta Le Parfum by Guerlain
Created by Master perfumer Thierry Wasser in 2014, this is another beachy cult. In the same gang as TF Soleil Blanc. Terracotta is a white tropical bouquet with coconut whispering in the background, tamed by bergamot, vanilla, musk, orange blossom, and ylang-ylang. The tiaré is warm, huggable, sweet (while TF Soleil Blanc flowers are more carnal and the coconut note gets way more attention), it has less of a suntan lotion type due to the coconut toned down (although this notion remains in its DNA).
If you are scared of indoles, this is where you can look. They are very mellow here.
It’s fairly linear, which is one reason I don’t wear this too often – to me, it is easy to get tired of smelling a bouquet of sweet flowers. But sprayed further away from my face, on a wrist or clothes, and getting whiffs of this tropical garden, it’s perfect. The vanilla base is what makes Terracotta quite versatile. I actually like this for winter “I want to be on an airplane heading to Tahiti, pronto!” type of mood. Its warmth works just as beautifully on a fuzzy sweater.
7) Acqua di Sale by Prufumum Roma
Acqua di Sale is a hut on a beach with more wilderness than humanity. Algae. Driftwood. Strong marine air. Wafts of aromatic herbs wildly growing on the rocks with a thin crust of salt crystals. It’s strong but clean and refreshing at the same time. There are zero creamy notes, no exotic flowers, no coconut, and no zingy limes. This is the beach and ocean itself. The kind of beach you might be walking down searching for ambergris. No humans slathering suntan lotion in sight. If there are any people at all, it’s just their bare skin in the sun. A beachy perfume with all its might, just not necessarily a hot climate beach.
Although Acqua di Sale might sound like a quiet aquatic salty whisper, it still has Profumum Roma’s exceptional concentration. It has a slightly oily feel and will get you noticed. And it will last forever, especially on fabric. Not only because of its power but it is also quite unusual.
It can easily become overwhelming if not handled with respect. The rollerballs that Profumum includes in their boxes are the best way to apply these beastly performers. They are easier to dose with more precise control. Because half a spray might be just enough to get you through a day.
I remember my first encounter with this beauty vividly. One spring day, I walked into the Ingredients boutique in Prague, looking for something particular. After smelling plenty of stuff, I tried this. For some reason, I sprayed directly onto my white linen jacket. It kept going as if I had just sprayed it on until I washed it. Forever. Even opening my closet gave me an instant “Aaah, salty goodness” sigh. That was years ago. When I pull this jacket out of the closet, I still imagine the wild side of the beach. Even though the scent itself is long gone.
Acqua di Sale is unique. Others reiterated the idea many times, but it’s so unique it seems hard to pull anywhere close. If you want a taste of this breed of fragrance, you can check the more accessible Aqua Motu by Comptoir Sud Pacifique.
8) Still life in Rio by Olfactive Studio
If people say Virgin Island Water should be worn on a Caribbean beach, this is what should be worn in the beach bar. They do share lots of similarities but are different enough to mention both.
Still Life in Rio is much less of a freshie while still bright and uplifting, grounded with pepper in the top notes and a touch of suede in the base, giving it a more grown-up cologne vibe. Aromatic. The coconut toned way down, with just a hint of bitterness (likely from the ginger, mint, and citrus combo). Still has a happy beach scent to it, but this is a more complete fragrance that won’t feel out of place in the middle of a buzzing city.
9) Salted green mango by Strangers Parfumerie
This is for those who are hard to please, dear folks. Fig isn’t green enough? Citrus is meh? White flowers too heady? Coconut too edible? Salty seaweed not fishy enough?
If your idea of vacation memories is about places like Thailand, exotic food, chilies, lush rainforests all over the place, and daily tropical rain showers, this might be it. Although another divisive type and not loveable at first sniff. But for more seasoned fragheads, this might just fill a big hole in your heart dug up by the department stores. It is original, interesting, and unusual.
On my vacations, rather than visiting tourist traps, I prefer stuffing my belly with local food somewhere quiet and relaxing. The flavors are what make the holiday an even more memorable experience. And one of the things I love to bring back home is a cookbook by a local chef. And this is a bit like finding one of those cookbooks on a shelf. Salted green mango doesn’t come off as a gourmand per se, although the note pyramid would hint at it. It’s just not your typical gourmand notes.
It opens super green – the impression of picking an unripe mango right off the tree, with astringency from broken twigs. Now imagine peeling it – a whiff of fruity juice, a brief one. The salty notes take over, almost too much. To the point where I felt sad that this story is over. But then the chili, fruit, and vetiver peek through, slightly sour, slightly juicy, a tad bitter, aromatic. The idea of preparing and eating salted mango is spot on. My culinary experience closest to this is eating pineapple chunks served with salt and crushed chili flakes, a dear memory of our honeymoon. A memory well pictured, Strangers Parfumerie!
If Southeast Asian cuisine is something you are willing to discover in a perfume, you should also sniff Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes by Etat Libre d’Orange. (Rice, coconut, ginger, lime, coriander, shiso, cardamom, cinnamon, and tonka. Sounds right?)
10) Aqva Divina by Bvlgari
Guys, everyone who wears this says it’s not for everyone. But back in my hometown in Europe, everyone wore this. It was constantly one of the bestsellers in both brick and online stores. And even though I feel like I am going to smell this everywhere come first sun rays, I don’t mind. This is aquatic, but not as in “cucumber” aquatic, rather salty marine. Marine done well. Bergamot and quince give it just enough freshness but not so it would become a citrusy, fruity splash. Carefree summer scent? Yes. Immature? No way.
Salt and ginger work divinely together, giving it fresh zing without being sour. The composition is grounded in a base of beeswax. And if you – as I did – think that beeswax is a note better suited for cooler temperatures and would be cloying in the heat, let this stuff surprise you. It is used light-handedly here, although clearly recognizable.
Don’t buy Aqva Divina at full retail. You can always find it at an affordable price. Although lately, it seems to have disappeared from the Bvlgari website. It is popping up in all sorts of discount stores, which could signify upcoming discontinuation or reformulation. Performance isn’t huge, but for summery types still above average. I am not going to tell you to test this before buying because everyone else will. Just spritz and enjoy. There is nothing offensive about Aqva Divina.