The Life Aquatic - Beyond Beach Scents Cliché

Life Saver

Even though most people don't think of water as having a scent - the most favourite nature smells among my clients are that of rain and ocean. This is based on a 15 year long ongoing voluntary data that customers provide me about their fragrance preferences.

I can't imagine what it would be like in summer without the wonderful beaches, lakes and streams. Even summer rains are welcome in my world, as they make the season feel more precious and allows us to continue enjoying greenery and worrying less about forest fires and dreadful droughts. Therefore I'd like to dedicate August's newsletter to water-inspired scents.

There's saline water and freshwater. In a similar manner, water-inspired fragrances can be divided into two: Aquatic and marine. Aquatic perfumes are usually ethereal, light and inspired by water gardens and flowers such as waterlily, lotus and iris and the wet-woods watery quality of cassie as well as the cucumber-like personality of mimosa and violet leaf absolutes. Marine fragrances tend to be more masculine (usually they're a sub-genre of Fougère) and include mineral notes that allude to salt such as ambergris, seaweed, oakmoss and vetiver - and even notes that suggests savouriness, such as parsley, dill, celery and angelica.

Bon Zai is perhaps the first aquatic perfume I've created, and the only one that has absolutely no saltiness to it. I often suggest it to clients who like the smell of rain, because it has the same freshness and crisp qualities the air has when it rains. It's a quite, non-dramatic, peaceful scent. Think about gentle West Coast rain in a Zen garden - no thunder or lightning, only soft rain on pine needles.

Since 2009, with the launch of Hanami, water has been a recurring thread in my perfume creations.  And as you will soon see, I often combine the qualities of freshwater and saline water in the same composition - which gives it a rather sheer quality and a compelling lightness. Although on and of themselves, cherry blossoms are particularly watery - Hanami plays on the theme of wet wood, after spring rain, and that scent mingling with that of cherry blossom and the urban surrounding: metal, wet pavement, and the commotion in and out of the underground train station. The scent is abstract, yet compelling. And for those who are familiar with sakuramochi and brine-preserved sakura and sakura tea - there is also a savoury connotation that balances the otherwise cloying sweetness of the flowers involved, and which makes Hanami perfume even more intriguing.

l'Écume des Jours (2004) was my first watery creation. Inspired by the perfect symmetry and profound beauty portrayed in Boris Vian's most praised novel by the same name. Cheerful Pianola top notes of cassis and freesia lead to Chloe’s deadly Lung Water Lilly. The melancholy base of green moss and watery marine seaweed reflects the tragic conclusion of the tale. l'Écume des Jours is a strange perfume of unusual harmony that inspires appreciation for the simple beauty that is found in all things – especially the Jazz of New Orleans...

And speaking of New Orleans: I also created a perfume that invokes the haunting scents of the Louisiana wetlands with salty seaweed and oakmoss underscoring heady flowers of magnolia, osmanthus, orange blossom and tea rose. There is also Meyer lemon and rosemary that truly cut through the sweetness and add a savoury touch that echoes the salt notes. For a scent so rich with florals, it is surprisingly refreshing, light and easy to wear.

Orcas, the first natural Fougère-Marine fragrance that was nominated for the 2012 Indie FiFi Awards,  now celebrates its 5th year anniversary. Inspired by the breathtaking scenery of the Wild Pacific Trail, a place where ocean meets forest and whales blow and sing above the stormy weather. Orcas perfume is an innovative all-natural marine woody, a unique combination of scents from sea and seashore. Brisk and pungent citrus and herbaceous notes suggest ocean breeze and tea-like clarity, and an array of oceanic treasures such as seaweed and ambergris meet seashore and rainforest notes.

My newest perfume, Lost Lagoon is a Chypre with s a powdery-sweet softness from the juxtaposition of amber, orris and magnolia that balances the bite of galbanum, rhododendron leaf and lemon. It is not aquatic per se, but it was inspired by the dreamy Rhododendron Garden that trails along Lost Lagoon. Again, we find a place where the freshwater is very close to the ocean, and this reflects in the perfume as well. The oakmoss contributes the saltiness, but the flowers are luscious and has a watery air to them - the crispness of violet leaf and iris being the main contributors to that effect.

The last bit of cliché I'd like to tackle is that of beach scents. This popular sub-category of Florientals (or Floral Ambery) tends to be fruity, sometimes even cloyingly sweet, and smells very artificial. It is a strange category because it takes after the scents of ancillary products - namely suntan lotion, suntan oil and sunscreen products. These are usually rather chemical concoctions of white flowers and fruit esters over synthetic musks and amber bases, and sometimes even a bit of aquatic smelling compounds. If you love beach, this would smell fantastic to you; but even if you do - too much of a good thing can get a little overwhelming, or boring at best.

What I tried to do with Sunset Beach, is create a perfume that is neither watery nor marine in character, but rather works with the tropical materials in a more authentic way. To start with, the inspiration is driftwood and the fragrant flowers that might bloom near the beach. So it's entered around sandalwood from both Hawaii and India. I've used massoia CO2 as well as handcrafted tinctures of milky oolong tea and pandanus leaf to intensify the milky quality that is sadly lacking in most modern sandalwood oils. And I've used champaca CO2 for its fruity, spicy and incense-like qualities that I find irresistible, and ylang ylang for its fruity esters and creamy-coconutty qualities. Whenever I wear it I feel like I'm on vacation, and I hope you do too.

In the same way that Hanami contrasts urban and natural elements, my upcoming perfume Coal Harbour juxtaposes the smells that co-exists in my oceanside city's harbour: the salty-animatic notes of seaweed and marine animals at low tide with the rank of jet fuel from the aquaplanes. This disturbing contrast (both smells are quite intense, and together they can be very unpleasant, especially when locked up in a bottle!). To soften this blow, I've added notes of fresh cut grass that wafts off Harbour Green Park, as well as pleasant-smelling local tree blossoms, namely linden, elderflowers and balsam poplar buds.

Approaching Coal Harbour


This week I've finally created a batch of Coal Harbour, which I intend to close the Perfume4aPlace series dedicated to my favourite spots in Vancouver. However, the concept of Coal Harbour perfume predated all the other scents. In fact, it was in one of those morning walks about five years ago in Coal Harbour that I knew I would soon have to leave the city. Walking there and watching the aquaplanes take off and land on water I felt a pang of melancholy, knowing how much I love the marine aspect of the city. And so I promised myself to make a Coal Harbour perfume before I leave, as a goodbye present to the place I've called home for nearly 18 years.

This idea of course was the seed of the entire collection. And as the time to leave approached, I began rolling out the scents. I felt reluctant to launch Coal Harbour, because deep inside I knew that would mean the last farewell. So I did this gradually, with one perfume in each season... Komorebi in the fall of 2015, Sunset Beach in the winter of 2016, Lost Lagoon in the spring, and finally Coal Harbour for summer.

The scent is now maturing in the vat - a concoction that echoes the juxtaposition of natural aromas in their urban surrounding, contrasting marine notes, fresh cut grass and linden blossoms with the penetrating aroma of jet fuel.

The perfume is still in the maturing phase, but you can pre-order a sample (or, if you know you like marine-leathery-green scents, an entire bottle in your choice of eau de parfum application - mini splash bottle, roll-on and larger spray bottle.


Wind Painting - Death Valley National Park by Joshua Cripps

Slightly charred vinyl flowers on sand and rubber tires abandoned in the heat of the summer and splashed over by salty sea water. If you were lucky, it would cling to your clothes the way ozone does after coming in after a brisk walk in the chilly air. There’s a wind blowing and it brings forth the scent of desert flowers (is it broom ?) and perhaps even beach lilies, mingled with grassy shrubs and metal frames that were left behind and are now blooming with deep-red rust.

Dune is not often discussed or mentioned among pefumistas. I can’t think of a single person I know that loves or wears this scent. And it’s one of those cerebral, and slightly moody scents, which I was never able to connect with, but always admired for its role in the history of contemporary perfumery.

Launched in 1991, Dune has impact beyond what meets the surface. It was one of (if not the first) modern perfume to disregard the “pyramid” structure of beginning, middle and end (also known as head/top, heart/middle and foundation/base). Instead, it takes a completely linear path that fades into the horizon like a curved mass of sand.

Jean-Louis Sieuzac, Nejla Bsiri-Barbir and Dominique Ropion created Dune in 1992, and in 1993 it won FiFi awards. It is a scent that had an immense impact on perfume culture throughout the 90’s, though not too many are aware of that ozone/marine scent. If l’Eau d’Issey and Cool Water began the trend of transferring aquatics from the pool to the bottle (Aquatic/Watery Florals and Fougeres); Dune was more about the open space near the seashore, and explored the concept of “ozone” or the scent that is in the air around the ocean. It was well ahead of its time, and as it turned out - it is the father of all the "mineral" or "salty" scents that are slowly but surely gaining momentum in the new millennium.

It might have taken a while, but Dune to me is a scent that explores the movement of a vast body such as a sand dune. It comes in as a wave and fades out as one. A year later came another perfume that questioned the authority of the pyramid structure: Angel, with its linear, homogenous yet aggressive personality. But while Angel took the spirit of the 80’s and amplified it ten fold to push strong-minded fragrances to the next generation; Dune was all about refinement and subtlety, and inspired other perfumes with similar character.

In its time, Dune resembled no other scent - so much so, that it took me literally years to be able to wrap my head around it. It was so cerebral and I had difficult time connecting to it, “reading” it. It did not really “speak” to me with its very unnatural, sci-fi personality and abstract raw materials… In the meantime, Dune has influenced many similar scents – linear, woodsy and warm yet clean and cerebral: Tocade (1994), which is about as linear as any scent could ever get; Allure (1996), which supposedly has the “faceted” structure, but if you look at it closely feels and smells very much like a copycat of Dune (even the “facets” which are just different aspects of this one linear processions – are dominated by the same notes: Mandarin, Vetiver, Vanilla, with the white flowers being the only visible variant); and lastly – the salty ambergris-centred Eau de Mervelleis (2004), Bois d’Orage (2007), Dans tes Bras (2008) and Terre Hermès (2009).

So now after exploring these scents and observing its influence, coming back to Dune seems on one had to finally make sense; but in the other hand – lost a bit of its novelty for me.

Dune by default fits in my gestalt with the Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel bearing the same name. And just like that novel, which walks between modern mythology and political commentary – Dune questioned our paradigm of how perfume should behave, and at the same time has become such an iconic perfume on several levels: the choice of raw materials (and the inclusion of helionial to create very realistic ocean-side nuances), the linear structure linear as linear could be – as and far as I know the first of its kind (followed only a year later by another modern icon – Angel).

Even the bottle is brilliant – reflecting the curvature of the dunes, their pale golden and glowing colour, at the same time flowing yet set in its own ways – just like the jus within it.

Dune is singular, unusual and very out of the way from my comfort zone or natural leaning. Although it is, as mentioned and emphasized earlier about 10 times, a linear scent – there is a certain progression, and in the beginning you would smell pale, transparent hit of green abstract notes, which are mingled with mandarin and resemble citrus leaves (only cleaner and not in the least eau-de-cologne like). Fairly quickly these just fade to become part of the greater picture – abstract flowers, sand and mineral notes mingled with salty air (yet not in the least algae-like) and revealing slowly an undercurrent of vetiver, amber, musky woods and vanilla. And it also lasts and lasts and lasts – easily for 10 or 12 hours; though not in a menacing or overpowering way. It’s just present.

And if you really "need" to see more specific notes of succession of Dune's aspects, you might like this part (the flowers are very unoticeable though, in my humble opinion):

Fresh & Airy – Broom, Wallflower, Bergamot, Mandarin

Flowery – Lily, Peony, Jasmine, Rose

Rich & Velvety – Amber, Lichen, Musk, Sandalwood, Vanilla

Orcas: The 1st Natural Oceanic Fragrance For Men

Dear Fragrant Friends,

It's hard to believe another year has gone by! It seems just like yesterday when I was swimming at Sunset Beach and testing the final versions of Orcas on the lifeguards. Oh, wait - I did go for a swim yesterday! Finally, summer is back in the Pacific Nothwest, and that was my first real, long swim of the year, at the very same spot. Ahh, so refreshing...! Which is the same feeling I get now spritzing my Orcas EDP from the new spray bottles. Got some good news to share with you, just in time for Father's Day and the beginning of summer - so read on!

In this newsletter:
  1. Orcas, the 1st Natural Oceanic Fragrance

  2. New: Eau de Parfum Spray Bottles

  3. In the Media + Contest

  4. Upcoming Events: Lace Embrace Event @ Hycroft Mansion June 19th

  5. Orcas Fragrance Launch Party July 17

  6. Wedding Perfumes

  7. Fragrant Father's Day

1. Orcas, the 1st Natural Oceanic Fragrance for Men

Orcas began its journey many years ago, with a scent that had an unusual combination of notes - seaweed, cloves, lime and rosemary. Strangely enough, it smelled like coke, and was loved by everyone who set nose on it. But I knew it wasn't quite right, so I set it aside and forgot all about it, until...

A couple of years ago, I went to Tofino and Uclulet for a little summer vacation, and fell in love with the magical, misty Pacific rim. Long Beach was breathtaking, with the constant mist in the air and the mythical rock that just sits there waiting for the surfers to take a wrong turn, and the whales passing by the Wild Pacific Trail enchanted me with their songs...
The air there is so crips and clean that it makes a perfect habitat for moss and lichen, adorning the trees with velvety green topes and silvery lace. And just
off the shore,
whales spit a mist of water from their lungs which towers abaove the
water and they weave in and out of its depths along the rocky shores.
Orcas plays on this theme of the marine creatures and moss.

Two years later, and Orcas has become what I envisioned - an innovative all-natural marine woody scent, a unique alternative to the mainstream aquatic/ozone fragrances. Orcas is made of a unique combination of scents from sea and seashore, some mundane and familiar, and others are precious botanical gems from the ocean and the land.

It is available in EDP only, in two sizes - 4ml mini ($38) or 15ml spray/splash bottle ($120). It was offered for pre-ordering so the number of bottles that will be ready for the launch (June 12th) is rather limited at the moment (and I'm thrilled it was so well received!!!).

It was always intended as a masculine fragrance, but as it turns out - both men and women love to smell and wear it!!!

You can read more about the process of creating Orcas on SmellyBlog. Here are more notes on the materials used in the finished creation:

Top notes - Breath of Fresh Air:

Rosemary verbenon - sheer, non-medicinal and reminiscent of tea and crisp ocean breeze. Rosemary bushes grow at Sunset Beach, and the lifeguard there make it into tea.

Lime - with its sweet, slightly coconutty undertones, lime is a note that always reminds me of the beach.

Fresh Ginger - brisk and zingy

Cedarwood - an inevitable note as the beaches of the Pacific Northwest are often a rainforest, or gritty sand dotted with cedar logs.

Heart notes - Non-Floral Flowers:
Egyptian Geranium - with a slightly salty, woody and musky aroma, it brings forward floral elements while keeping it clean and frill-free.

Boronia - a dash of oceanic saltiness from this Tasmanian treasure.

Clary Sage - tea-like and ambery nuances to connect between the ambergris and rosemary.

Violet Leaf - a freshwater mist that is cool and elegant.

Base notes - Salt, Whales and Forest at their best:

Seaweed - crisp ocean air with prominent saltiness

Ambergris - animalic whale secretion

Cedarmoss - reminiscent of the lichen hanging on the coniferous trees on the Wild Pacific Trail

Blue Spruce Absolute - scent of the Pacific Northwest forests

Continue reading Ayala Moriel's latest newsletter.

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