Ultramarine, perhaps the most popular scent for men – EVER   – in Japan, is in my opinion, an absolute,  bottled oxymoron : a ‘morbid oceanic’, if you like, and surely the weirdest perfume ever to be a megahit (which it undoubtedly still is here, even two decades after its release: an extremely popular choice for the young surfer about town – so much so that if you smell a perfume on a man in this country it is quite likely to be this surprise hit flanker for Givenchy). Though nowhere on the best seller lists in other countries, in Japan it is considered something of a reference perfume, one that everyone knows will help you pull, a scent that is seen as definitively sekk-u-shi (….er…SEXY). To me, though, having been exposed to its ‘charms’ at close range on countless occasions, this cadaverous wave of nautical chemicals just smells like dirt-caked zombies, smiling; riding the morning surf with their rictus grins of joy as that salt comes crashing down on their uncrackable, sun-shining skulls.



Few perfumes make me react the way this does:  a kind of severe, mesmerizing repulsion where I find myself hypnotised by the seaweed death notes of the base, but find I have to soon move away to less perfumed climes – to some fresh air.

Perhaps it is that very algae that the Japanese love, though – the inexorable pull towards the ocean,  though I have to say there is a certain urgent, compulsive sexuality about the scent: a do or die, fuck-me-on-the-spot quality that must appeal to the rebel and outsider (and remember: only those who are a bit rebellious in this country DO wear perfumes this strong…)




The weirdness in the perfume that I keep referring to comes from a  deep registered, under-seafloor rumbling of acrid tobacco, cedar, cardamom and vetiver; a ‘blue’ accord of half-rotted marine creatures; some imaginary highnoted ‘waterfruits’ (sea cucumber? kelp berries?) and herbaceous, bright and minty citrus top notes – all the clashing, thrashing ultramingling octaves you could ever wish for in a scent.




I’ll give Ultramarine one thing. It is certainly unforgettable.




Yet despite the free-for-all mixes that keep coming out (‘Evening Dream’, ‘Beach Surf’, ‘Ice Cube’, ‘Morning Surf’, ‘Midnight Swim’ and many, many more, even a ‘Pour Elle’) I would say  that ultimately this one is only for the boys. I once did a ‘man to man’ private lesson with a youngish woman with an exsanguinated, grey-tinged pancake complexion who was maladvisedly drenched in Ultramarine.



It was really quite difficult to concentrate the lesson as I was so affected (and masochistically fascinated) by her scent….



Never mind the grammar: this was like being locked in a taxidermist’s overnight, or having my head thrust and held in an undertaker’s coat, cold; vicious; come directly from the formaldehydic, graveyard rain.


Filed under Flowers, Oceanic

18 responses to “PROBABLY THE MOST POPULAR PERFUME OF ALL TIME IN JAPAN……. “THE SURF ZOMBIES”: : : : : INSENSE ULTRAMARINE by GIVENCHY : : : : (1994 – present, in annual Japanese remixes)

  1. I am currently visiting Japan and staying with my partner, who lives in Nagoya (I live in Chicago). I forgot to bring anything with me and the only thing in the house is…. Insense Ultramarine! I’ve tried to get him to wear something else but so far have been unsuccessful. Fortunately, he doesn’t wear it often, if at all.

    I really don’t understand the popularity of this one either, and agree that it is fairly disgusting. Your description is pretty much on the spot. My partner, however, is no rebellious surfer dude, but a middle-aged civil engineer. Go figure.

    The only other fragrance I can recall being popular during my stay in Japan was Krizia Moods Uomo back in the early ’90s. So much for the Japanese preferring light scents!

    • How fascinating and thanks for writing about this. Moods I don’t think I know, but I am also not surprised that your partner doesn’t wear this scent very often. I have seen it sitting in numerous bathrooms, three quarters full, only perhaps to be splurted on for certain occasions (isn’t it loud?)

      Have a good time in Nagoya. Great city.

  2. Japan never ceases to amaze me… Who would ‘ve thought that this monster of perfumery is still alive in Japan!

    I agree with you, it is one of the most obnoxious perfumes ever created, a chemical assault trying to feel fresh and clean. In reality it is the equivalent of someone holding you down and forcing hairspray out of the nozzle into your nostrils. The pain (my nose literally hurts with this), suffering and agony are beyond description. Yet soon I see what might be the attraction in glue-sniffing. So I can totally understand your mesmerizing aversion to this scent.

    • Was/is it popular elsewhere? What experiences have you had with it?

      I am strangely pleased that I am not alone in my reactions ( I was half expecting some people to pipe up in its defence, and maybe they will but) I am glad I am not alone.

      And I am really not exaggerating. This was HUGE in Japan, and is still definitely going strong!

      • It was somewhat of a novelty fragrance back in the days. Its predecessor (Insensé Ultramarine is actually a flanker that has spawned little devil-flankers of its own as it seems), Insensé was the masculine counterpart of Amarige if my memory serves me well. Insensé is now discontinued and often lamented as a demigod struck down by the cruelty and harshness of mass audience tastes. In my opinion it was a more wearable mess that kept shifting genres during its development to end up smelling as unmemorable and artificial as possible, I am still baffled by all the positive reviews it gets and i even wrote a post about it trying to make the point that once a perfume gets discontinued all negative qualities are forgotten, In Greek we often say: “ο νεκρός δεδικαίωται”. The deceased have no sins.

  3. Dearest Ginza
    Your reviews are never less than fascinating, and this is absolutely no exception.
    It seems that Insense Ultramarine belongs to that exclusive club of perfumes that are social documents as much as scents: telling us as much about the culture that takes them to heart as about themselves or the motives for their creation.
    No.5, which, of course, many people abhor (and, incidentally, always have done) is the apotheosis of this class. The Dandy, with his historian’s hat on, is always especially interested in them… so know I ask, is it available here? (Rather a lot of Givenchy isn’t).
    The search begins.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I love what you say here and agree wholeheartedly.But if you do get your hands on it I imagine that you might be baffled, as it won’t fit in with any ideas that people usually have about the country (mysterious, light, exquisite and all the rest).

      Nippon has its rough, gangster side though, and this is its olfactory emblem, so yes, for that reason you ought to seek it out at some point.

      And thanks for the compliments. x

      • Dearest Ginza
        I always think of Japan as a country of enormous darkness and depth beneath an implausibly perfect minimalist sheen.
        Mishima, both the theatrical traditions and many of the surviving ritualistic elements of social transaction would seem to indicate that.
        At least that is the view I have formed from the other side of the world.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • THen you are my man. It is indeed as you describe, and has so many elements and contradictions that even to use the word ‘contradiction’ is a grotesque cliche.

        How I love Confessions Of A Mask. How I welled up at the sheer unbelievable, cold, supercilious beauty of Spring Snow…

  4. After this hysterical review I am “masochistically fascinated” as well…have never heard of it…wonder if I could find it in the States….

    and as an aside, I adore the graphics…where DO you find them?

    • Katy

      Like, gag me with a spoon! Forgive my lapse into Valley Girl expression. Now California surf guitar is stuck in my head. I can vividly imagine how horrible this is. Your writing is very evocative. My perfume reaction will be to go layer Lolita Lempicka and Angel. That should knock the rotting sea creatures out of my mind/nose!

    • I trawl and steal and know what I am after!

  5. Lilybelle

    Sounds awful! My stomach is now turning over (a credit to your wonderful articulate fluency). A masochistic fascination with an appalling smelling fragrance. Who could resist? 🙂 I think a spritz of Hadrien is in order. No, maybe just some fresh air.

  6. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Unbelievably, one of the most popular perfumes of all time in Japan.

  7. This was absolutely hilarious! Thank you!

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