I have always had an instinctive yearning for the tropics. In hot places by the ocean, things always feel more relaxing: solid, yet dream-like, more deathless and drowsing, and any perfume that thus reminds me of this sensation of heat and-leaden heaviness, of the torpor of flowers in the afternoon as waves glitter fantastically on the beach, is immediately attractive to me.
I love the sun, and the smell of salt water on skin. The mulch of the dark wet sand at the base of oceanic stems: that strange, overripe smell when the day is at its hottest and the vegetation tilts into a lassitude and sea creatures hide in their shells.
There are several curious perfumes I have smelled that have aspects of this odd, sea-organic facet, fragrances that veer away from the classic ‘beach’ smell of tropical flowers and coconut oil and trespass into more risk-taking zones of perfumery where strangeness is an essential part of the structure. Aftelier’s Tango springs to mind first of course, with its peculiar but compelling central note of roasted sea shells and champaca, but there is also the rotting beauty of the animalic, marine Manoumalia by Les Nez and its floral centre of pua kenikeni, equally perturbing in its evocations of places, cultures and smells that are zones beyond our own. No perfume of this genre, however, comes close in beauty to the almost Botticellian, lustful and Venus-like strangeness that is Jean Jacques Brosseau’s rare Ombre Bleue Parfum (which I found a pristine bottle of recently in Kamakura and which I am planning to do a full review of soon. This is a beautiful perfume; erotic yet clear and dew-fresh, like swimming naked in the blue grotto in Capri ).
Other areas of the oceanic spectrum covered in contemporary perfumery include Hermès’ recent Epice Marine: a sea-doused curiosity that melds quite nutty, anti-intuitive notes of burnt spices and savoury flavours with a fresh, oceanic calone top note to interesting (if puzzling) effect, while last year’s Eau Mohéli took quite an innovative approach to the beach-side floral by trying a full 360° snapshot of a sub-equatorial ylang ylang tree, a ‘solar’ portrait of the flower that including its roots, its twigs, and its leaves in the midday sun.
The new Florabellio by Diptyque is also in the family of perfumes that not only evoke the freshness of waves but also the flora and fauna swimming below. Unlike more intensely algaeish perfumes such as Profumi Del Forte’s Tirrenico, though, Florabellia is a light, commercial summer perfume that only hints at these things, but is nevertheless still somewhat troubling. Like other calone-centred perfumes I have considered buying for the hot summer months here such as Aria Di Mare by Il Profumo (fresh; Adriatic) or Montale’s intriguingly ozonic Sandflowers (dazzling sea, and rocks, and baked sand), Florabellio is almost overinsistently fresh up top with its oceanic, salted note combined with sea fennel – a familiar combination in marine fragrances – plus an approximation of ‘apple blossom’ and osmanthus that gives the sea breezes a floral airiness which works quite enticingly as the initial top accord fades gradually into place and the perfume’s true originality then becomes apparent: an oddness lying in the unexpected, and possibly clashing, heart notes of coffee, and roasted sesame. Notes that were not, by any means, obvious on first smelling (and I don’t think I could have identified those particular ingredients if I’m honest); but there is, nevertheless, something most definitely something slightly jarring, yet also addictive, in these notes resting under the freshness that made me think of the scent that sun exposed sea plants give off when you pass them half-mindedly strolling along a sand dune, sensing intuitively the darkness and moisture, those life-teeming eco-systems of microscopic organisms that live beneath their solar-baked surface.
During the day that I was wearing Florabellio, this central note was the one thing that put me off the perfume while also the very thing that drew me to it: the pleasing illusion of sea-ness and clear-cliffed panoramas would keep bringing me closer, but then this almost dirty, animalish inner accord would bite my nose and I’d think no I can’t. It was the same on the scent strips that I left lying about; the floral, oceanic salt accord stronger and more tenacious that you might expect a perfume like this to be, the tension between the flowers and sea salt in the top, and the seemingly random addition of coffee and sesame in the heart creating an unusual aura whose perplexing and vexing qualities I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Compared to most recent commercial releases, though, this release is undeniably memorable, for me at least, and one of those fragrances you are not sure you could ever quite commit to, but cannot totally let go of either. Florabellio is a scent I can imagining being more and more taken with, actually, when the sun really starts to get powerful in the coming sweltering months; when I get dragged into the sweating exhaustion of the summer term, and start dreaming, heavily, of tropical escapes.