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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Smooth, Creamy Scent of SunTan Lotion: From Oils to Perfumes

The languor of sun drenched holidays by the beach, the sea lapping at your feet, tan legs seemingly going for miles against realism (that is the effect of a bit of golden glow for you!), an intriguing book, dog-eared and lying loose on your bare belly button... all these things naturally induce scented thoughts associated with this kind of lazy pastime. The creamy, tropically floral or more edible nuance of suntan lotions and tanning oils reinforces the experience as only sensory experiences that do not engage our rational mind can. Is it any wonder that my sun-dazed mind is buzzing around them like a greedy insect hovering over the golden pollen of a ripe flower? I don't necessarily claim laurels of originality, we all -people with an interest in smells I mean- think of this subject on those occasions, I guess. And is it any wonder that fragrance de croisière remains a popular market trend? There are surely many of us out there, more than initially thought of.

by George Marks, via Getty Images

Much as the reference seems universal, not all suntan lotions and potions are created equal nevertheless. The divide can be cultural: The all American scent of Coppertone is heavy in coconut lactones (such as gamma-Nonalactone), milky-smelling, rich, sometimes overwhelming even, to this Med-born nose. The European equivalent of Ambre Solaire is rich in salicylates, ylang-ylang naturally occurring floral components that translate as tropically floral, sweet, inviting, rather gardenia-leaning. Bain de Soleil is another old brand in the same vein. A suntan product can be ~predictably enough~ exotically laced, as Les Polysianes by Klorane or the Hei-Poa sun oil line attest: Tahitian tiare (the local gardenia steeped in sandalwood & mainly; coconut oil) is at the heart of their creamy, South Isles evocative bouquet, sometimes containing wine lactone or massoia lactone, which have a lighter, creamy coconut odor. Hawaian Tropic is poised somewhere in between: tiare and thicker coconut flesh in some sort of equal balance.

A cursory Google search before embarking on my own holidays while preparing this post a while ago revealed vintage brands I hadn't even heard of before; with funny-sounding names, such as Skol, Gaby, Tartan, Diana or QT, or with outright functional ones such as the 1970s billboard material Sea & Ski products.

yup, that's Renee Russo in 1976 via pzrservices blog, click to enlarge

The transition from tanning product for the body to actual fine perfume can be subtle or bolder, according to who makes it. The perfumers at old-guard Guerlain, for instance, were inspired by the isles "sous le vent" (which also inspired the classical Sous le Vent by Guerlain perfume) as well as their popular cosmetic tan line, the famous Terracotta, for the Terracotta Eau Sous le Vent fragrance mist and its accompanying Huile de Voyager dry oil; these products can compliment your sunscreen to give an illusion of old style tanning preparations now that the sun is frowned upon and we all slather ourselves with SPF 50+. Lys Soleia in the Aqua Alegoria line is Guerlain's newest interpretation of the sun tan lotion European floralcy in all its lily-laced spiciness, while the older Terracotta Voile d'Ete is carnation-spicy and fiery like the sunniest days spent under the Antibes blue skies.

A most refined version is met by parfums Hermes, a vanguard of the "not trying too hard" school of thought; Vanille Galante in the boutique-only Hermessences line is redolent of the vanillic-spicy facets of lily, while Santal Massoia in the same posh line utilizes the lactonic facets of fig leaf and classic sandalwood to render the ambience of beach holidays with a winking helping of suntan lotion in the distance. An unapologetic, no-holds-barred approach in all its coconut & vanilla calorific indulgence on the other hand is Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Vanille Coco: Coppertone till you beg to be released.

Cosmetic line Nuxe had no choice but to follow their super-popular (with celebrities and mere mortals alike) golden-flecked Huile Prodigieuse beautifying oil with a similarly fragranced, dedicated perfume product (L'Eau Prodigieuse); the recreation of holidays at the flick of a sprayer! Nars Monoï Body Glow II also has this suntan lotion scent in its core, a mixture of coconut and Tahitian gardenia that is decidedly tropical.
Bobbi Brown created her Beach fragrance to give a compatible scent to what she felt would go well with her tawny, bronzed makeup collections; the fragrance became a long-lasting cult deservingly, recreating the familiar Coppertone association under a gloomier, more East Coast sky.

photo borrowed from blogdorfgoodman blog
Estee Lauder is no stranger to either makeup or perfume, but it was under the tenure of Tom Ford that the infamous "Bronze Goddess" line was first conceived (Originally under the name Azuree Soleil; there are since MANY updates, so please consult our article on the Azuree Soleil vs.Bronze Goddess scent comparison for detailed info. The latest version for 2012 is Bronze Goddess Soleil).
Dior is a similar example: Though Dior's Dune perfume didn't begin its long career as a suntan evocative scent, but rather a demure, monastic yard by the seafront reminiscent perfume for the 1990s with the bracken hint of broom, it soon expanded its main accord into Dior Sweet Sun (an alcohol-free version of a sun-dried, warm biscuit scent that is close to tanning products in the line with a peachy-apricoty nuance) and of course the alcohol-free flanker Dune Sun, to capitalize on the success of the summery evocative name. They have since launched Escale aux Marquises as another "warm sun and tiare" fragrance, now that the above mentioned lighter concentrations have been discontinued, albeit with different aesthetic results.

via pzrservices blog

Some tanning products have an amber-like sweetness to them, like toasted biscuits, with a slight gingerbread warmth. Lancaster's (another cosmetics line, this time famous for its tanning preparations since the 1960s) ambery Aquasun fragrance is a good substitute of beach holidays in a bottle; the drydown reminds me of the intensity of sunscreen on my skin after I have sat under the intense sun of Sardinia for a while and before leaping into the sea, in a frog-like leap, exhausted by the heat. Obsession for Women by Calvin Klein also reminds me a bit of sun-warmed skin, possibly the evocation of a sun-watched tryst.

Celebrities haven't been immune to the trend: I'm only citing Jennifer Lopez and her Miami Glow with its cute havaianas flip-flops on the neck and its tropical suntan feel of a scent because celebrity perfumes isn't a field I consider myself proficient in, for better or for worse. This one is good enough to wear without any guilt nevertheless.

If you prefer oils, Monyette Paris is a cult reference, girlish and floral with coconut overtones, while their more recent Coquette Tropique is somewhat airier, though it is rather too sweet for my personal taste. Sage Onyx by the same jewelry line designer who makes the trinkets is darker, ambery, with the coconut hidden under the suntan and famously made popular by Kate Beckinsale who pronounced it her husband-luring charm. And if you appreciate a sense of humor, the fragrance library over at Demeter (brain child of perfumer Christopher Brosius) stocks Suntan Lotion fragrance spray; what's more overtly obvious than that?

There are probably hundreds of suntan products that smell delicious enough and accompanying perfumes and scented oils recreating that holiday touch; do YOU have a favorite one?

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Beauty and the Beachy; beachy fragrances for every style & taste, The Scent of Nivea cream: nostalgic blue-tin reminiscences 

43 comments:

  1. Love this post, Elena, and indeed any post where you break down the components of American vs. European suntan lotions. Suntan lotions (pre "sunscreen") are such an evocative smell of childhoods in the 60s/70s/80s.

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  2. Ahh, yes the infamous suntan lotion scents, that I feel like an idiot wearing. Should I begin with the fact I am a Californian and this is one of the most pervasive scents out here, yup, the gardenia coconut love is big here. On the other hand when you are are pale dark haired woman in California who does not tan, you get a lot of grief for it.

    So whenever I have encountered this scent I have felt rather like an impostor trying to wear it, the mix of coconut and gardenia always making me think I need to be tanner and blonder.

    Not that I can't appreciate them though I have a little bottle of Sage Onyx that has enough incense that I feel like I can pull it off. And the original Azure Soleil always became vetiver spicy ginger coconut on me.

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  3. Fiordiligi15:27

    Hello! Don't faint; I am actually posting again.

    I wanted to mention that just yesterday I received (from France) a bottle of the new Nuxe Eau Prodigieuse edp which is based on their Huile Prodigieuse. Have you tried it yet? Delightful.

    As a northern European I sort of missed out on the suntan product obsession, though I must admit to memories redolent of Ambre Solaire!

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  4. My favourite is Estee Lauder Sensuous Nude. I find its woody coconut similar to Bronze Goddess, but I like Nude better.

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  5. katie,

    thanks for the kind words. The cultural divide between actual products is fascinating. Baby products are also ripe for such a comparison; one day...

    Ah, the olden days when no one was wary of the sun! I sometimes think (with my good genes skin and my type II ~borderline III~ which tans modestly if taken care of not to burn first) that it's also a conspiracy to push more product!! Then again, I wonder whether my good skin is actually a result of going "by the book" and wearing sunscreen every day since I can remember consciously taking care of myself....

    It's a vicious circle even in its rationale: they got as bound and running through the hoop. :-/

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  6. Jen,

    I am the same sort of colouring (with a good type of skin which can actually tan to a golden nuance if taken care of and having a lot of swims, thankfully) under an equally warm sun and blue sky. The demand of being a bit "healthy looking" is huge here as well (this translates as not being pasty in summer, no matter what).

    In the beginning of summer season (May actually, since we hit short sleeves and bare legs in late April) I tend to fake it with a very gradual tanner on my lower legs and forearms and a hint of Nars Orgasm (or some warm rose blush) on my cheekbones. It takes me through late July when I finally muster a bit of golden glow...Might work for you too!

    The smells however here are decidedly lighter; it's considered bad manners to be thickly-smelling, too sweet, too cloying, too coconutty. A hint, yes; too much, it means you're invading personal space. Things like Eau de Merveilles, Un Jardin en Mediteranee, Narciso or Light Blue (for women) are considered proper etiquette for summer wear; more or less not too perfumey, not too tropical.
    The EL mentioned is a great reference and would be hugely popular here too, I bet, if only it were more available; it needs hunting through older stock at stores to find some. Onyx is good, perhaps a bit darker. Incense, indeed!

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  7. Dearest D!

    Welcome back! (I'm on and off myself, not quite back yet, so who am I kidding?)

    I have only sampled it once. It seemed close to the oil, which is delightful enough. Sounds delicious in a sprayer!

    This year I appreciated the subtlety of scent in the Garnier pearl-laced Ambre Solaire Golden Protection products; a hint of warm ylang and gardenia, very gentle and graceful. Sort of change stuff all the time lured by the scent, story of my life....

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  8. Krista,

    really?? I had considered Sensuous Nude when I sampled it casually a while back as a version of Cashmere Mist (which is good, if not wow) but now you will have me re-smelling it with new eyes (new nose, so to speak!).
    Thanks for the interesting feedback!

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  9. Lys Soleia is my current favorite "beachy" fragrance!

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  10. Karin,

    it's delicious indeed. I couldn't agree more! Enfin, as we should say, for Guerlain!

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  11. MariaA17:43

    Well Elena, suntan lotions are the reason I hate coconuts! There was a time that this was the only smell on the beach! Thank god it's not so often nowadays! As for the tanning part although Greek I am fair and gave up on the tanning efforts a long time ago. I only get a slight change in color that goes away within 2 weeks of the vacation - sunbathing end!
    This year I smelled and bought Sol de Janeiro sunscreen it had a lovely carambola (starfruit) smell and I enjoyed it a lot as it was also non sticky and easily absorbed!
    As for perfume I almost finished my bottle of Lys Soleia as I literary bathed in it daily and as soon as they make a discount I will run off to buy a back up!
    Ααα ακόμη είδα το μήνυμά σου για το Vetiver pour Elle αλλά είχαμε φύγει από Θεσσαλονίκη ήδη. Έχεις κάπου κοντά σου ΝΟΤΟΣ να το παραγγείλεις , το στέλνουν στους αντίστοιχους πάγκους, αν όχι πες μου να το κάνω εγώ!

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  12. I have very pale Nordic skin which never tan unless I've gotten a major sunburn, so I've given up the idea completely and am the same pale white all year round! The Hermes Vanille Galante and Santal Massioa are favorites but my great love this summer is Lys Soleia. For some reason it's a very calming scent which I've needed badly this last month (due to too much work).
    BTW I've bought FB of both Rose Nacree and Encense Mythique, thanks for the inspiring reviews!

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  13. If it smells like coconut - I am heading the other way!!! Can't stand it ! LOL

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  14. Miss Heliotrope01:46

    Australia, as usual, seems to have & have had a bit of everything, although as a chalky-Irish-white skinned person (with dark hair, for confusion), I have ALWAYS been covered with the highest blockout available (& when in the US, found their creams really difficult to use bc of the consistency). I can remember fellow students at high school in Melbourne already having suspicious lumps & marks removed from their bodies.

    Last summer, in the midst of a sudden obsession with coconut scents, I purchased a bottle of Coqui Coqui coconut perfume to wear with sunblock. It brought visions of sun tan lotion & lying on beaches - even though I never did such a thing...

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  15. Merlin09:41

    I consider myself one of those people who cannot do the beach or too much sun; fair-ish, sensitive skin etc. But wow, was it different in Ithaci! The air is so soft and the sun too - totally different from Africa! Apparently the ozone is thinner over Africa? Anyway, like Jen above I feel like an imposter in coconut-centric scents...
    Thanks for such a fun and informative post!

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  16. solanace09:46

    Love reading your articles, Elena! I got a big decant of Patricia de Nicolai's Juste un reve. i like it, but sometimes I feel it is a tad too sweet for me. Actually I like Bronze Godess better, but my husband thinks the coconut note reminds him of his mom doing house chores, so I'm not getting a FB... Kai smells like very cheap (Olay or something) to my nose.

    @ Eva S. I'm buying a full bottle of either Rose Nacrée or Encens Mythique (it's so hard to decide). Kudos for having bought both! I'm pretty sure they will be reformulated as soon as their distribution is expanded...

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  17. Kai smells like very cheap soap to my nose. Sorry

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  18. Maria,

    I don't like coconut either, most of the time (unless it's in cooking, coconut milk, or in fig perfumes, where it strangely -or not so strangely come to think of it- it fits). My aversion is derived from those absolutely HORRIBLE car-freshener "trees" hanging from dilapidated taxis mirrors. Remember those?

    Yes, I think modern sunscreens and sun lotions smell quite pleasant and subtler, not so dense as older versions I suppose which trumpeted their aim from the rooftops via intense synth coconut ("I'm going to tan, I'm going to tan, watch our world for my super brown dark tan to come!")

    Sol de Janeiro sounds excellent: where did you find it? (Has a Brazilian connotation, so is it a boutique find?) I love products with non typical scents and Brazil is a big new trend smell-wise which can't be bad since they seem to like unusual and tart scents (much better than all the cloying syrupy stuff, yes?).

    Σ'ευχαριστώ για την σημείωση για το Νότος. Δεν ήξερα ότι είχες ήδη φύγει. Πρέπει να τους πάρω ένα τηλέφωνο! Ευελπιστώ ότι θα είναι εύκολο να το φέρουν, αφού το λες. :-)

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  19. Eva,

    I always feel for those with Nordic skin, especially when I see them sunbathing in Greece on holiday, turning a lobster red, trying to do what nature refuses to let them do (and for good reason!). There's absolutely no need for everyone to be tan or even golden. We can celebrate what we have and manipulate it slightly to the degree that it's allowed to us; the rest is surpassing a wiser force....

    I have resigned myself to being a golden shade in the height of summer after many sea swims, a shade which is inevitable to fade come mid-September. C'est la vie. My pale self isn't too bad either ;-)

    I think Guerlain won the pot with LS; it's scrumptious and they really needed to do something that good after a series of ho-hum releases. Brava on the two FBs too: these were excellent and I bet they won't be around for long, even in soon wider distribution, they will be relegated as everything is eventually. So, good job! Enjoy!!

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  20. M,

    I have a problem with coconut as well. I don't know why it became the "default summer scent" at one point in time. Thankfully today we have several options!

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  21. C,

    in Oz you SHOULD definitely cover up and not sit in the sun at all, so you're 100% wise. It's a proven fact you can't risk it. I'm not surprised there were suspicious lumps etc. Funny how smells however conjure up things we haven't actually done, eh?

    The last couple of summers I have finally settled, after trying everything under the sun (no pun intended) with those non-oily runny liquids (ultra-fluide, micro-fluide etc.) sold by European pharmacist companies like Vichy or La Roche Posay. They are both photostable, reliable in terms of high SPF (anything less than 30 and I redden or burn) and cosmetically pleasing when using (no overtly strong chemical scent, no sticky feeling left). They also dry out matte (though a bit whitish, which highlights my natural rosy undertones, but I can't have it all, I guess!) which is essential when out with even the slightest chance of perspiring, like....every day. I just can't stand perspiration on my face!!!
    Summer didn't use to be humid in the Med, but I find that each succeeding summer is less dry than I recall from my childhood. Perhaps there is truth to the climatic change claim...
    The Shiseido sunscreens also dry out pleasingly matte as far as I can tell. Probably because Japanese people appreciate the "clean" aspect as well. ;-)
    Might help anyone reading with similar concerns.

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  22. Merlin,

    oh yeah, Greece has a much milder sun than Africa. No doubt! A summer in Egypt might convince anyone. I don't think it's an ozone layer problem, as it is the proximity with the equator and the much drier (and thus scorching) micro-climate. When it blows from the Sahara over southern Greece and it carries that dreadful sandy puffs (typically this happens sometime in the mid-spring for a few days each year) the air becomes foggy and oppressing; it's quite something! Muggy attains a new meaning.

    I like to think everything is soft, mellow, and friendly in Greece. It's a user-friendly place on the planet, which might explain why it was among the first to exhibit human civilization. :-)

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  23. Solanace,

    thank you honey! This was exactly my problem with Juste une Reve. Swapped my bottle. I do like BG better as well! (not that was a great summer frag!)
    Coconut reminding one of household chores: now that's a first for me; should be some household products she's using!
    Never got the hype around Kai. It's pikake oil diluted tenfold to my nose for the price of the undiluted.
    :-O :-?

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  24. S(olanace),

    soapy eh? Could very well be, since jasmine (and pikake and all those white flowers) are a popular soap-making base.
    ;-)

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  25. Anonymous12:23

    This is a wonderful post! I am wearing Bronze Goddess today with a little Lys Soleia in my hair. I often put Ambre Solaire as a body cream on because of the new version with tiare in it - it's glorious, light, not sticky or heavy. Not that I am at a beach nor anywhere near one right now, but I can dream! I remember the foam Ambre Solaire my mother used to put on us during our 6 week visits home to Nonna in Sicilia! I've also got Bobby Brown Beach but find it too intense and hard to wear other than, well, at the beach. Thanks for this lovely lovely post.

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  26. Barbara14:08

    What a timely post! This year-round pale woman has become obsessed with trying to sample Dune since I don't remember it from when it came out, or didn't pay it any attention then. Tried two stores yesterday, but no testers. Guess I'll have to order off the internet, and maybe more despite my no-love for coconut!

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  27. Anon,

    thank you, so happy you enjoyed!

    Sicilian holidays...mama mia! Lovely!! :-)

    Yup, the new Ambre Solaire with the tiare (and the hint of pearl) is the one I loved this year too. Isn't it delicious and so easy to use? ;-)
    Got to try your perfume combination, sound smashing!

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  28. Barbara,

    glad it was timely. I began thinking about it come July, then left it, then came back at it again to add vintage finds cropping during my research and it resurfaced when I was finally at holidays. I guess it was meant to at that point. :-)

    Don't rush to pay for unsniffed. I'd be glad to make you samples of the Dune! Send me an email with a shipping address and I will mail some when I get back. :-)

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  29. Hi Elena,

    In Brazil coconut soap is ubiquitous: for washing clothes, dishes and even the house and the dogs!

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  30. MariaA17:20

    Oh God I do remember those horrid car fresheners they either smelled cocnut or pinneapple, just terrible!!! Ambre Solaire was great I bought it for my mom but I sticked to Sol de Janeiro, it is actually a Brazilian brand every Sephora had it (still does) and smells very lovely starfruitly!
    Ναι είχα ρωτήσει την κοπέλα στο ΝΟτος του Πειραιά που είναι κοντά μου και είπε ότι μπορούν να μου φέρουν ότι έχει η Θεσ/νίκη - έχω σκάσει με το Iris Ganache το θέλω πολύ αλλά το budget μου διαφωνεί!
    Να περνάς τέλεια!
    Φιλάκια

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  31. Andrea M07:10

    I was born in a hospital suite overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami, FL and had "beach" in my veins ever since... Since I used to visit said beach in lieu of attending high school(!) my parents sent me to a college far from the beach. Not knowing anything about "beachy scents" in 1988, I wore Hawaiian Tropic oil as my perfume and it definitely garnered positive attention! Now I am older, wiser and landlocked.... So I wear Diptyque's Do Son (solid perfume only) with MOR "Snow Gardenia" lotion. Alternatively, "Exotic Frangipani Monoi Moisture Melt" is a decadent buttery treat that I fully intend to take me through to winter, no summer sun needed!

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  32. I do have to add one more thing to this conversation, considering every day I put on sunblock, my favorite being Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, is they went in the completely opposite direction of sunblock scents it's a rather green waterlily like scent that fades away fast.

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  33. I do have to add one more thing to this conversation, considering every day I put on sunblock, my favorite being Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, is they went in the completely opposite direction of sunblock scents it's a rather green waterlily like scent that fades away fast.

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  34. Great article. I have been obsessed with finding the perfect suntan lotion accord in a perfume.
    I believe Vittoria Apuana is the answer to this. I personally adore Hawaiian Tropics more than any other brand-smelling wise- so this captures the scent to a T
    Another honorable mention goes to 1966 At the Beach. What impresses me about this one is that he nailed the smell of ocean air and salty sun baked skin besides the smell of Coppertone. Brilliant !

    For a Tiare based scent I adore Ensoleille Moi by Andre Gas. I read that it has a hefty dose of Tiare absolute, more than any other Tiare based scent on the market

    Ok, last one.. Memoire Liquide Vacances is also a favorite of mine. Again, not only the Tiare - coconut is nicely done ( nothing artificial or tropical punch) the best part of this scent is the salty ocean air smell that they managed to capture.

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  35. Sol,

    amazing; talk about cultural divide between south america and north america. :-)

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  36. Maria,

    nifty, thanks!

    Να το πάρεις το IG γιατί δεν τα βλέπω να διαρκούν πολύ στην σειρά (καταργούν συνέχεια πράγματα!! γκρρρρρ!!!!!). Πιστεύω θα μπορείς να το "μοιραστείς" οικονομικά με κάποιον από τα μπορντς των αρωμάτων (mua, splits, etc) γιατί σίγουρα και κάποιος άλλος/η θα ενδιαφέρεται και είτε δεν θα μπορεί να το αγοράσει εξολοκλήρου ή θα θέλει λιγότερη ποσότητα ~μια καλή μέση λύση ;-)

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  37. Andrea,

    sounds like destiny!!

    I like your suggestions. I always thought Do Son got the short end of the stick through no great fault of its own (it's such a soft, delicate, ethereal rendition of a combustible note it deserves some attention) and your layering sounds terrific. :-)

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  38. Jen,

    this is the best US sunblock I see mentioned time and again for cosmetic pleasure and protection. It's good to hear the scent isn't disappointing (and is rather unusual) either! Funny, eh?

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  39. Yoca,

    thank you! Glad you enjoyed and thanks for your wonderful suggestions! :-)

    I admit I like the CB one which indeed captures the ambience of the beach very well, perhaps not just the suntan lotions and preparations, more of a natural smell. Re: the others, I have heard good things about the Gas one, the Ensoleille moi (nice name!), as well as the Memoire Liquide, but no source close by to try them out. Do you know of an online source for either shipping within Europe?

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  40. I believe The Perfume Court sells them
    I don't have any empty sample vials but If you do, I could fill
    Them with MLV and Ensoleille Moi

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  41. Yoca,

    thank you! I will browse a bit on the site and check international shipping. If that's too atrocious, I will take you up on your generous and kind offer, hoping to reciprocate, of course. :-)

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  42. Piping up here years later - for completeness in the Euro region: add Piz Buin und Delial suncare brands.
    Both very different from the Ambre Solaire which was more Mediterranean.
    Piz Buin veered into a cross between Nivea and Bill Blass Nude. Delial was happy and bright yellow, Nivea kisses Diorella maybe?
    Love the Beach series.

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  43. Andreasd,

    oh, it's a pleasure you piping up here even late. All comments are important!

    Delial….is that still around? You describe it very very well. Love this! And yes, Piz Buin, more aldehydic somehow and pampering, sort of like baby products today. I hadn't made the connection between the different regions of Europe, but you're right!

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