Water, water everywhere… Is there a genre that invites more scorn and derision than the aquatic? Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that at their peak in the 90s and noughties, there were some awful ones doing the rounds.
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But more than that, we reckon there’s just plain ol’-fashioned snobbery about them. As if aquatic fragrances involve less creative and technical skill.
“Aquatic” can mean many things. From the inspiration of a drop of water to the more familiar smell of the sea, with varying degrees of salt, idyllic or tempestuous. The best ones remind us of exotic and expensive beach holidays. Particularly useful when we’re not actually going anywhere special.
Certain notes – for example lotus, melon, litchi and cucumber – have a watery feel. But if you want to get really technical, many aquatic fragrances owe their “aquatic-ness” to Calone.
Also known as “watermelon ketone”, this synthetic (discovered by Pfizer in 1951) produces the sea breeze effect we all know so well with its marine, ozonic and floral properties.
We’ve included a range of styles in this best aquatics feature, from the literal to the more conceptual.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Our Shortlist for Best Aquatic Fragrances
Davidoff Cool Water EDT (Pierre Bourdon)
Credit where it’s due: Aramis New West got there first. But this 1988 release can be credited for launching the aquatic genre in a big way. So big, in fact, it’s always associated with the family.
The aquatic feeling is there from the start. Its just-washed laundry freshness is amplified by notes of lavender, mint and yes, Calone.
Light floral touches – neroli and jasmine – mingle with the warmth of sandalwood, musk and an amber accord in the drydown.
As it approaches its 35th anniversary in 2023, it remains hugely popular. The Swiss brand has unashamedly maximised its best-selling asset with countless flankers and sub-ranges. Of those, the intense (2019) and parfum (2021) versions are the best options.
Creed Erolfa EDP (Olivier Creed & Pierre Bourdon)
Launched in 1992, Creed Erolfa takes its name from the family yacht and memories of sailing the Mediterranean, sunny skies, blue waters and all. This EDP captures that luxe life with seemingly effortless ease.
The opening beckons with super-fresh notes of bergamot, lemon and orange. Powdery violet and fruity melon bring a hint of sophisticated sweetness.
It develops with breezy rosemary and ginger, while jasmine adds to the swanky, but laid-back mood. The closing is characterised by clean musk and creamy sandalwood.
Erolfa steers clear of any clichés with utmost style and elegance. It’s sensual on the skin, almost salty, without being obvious.
Armani Acqua di Giò EDT (Alberto Morillas, Annick Ménardo & Christian Dussoulier)
Strange times call for something familiar and reassuring. And you don’t get more comfortable than Armani Acqua di Giò. Launched in 1996, it remains a classic of the genre.
Perhaps it’s the citrus-drenched opening of Calabrian bergamot, tangerine and neroli notes that makes it so appealing? Or the delicate display of florals (jasmine, freesia) splashed with marine notes that follows? Or the fact that all the elements are so well balanced?
Whatever it is, this creation still smells so good after all these years.
The Italian luxury brand has resisted the temptation to over-do the flankers that have followed. Acqua di Giò Absolu EDP (2018), Acqua di Giò Profondo EDP (2020) and especially Acqua di Giò Profumo (2015) are all worth checking out for their variations on the Armani aquatic theme.
Also look out for the recently released (2022) EDP version.
Dunhill Desire Blue EDT (Philippe Romano)
The British Dunhill brand’s 2002 contribution to the aquatic genre is quality stuff.
Fruity litchi and floral lotus create an aquatic vibe in the intro, while notes of mandarin orange and bergamot bring on the citrus freshness.
A sea water accord, with just the right amount of saltiness, is paired with a note of orange for extra freshness.
It settles with a warm amber accord, featuring pronounced notes of tonka bean and benzoin.
Although not quite as good as this one, the 2018 release Dunhill Desire Blue Ocean EDT is also worth a sniff or three.
Bvlgari Acqua Pour Homme EDT (Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud)
While not all aquatic fragrances from the first wave have dated well, this 2005 Bvlgari release is not one of those has-beens.
It opens in fresh citrus mode with notes of sweet mandarin orange and green petitgrain. It’s an uplifting combo.
The seaweed note is subtly salty, its aromatic profile accentuated by lavender. Woody notes, specifically Virginia cedar and patchouli, continue the softness in the drydown.
The amber is kept to a thankful minimum.
It’s a sophisticated, slightly restrained take on the theme. The great bottle too – the spherical shape captures its inspiration oh so cleverly.
Heeley Sel Marin EDP (James Heeley)
Wow! This 2008 release is a masterstroke.
But that should come as no surprise. It’s a creation from the Yorkshire-born / Paris-based perfumer who’s responsible for beauties such as Heeley Cardinal (2006) and Heeley L’Amandière (2011). His skills are displayed to maximum effect in Sel Marin (French for “sea salt”).
The intro is sharp, with citrus notes of bergamot and lemon conjuring a fresh sea breeze.
It doesn’t take long for the main attraction to come into focus: a wondrous splash of moss, algae and, in particular, sea salt notes. Many aquatic fragrances are heavy-handed on the sea salt. This one gets it exactly right.
The drydown is all about driftwoods, with fresh cedar and vetiver supported by clean musk and a hint of leathery birch.
Although inspired by sunny days at the beach, we get a far moodier ambience. Either way, it’s as realistic as it gets.
Adidas Natural Vitality EDT (Maurice Roucel)
Just because it’s cheap, cheap, doesn’t mean it’s not good. In fact, this 2008 release from the German sportswear brand is darn good.
That could have something to do with the fact that it was created by the legendary Maurice Roucel, producer of classics such as Hermès 24 Faubourg EDP, Gucci Envy EDT, Donna Karan DKNY Be Delicious EDP and Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur EDP. If that don’t impress you much, just smell it…
The opening is fresh and pleasantly sweet, with a note of red apple taking the lead. Is that a tomato note lurking in the background?
Notes of litchi, lotus and watermelon bring on the aquatics, with a fruity-floral spin, while musk prolongs the mood.
DS & Durga Rose Atlantic EDP (David Seth Moltz)
Trust self-taught perfumer David Seth Moltz of NYC-based niche house DS & Durga to do something completely different with a rose perfume.
You’ll know Rose Atlantic is not the usual rose scent from the opening of this 2016 release, featuring bitter-ish notes of bergamot and lemon oil, with rose petals softening the effect.
A fine rose accord comes through in the heart of the EDP, with linden blossom in support. But this is a rose drenched in salt water. Lots of it. As if you’re aboard the ship Salt Spray Rose. What a clever boy!
A dose of white moss completes the evocative mood.
Paco Rabanne Invictus Legend EDP (Domitille Bertier & Nicolas Beaulieu)
Originally launched in 2013, Invictus has been one of Paco Rabanne’s big sellers. This is its fifth flanker/limited edition.
We enjoy this aquatic mostly in searing heat, in particular the salty opening.
The marine vibe and amber accord dominate the scent, but are contrasted with notes of bay leaf, spice and geranium for interest.
It’s not going to win any trophies (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) for originality, but works a treat as an everyday fragrance in summer.
Diptyque Florabellio EDT (Fabrice Pellegrin)
Paris-based niche house Diptyque has been producing superb scents since the 1960s. Launched in 2015, Florabellio was created by Fabrice Pellegrin, the perfumer behind the brand classics such as Do Son, Eau Duelle and Volutes.
It opens with a sea salt note, supported by herbal fennel in the background. They blend perfectly with fruity-floral apple blossom and apricot-y osmanthus notes.
Freshly brewed coffee wafts in and out of the composition.
Apart from being a great example of how contrasts can be treated with subtle sophistication, it’s also one of the more unusual aquatic scents around.
Hermès Un Jardin Sur La Lagune EDT (Christine Nagel)
We’re all for fragrances that take you to special places. And Hermès Un Jardin Sur La Lagune does that in understated style.
For the most recent addition to the Gardens Collection (2019), the French luxury brand’s in-house perfumer Christine Nagel took inspiration from a secret garden in a Venice lagoon.
Its white florals (magnolia, lily and pittosporum) have a subtly sweet scent. In the background there’s a marine accord, with a soupçon of salt, adding to the freshness.
Settling on a woody base, this EDT is relaxing and dreamy. Couldn’t ask for more right now.
Les Parfums de Rosine Bleu Abysse (Serge De Oliveria)
In the 1990s, Marie-Hélène Rogeon relaunched Les Parfums de Rosine, the French perfume house founded by couturier Paul Poiret in the early 20th century. All their fragrances have a rose theme, which instantly gets our attention.
From the brand’s Les Extravagants Collection, this 2019 release is bold and distinctive stuff.
The opening is all about the citrus aspects of notes of elemi and bergamot, with cassis adding an element of greenery.
A mineral accord is partnered with a soapy rose and the freshness of seaweed and vetiver.
A highly effective evocation of the ocean depths.
Berdoues Azur Riviera EDP (Jean-Marie Santantoni)
Life is a series of illusions. And perfumers can be the greatest illusionists of all. This 2019 release from the French brand’s travel-inspired Collection Grands Crus does a nice job of conjuring a sojourn on the French Rivera.
It opens with the fresh marine saltiness of fucus (seaweed to you and me) from France.
A gentle breeze carries the sunny scent of jasmine from Egypt and orange blossom from Tunisia…
Yes, it’s a simple composition, but this EDP is more effective than most in the overcrowded category.
No prizes for guessing the inspiration for this 2019 release from the American niche brand’s White Woods Collection.
There’s the freshness of sea salt and citrus (bergamot and citron) in the opening. Mineraline synthetics are complemented by spicy notes of ginger and cardamom to create a wet stone accord.
It all flows (see what we did there?) to the drydown, where nifty lab work (synthetic notes of ambergris and oud) meets earthy vetiver. The result? Moreish muskiness.
While it’s not absolutely petrichor (the smell of rain on dry soil or a hot sidewalk), it will appeal to fans of the genre. If you want the full petrichor, check out Le Labo Baie 19 EDP and Demeter Petrichor Cologne.
Azzaro Chrome Aqua EDT (Jean-Christophe Herault)
The Azzaro Chrome range has been on the market since 1996 and has spawned several flankers of varying quality over the last 25 years.
A 2019 addition to the line, Azzaro Chrome Aqua EDT maintains the freshness of the original, courtesy of a grapefruit note.
The freshness of sea water is given a dash of herbal aromatics (basil) without overdoing the aquatic thing.
It settles with the woodiness of vetiver.
Perfect for those warmer days when you’re looking for an uncomplicated, everyday freshie.
Nishane Ege Aigaio EDP (Ilias Ermenidis)
More than most, Nishane Ege Aigaio should restore your faith in the aquatic category. It’s familiar and different at the same time.
Inspired by summer holidays on the Aegean Sea, this 2020 creation from the No Boundaries Collection puts the Greek background of perfumer Ilias Ermenidis to good use.
The opening is suitably fresh and bitter, with yuzu in focus. Violet leaf brings airiness to the composition.
Notes of mint, basil and cardamom take it in a green direction. There’s an accomplished balance between herbal, spicy and aromatic facets here.
The olibanum in the drydown is wonderfully woody and maintains the fresh seaside ambience.
There’s a subtle anise note throughout. We’d like to think that’s a nod to the Greek aperitif ouzo.
Memo Ocean Leather (Alienor Massenet)
Paris-based niche house Memo does some of the best leather fragrances in the biz for their Cuir Nomades Collection. From Irish to African, there’s always an interesting interpretation.
As the beautifully designed bottle will tell you, Memo Ocean Leather, a 2020 release, takes its inspiration from the sperm whale. But just to clarify matters, it’s not an ambergris fragrance.
There’s a burst of mandarin orange at first. It’s contrasted with the fresh aromatics of basil and the powder of violet.
The aromatics continue in the form of clary sage absolute, but it’s the elemi that really stands out, with its terpenic qualities.
The drydown features a leather accord that’s given earthy depth with notes of nutmeg and vetiver.
Of the aquatic fragrances featured here, it’s the least literal interpretation, and all the more intriguing for it.
In the rarefied world of Tom Ford, there seem to be two recurring motifs: the glamorous red carpet and care-free European coasts. A whole sub-range of Private Blend has already been devoted to the pleasures of Amalfi and Positano in Italy.
In 2021, Costa Azzurra migrated from the Private Blend Collection to the Signature range.
It’s a classy aquatic scent that evokes the French Riviera from the outset with aromatic notes of driftwood and seaweed infused with the freshness of lemon, mandarin and lavender.
Woody notes of cypress and oak give depth to the olfactory reverie.
Dreamy and creamy… that pretty much sums up the attraction of this 2020 release from the NYC-based beauty brand.
The rich florals of ylang-ylang, magnolia and tiare set the tropical scene, with violet leaf absolute contributing a bit of freshness.
Ellis Brooklyn has major vegan credentials so, somewhat amusingly, they list vegan ambergris as a base note. Nobody uses the real stuff, do they? Anyway, this synthetic brings out the sun, sea and salt to balmy effect.
Sensual warmth is ensured with notes of sandalwood and musk.
Dior Eden-Roc EDP (Francois Demachy)
If we are to believe all the online naysayers, the private range lost its mojo several years ago. This EDP will tell you otherwise.
It’s inspired by the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, the legendary hotel on the French Riviera, whose guests have included Ernest Hemingway, Marc Chagall, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Madonna.
The opening is salty, airy and full of fresh citrus – a Mediterranean Sea breeze, if you will.
The caresses of the sun are expressed through warm jasmine, while pine tree introduces woody aromatics to the elegant arrangement.
It’s a literal interpretation that lingers beautifully on the skin. Do we have to check out already?
Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey EDT (Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud)
With hindsight, certain fragrances will forever be connected to a specific decade. And you can’t get more 90s than L’Eau d’Issey.
Launched in 1992 , it proved to be an auspicious fragrance debut by the Japanese fashion brand and epitomised the clean and fresh aquatic vibe of the decade.
Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme EDT (Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud)
Created by Jacques Cavallier Belletrud (now Louis Vuitton’s in-house perfumer) in 1994 and have aged surprisingly well, although we’re currently enjoying the fruit and florals (lotus, melon, cyclamen) of the female version more than the overt citruses of the male (yuzu, lemon, bergamot).
We read some Firmenich research about consumers wanting fragrances that “evoke feelings of safety, cleanliness and serenity” in these tumultuous times. Perhaps we are seeing a return to these aquatic scents as part of this yearning for emotional comfort?
For a stormier take on the aquatic theme, try the brand’s 2018 release L’Eau Super Majeure d’Issey Eau de Toilette Intense.