I’ve probably been doing this too long. And I know that new ideas are hard to come by. All the same…when I read that Louis Vuitton is launching a new beach-inspired perfume called At the Beach, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. We’re all suffering pandemic-induced burnout at work by now, but surely someone at Vuitton could have come up with something a little more creative? or at least given it a more creative name…?
This was my reaction on Instagram (imagine the GIFs in motion):
I suppose this release will be money in the bank for the brand (its current Cologne Perfumes—yes, I’m struggling with that name, too—sell for $265 a pop). And if you’re reading this, you’re probably not someone who get updates about Vuitton scents from Hypebeast and Hypebae (the first two sites to announce this release) anyway. Please allow me to vent nonetheless.
Was there a time when the idea of a beachy perfume was novel? Yes, there was. And that time was 1992, when “Seinfeld” featured a plot that involved Kramer returning from a trip to the beach and thinking that someone should capture the smell of sea and sand on skin.
JERRY: Stop smelling your arm.
KRAMER: You know I got a great idea for a cologne. The Beach. You spray it on and you smell like you just came home from the beach.
JERRY: Hm, a cologne that smells like the beach. I can’t believe I’m saying this: That’s not a bad idea.
KRAMER: Tell me about it!
JERRY: Why don’t you call Steve D’Giff, he works in the marketing department at Calvin Klein.
The concept is apparently a little too novel for Steve at Calvin Klein, who emphatically passes on the pitch.
KRAMER: You know the way you smell when you first come home from the beach? Well, I want to make a cologne that captures the essence of that smell.
STEVE: That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard.
KRAMER: Wait! Did you hear what I just said?
STEVE: Do you think people are going to pay $80 a bottle to smell like dead fish and sea weed? That’s why people take showers when the come home from the beach. It’s an objectionable, offensive odor.
TIA: It’s Ocean by Calvin Klein.
The punchline to this extended joke comes much later (season 4, episode 13, to be exact) when Jerry and Kramer smell a beachy scent on the Calvin Klein model whom Jerry happens to be dating. The company has stolen Kramer’s idea, apparently, and he’s immediately out for revenge (or compensation, at least)—so he storms over to the Calvin Klein corporate offices.
You can find clips of these episodes on YouTube if you’d like to know the final twist.
(Calvin Klein has never actually released a fragrance named Ocean, although their Reveal from 2014, now discontinued, had a “solar” aspect.)
Long story short, there are many sea-inspired perfumes out there, ranging from decent to excellent, and none of them cost $265. If you want to stick to department stores, you can try Bobbi Brown Beach (2002, $80, ocean and driftwood plus a little suntan lotion) or Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess (2007, $80 again, more tropical, with coconut and gardenia). (It’s actually hilarious that both perfumes are holding steady at $80, the exact price cited by the CK exec in “Seinfeld.”)
I can certainly recommend a few beach-inspired perfumes that have been around for a while and cost considerably less than that Vuitton boringness. Please do consider shopping with one of these independent brands if you’re in the market for a beach scent (or any fragrance), rather than a faceless global luxury conglomerate. (Preaching to the choir again, I know.)
CB I Hate Perfume 101 / At the Beach 1966 (2005): I haven’t been without a bottle of this in my possession since 2007 or so. It’s my “holy grail” of beach fragrances and it reminds me so much of childhood beach vacations that it’s become a comfort scent for me. You can read Robin’s Now Smell This review here. ($58 to $116, depending on size and concentration; samples also available for order)
DSH Perfumes La Plage: For just salty sea spray and fresh air without the nostalgic sunscreen, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz graces us with La Plage. I’ve used up my sample and probably need to buy more for 2021. ($24 to $80, depending on size and concentration; samples also available for order)
Imaginary Authors Falling into the Sea (2012): This particular aquatic composition introduces some refreshing Mediterranean citrus notes into its fictional seascape. Also: Imaginary Authors has some of my favorite fragrance-packaging on the market. You can read my NST review here. ($38 to $95, depending on size; samples also available for order)
4160 Tuesdays What I Did on My Holidays (2016): I’m not going to lie…this one is an oddball, but it’s an exuberant, irresistible oddball. Perfumer Sarah McCartney has whipped up an olfactory postcard of a beach vacation complete with boardwalk treats: cotton candy, vanilla ice cream, and peppermint “rock” candy, along with seawater and hot sand. Robin reviewed it (“Verdict: If it sounds like a hot mess, really, it isn’t”) on NST, here. ($90 for 50 ml at Luckyscent or Olfactif in the United States; more sizes, at various price points, are available in the UK and Europe)
There are others I could mention as well…but I’ll stop here. If you have a favorite seashore-themed fragrance, especially one from a niche or independent house, please mention it in the comments!