If you’re searching for a summer fragrance to evoke happy holiday memories, look no further than the bottle of sunscreen you take to the beach, says Kathleen Baird-Murray

There’s a marabou walking along the beach making his morning call. He pecks at our swimsuits drying in the sun, his soft, feathery underbelly hinting at the life of luxury he thinks he should be leading, instead of this, minor-league stuff, hustling tourists. He sits, his double-jointed legs folding back on themselves, feet in front. A breeze catches the frangipani flowers in the tree nearby, their scent wafting across. It’s hot, they reckon 420 C today. Salt water glistens on skin, like the sun dappling on waves. The sunscreen that started out as a thick white dollop, rubbed in until it was clear, is now a mottled watery white. Ah yes, the sunscreen. Time to reapply.

Description: Description: Sun, Sand And Scent

 Bronze Goddess Sun Care and Self-Tanners

And then I wake up. It’s midday, it’s London and I’m in the office. But for a few seconds I was transported back to Ngapali Beach in Burma, thanks to a quick spritz of Geurlain’s Terracotta Eau Sous le Vent, a clever fragrance because it smells just like the Geurlain Terracotta sunscreen I used on holiday; all tiare flowers, ylang ylang, jasmine, orange flower and vanilla. It doesn’t matter that they’re tarmacking Portobello Road outside, or that the sky is grey. In this bottle on my desk I have the perfect escapist’s tool – a sort of olfactive “Beam me up, Scotty” – right here, right now. (Other brands have very smartly bottled the scents of their sun screams, too, including Clarins with Eau de Soleil and Estee Lauder with Bronze Goddess.)

For the beauty companies, capturing the scent of holidays has an obvious appeal. “Fragrance, by its nature, is extremely emotionally powerful,” says Karyn Khoury, who created the Bronze Goddess sun-care franchise for Estee Lauder. “The whole use and appeal of it plays on the emotional connection that the wearer forms with the scent, because the notes are very often associated with past experiences where you were. So what more phenomenally perfect way to make that connection than where the memory is of a happy holiday?” Amber is a the core of Bronze Goddess, “but to give some of the vibrancy and a sense of the sun, we added zesty citrus notes, as well as a blend of milky flowers and coconut milk – not flakes, which are too sweet and waxy.” Available for a limited period each summer, the original Bronze Goddess fragrance is always a sell-out.

Description: Description:  Bronze Goddess Sun Care and Self-Tanners

 Bronze Goddess Sun Care and Self-Tanners

Khoury’s happy holidays were of the beach variety; her childhood packed with visits to Rockaway Beach (“I’m too young for the Ramones song”), a bottle of Coppertone to hand. “I remember the smell of the ocean and as the day progresses and it gets warmer, there is that palpable scent, the combination of the heat from the sin and the sand, even though and doesn’t actually have a smell. There is nothing sexier than the smell of sun-warmed skin.” Capri, the latest Bronze Goddess fragrance, was also inspired by a recent holiday, and has more of a citrus hit to it, with notes of muguet, lemon leaves and a touch of patchouli. “Capri is all about the glistening sun on the water. It’s different, the light in Europe,” says Khoury. “Truly, I keep telling Leonard Lauder I should charge him for all my vacations,” she laughs.

Thierry Wasser, the celebrated perfumer now at the helm of Guerlain, is acutely aware of the responsibility of formulating the scent for sunscreens. “It makes you travel in space and time, puts you in another place. That’s what’s so magical about scent,” he says, and admits to taking as long to work on the Terracotta fragrance creation as on any of Guerlain’s fine fragrances (it paid dividends: Terracotta is arguably the most celebrated of all the beauty companies’ bronzing ranges and a large part of that is down to its evocative scent). A Piz Buin user when younger a product that, he says, smells “like an offspring of Shalimar”, Guerlain’s classic fragrance Wasser let his imagination take him to Tahiti, the inspiration for Terracotta, regretfully never having visited himself. “It was like a little weird trip I took in my head, a fantasy of Gauguin paintings, blue lagoons, a soft, rich, relaxing fragrance. Like a postcard.”

If you had to conjure up a classic sun-cream scent in your mind, you’d probably be thinking of Hawaiian Tropic. It’s a cult favorite that, though modified, stays true to its original 1969 roots. Legend has it Ron Rice, founder and by all accounts something of a Hugh Hefner of the sunscreen world (remember the swimsuit competitions?), mixed coconut oil, cocoa butter, aloe and island fruit oils in a rubbish bin after watching Hawaiian islanders rub coconut oil into their skin and hair. Job done. According to Nathalie Broussard, scientific communications director at Vichy Laboratories – whose classic Capital Soleil sunscreen is an addictive mix of orange, tiare, sandalwood and iris – sun-cream scents are generally known in the trade as “fruity-floral-solar” and focus on the “tropical” end of the olfactory spectrum; hence the coconut and tiare flowers. We apply them, or should do, constantly throughout a holiday, far more than we’d ever apply perfume at home, and by the end of a trip those exotic notes are lodged in our memories, as bound up in recollections of the holiday as the view from the balcony and the mojitos from the poolside bar – a virtual time-machine in a bottle, to transport us back to happy time.

Description: classic Capital Soleil sunscreen

classic Capital Soleil sunscreen

These days, though, the ingredients have to do far more than just smell nice. Clarins’s much-loved sunscreen is composed of sesame oil, aloe, liquorice extracts, vanilla, olive leaf calendula and yellow clover, ingredients chosen more for their protective and reparative properties – their resultant scent being a happy coincidence. Shiseido incorporates the same aromachology principles that it uses for its skincare, with the tea rose and other floral notes being intentionally uplifting. Sisley goes one step further, making the fragrances work for their place in the sunscreen formula. Rather than consulting a particular nose, it left it to the laboratories to focus on blending the right combination of multitasking essential oils, so you have lavender and marjoram to soothe sun-stressed skin, geranium to boost circulation and repel insects (no more Mosi-guard!) and sage oil to purify and tone. The overall olfactory note is (like Clarins) found by chance, which may be why it smells so unique (this is strictly a coconut/ tiare-flower-free zone). Many suncare fragrances also incorporate salicylates, raw chemical compounds that intensify white flower notes, rounding them off into magical concoctions found in brands such as Ambre Solaire, Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess and Dior Bronze, to name but a few. “It’s a raw material, used a lot by perfumers, which smells like sand when the water laps over it,” explains Laurence Liron-Taillard, fragrance development director of scent laboratory Firmenich.

Description: Garnier Ambre Solaire

Garnier Ambre Solaire

Generally with sun creams, familiarity breeds comfort, rather than contempt. I’ve tried foisting upmarket, de luxe sunscreens on normally upmarket, de luxe friends as they depart to foreign climes, only to be politely refused. “No thanks, I’m sticking with Boots/ Nivea/ Ambre Solaire,” they say. “I always do.” It’s what they used as a child, as a teenager, on their honeymoon and every holiday since, and now they use it on their own children and still love it for themselves. And so off they go, Ambre Solaire in hand, to find their own marabous, frangipani trees and unspoilt beaches.

My own holiday long gone, one rainy day I watch a favorite Hitcock film, Rebecca. Joan Fontaine, ever-fearful, cosies up to Laurence Oliver, driving in the South of France before their return to Manderley: “You know, I… I wish there could be an invention that bottled up the memory like perfume and it never faded, never got stale,” she says. “Then whenever I wanted to, I could uncork the bottle and… and live the memory all over again.” You didn’t know it, Joan, but there is. It’s called sun cream.

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