At the Beach 1966 is an extraordinarily accurate -- and extraordinarily *evocative* -- olfactory replication of a hot day at the beach in the northeastern United States in the late 1960s. For those of the right age and background to have memories of such days, this fragrance's effect can seem almost uncanny. One whiff and I can see the schmear of white zinc oxide on my Uncle Joel's nose and feel the elastic around the leg holes of my Speedo chafing me where the sand and salt got caught beneath it. This is not perfume as fashion, but perfume as art. It is a narrative rendered entirely in smell.
The narrative opens with the unmistakable sweet, chemical smell of Coppertone -- not current Coppertone, but the Coppertone suntan lotion of the late '60s and early '70s, back before anyone called it "sunscreen," back when only the palest and stodgiest of middle-aged grown-ups used the bottles that came with SPF ratings. It is a very distinctive smell, and in the context of this fragrance, it operates almost as a chevron pronouncing the time and place in a film might. It is the olfactory equivalent of a title card reading "August, 1966."
Having thus established the time frame of the narrative, the suntan lotion accord seems to recede somewhat, allowing other smells to come forward to share the spotlight. There is a realistic sea water accord, cold and so briney you can practically taste it. A touch of ozone gives the impression of the breeze coming off the water. Then there is the mineral tang of hot beach sand, the organic chalk of crushed shell. There is a dry and sun-bleached woody note: a boardwalk, perhaps, or possibly a set of silvered cedar planks laid as a pathway across some sharp-grassed dunes.
And then, as dry-down approaches, there comes what to me is the most extraordinary note of all: a smell that I can only describe as that of hot skin. Not the smell of sweat, mind you, but the smell of skin that has been heated by the sun. It is a hot sunny skin smell. So compelling was this illusion of warmth, of literal *heat,* in fact, that I actually found myself doing a touch test, just to convince myself that the skin where I had applied the fragrance wasn't really any warmer to the touch than my bare skin elsewhere. Now that is extraordinary.
While the show At the Beach puts on is stunningly evocative, it does not last very long -- not, at any rate, in the water perfume (the absolute might well last longer). In a few hours, it is all over save for a white musk rather reminiscent of dryer sheets, which sticks around for some time after the narrative proper has ended. But that's just as well, really. It's hard to imagine wearing this fragrance the same way one might wear, say, something that you slap on in the morning to smell nice for the next eight hours at your workplace. And frankly, I'm not sure if I'd really *want* to smell like mid-century suntan lotion all day long. A shorter duration seems more appropriate for a fragrance that acts so effectively as a window to another time, another place.
As a memory in a bottle.