I remember it struck me as „interesting“ while I was sniffing and testing literally hundreds of perfumes at Esxence Milano earlier this year. I noticed then and there that quite a few „aquatic“ fragrances were released!
What was it that caught my attention then? On the first sniff – a refined mineral lightness, adding a strangely fresh silvery-pearly-gray feeling to the fragrance, resembling the scent of crushed, dry and empty seashells found somewhere on a shore of Atlantic ocean.
It felt pure and bright at first, but it also had a „darker“ side, like waves rolling deep below the surface, hiding something powerful, lurking in unpredictable depths of an ocean.
What happened here? Sarah&Sarah happened. Sarah Baker (the visual artist, owner of Sarah Baker Perfumes), and Sarah Mc Cartney (perfumer, owner of 4160 Tuesday Perfumes).
I see/feel Sarah Mc Cartney as a person who uses fragrances to communicate, scents and fragrant structures to express herself. I told her that, and she said, I quote: „I do magic. I lack the rigorous training to make things cheaply, but I don’t really mind.“ I’ll attribute this to her British sense of humor…
I talked to both, trying to learn more about the concept behind this perfume, ideas, and inspiration. If you don’t care about this and only need to know how it smells, feel free to scroll down to the part: „Atlante opens with…“ I won’t mind.
It all started in 2017, the code name for this fragrance-in-making was „Seashells“ at first. Baker sent to McCartney about 100 photos for inspiration, from Boticelli‘s „The Birth of Venus“…
…to various Versace fabrics with shell prints – this perfume was intended to be an addition to the Motif Collection – featuring the first four Sarah Baker fragrances: Lace, Tartan, Greek Keys, and Leopard).
Photos of Hollywood “mermaids” from the 1950s followed.
Imagine Lana Turner coming from the seashell or Daryll Hannah in Splash:
Or curvy feminine, pin-up beauties in bathing suits like Esther Williams:
As they both continued to work on it, the fragrance swayed in another direction, drifting away from fabric prints, growing its own big, shiny scales-covered mermaid tail. It took them one year to call it finished.
It seems that while the fragrance was macerating in McCartney‘s studio, the ideas were macerating in Baker‘s artistic mind:
„I was thinking of tales such as The Little Mermaid (not the Disney version, but the original, Hans Christian Anderson one – speaking about desire…and the perils of following a man blindly!) and her desire to escape the sea and go to the land. It was important to me to include ingredients such as ambergris and seaweed to add the saltiness. I love salty perfumes though they are challenging – I’m thinking about the saltiest perfume I know: Secretions Magnifique…This perfume (Atlante) feels to me like a mythical beach.“
Now, this is where I think something clicked: suddenly there were no pretty-looking bling-bling Hollywood style, softly-erotic pin-up mermaids anymore. The ocean current picked up and took Baker and Mc Cartney deeper, much deeper: to the other side of Big Blue, its vast depths and unsolved mysteries.
For Baker, the fragrance finally revealed it’s true colors: she associated it with the work of French surrealist filmmaker Germaine Dulac. To be specific, with her movie dating from 1928, „La Coquille et le Clergyman“ – being credited as a first Surrealist movie, later considered as a major Impressionist contribution.
Whatever it may be, the fact is that Dulac was one of the leading radical feminists of her day, a suffragette, too. I found this movie, watched it a couple of times, and I see „The Seashell and the Clergyman“ as a movie composed of rhythmic visual associations, very abstract and provoking, even disturbing. I got confused and asked Sarah Baker to connect the dots for me, she studied art – I’m really not so comfortable around Impressionism, or Surrealism for that matter.
She told me:
„This is why I like the „Seashell and the Clergyman“: not only the scene where he pulls off her shirt to reveal the bra made of seashells, but there’s a connection with the water, with the ships, as if she has the power of the sea behind her, the power which is preventing her from being captured/encapsulated.“
Deeper connection, one beneath the surface…
Reclaiming the power of Oceans, the Ur-Power of the Ur-Female, Mother Nature, the source of all life as we know it, the metaphor of freedom? Because gods or rulers of oceans and seas were always presented as – men.
Even the first-ever aquatic perfumes were classified as – “for men”. If you look back, for example, Kenzo Pour Homme in 1991 – using Calone for the first time – made that salty-woody feeling and immediate freshness radiating from it associated with sports and freshness, defining from then on aquatics as masculine perfumes with a carefree, relaxed attitude. Ha. Just thinking about this makes me laugh: isn’t it fascinating how marketing attempts of pushing sales of fragrances by stacking them in gender-dividing drawers seem…well – if nothing – so illogical.
Atlante, the Art&Olfaction Awards 2019 finalist, opens with a sparkling foam of breeze-light freshness brought to you by a brief and sharp rush of a very seaweed-salty tainted Yuzu, bright and optimistic (I always wish it could last longer). It felt like the breath of a seashell when you brake it open: salty fresh notes mixed with traces of algae covering the shell, which itself is smelling mineral, like particles of sand it once nestled in.
Not that you can draw the line where the fragrance shifts like a huge wave breaking up slowly on an ocean shore: this transition is leading to a totally different direction, yet it is smooth and comforting. Have you ever watched the waves while sailing high above them? They are mesmerizing, the more I watch them, the more I want to simply jump in and dive, dive away, deep down in depths of blue…
This wave you were diving in washes you gently ashore as the fragrance develops. It felt like being by the ocean on a cloudy day early in the morning. The air is salty, sand you are walking upon feels damp and grayish. You can feel the scent of lumps of seaweed scattered along the beach, some still swaying on the surrounding rocks. This is when I started to feel a transition: the saltiness of Atlante seemed touched by something mildly pink-sweet- berry-like? What a surprise, I asked and Sarah McCartney confirmed: strawberries! Totally unexpected and yet so perfectly meaningful! Mineral undertones are felt at all times, rising and fading away, like tidal waves.
As I told Baker, Atlante in this part of its development reminds me of the scent of a large seashell. Do you know the ones that you put to your ear and hear the sounds of the ocean? You are aware that it’s an illusion, yet if you close your eyes it feels exactly like being at the seaside…I can even smell the sea…
Later on, Atlante feels closer to earth, not drifting ephemerally anymore: the ocean is behind your back and now you are walking along the beach. Saltiness remains but it settles softly on big wood branches half-buried in sand, and the whole bold and optimistic atmosphere becomes more serene.
Like when you lay down on the empty beach, silently and quietly, listening to the sound of waves, feeling all those scents touching your skin as the wind brings them sporadically. rolls them all over you, until your clothes and skin are drenched with that atmosphere, and you feel deeply and completely connected to Nature. Not wishing to move or to go away…
Atlante at its drydown felt comforting, more intimate, slightly powdery salty, and tainted with austerity I tend to associate with Cedar pencil-shavings – a nice, even creamy counterpoint to overall mineral-fresh feeling.
Since I’ve used up the whole sample while writing this review, I sprayed sparingly (2 small spritzes at a time): on my skin its longevity is long-lasting and projection moderate, skin-close.
Notes: Yuzu, Seaweed, Orris, Lilly-of-the-valley, Mineral notes, Cedar, Ambergris, Seashells, and Driftwood.
(Regarding the notes, Baker told me they wanted to use „things found on the coast“, adding: „At the end, when the perfume was almost finished, we added some strawberry, which added luminescence…).
Atlante is available at Sarah Baker Perfumes website, 120GBP/50ml. Test before you buy a full bottle!
The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl, Sarah Baker Perfumes, Wikipedia
The sample was provided by Sarah Baker at Esxence Milan 2019, opinions of my own.