Skip to main content
  1. Leisure
  2. Spa & Beauty
  3. Makeup

Unexpectedly beachy fragrances for when you're stuck at the office

See also

OK, so I'll just say it now before my brothers read this article and say it for me: I don't actually know what it feels like to be stuck at the office instead of the beach. Never having had an actual office job (or, rather, never having had an actual office of my own, if teaching undergraduates as a grad student counts as an office job), everything I know about cubicles, I learned from the movie Office Space. I've certainly been city-bound in the summer, though, with no chance of making it to a friend's apartment complex pool after work, let alone the beach. Steamy sidewalks, brutally humid subway platforms, stinking curbside garbage mountains; trust me, I've been there, and in my experience, a cool shower and a little beachy aromatherapy go a long way towards helping me weather the heat. Featured here is my selection of beachy fragrances that--bonus--are office appropriate. Rest assured that it is possible to smell beachy without going all pina colada and showing up at work smelling like a sorority girl at beach week! -Alice

Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aloha Tiare
Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aloha Tiare Alice Vitiello

Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aloha Tiare

If you'd rather be in Tahiti, your fragrance is: Aloha Tiare by Comptoir Sud PacifiqueIf you've read about my Kai devotion and love of Diptyque Olene, you already know about my thing for pure white florals.  While Kai is a clean and beachy gardenia and Olene is a bold and dewy symphony, tiare is the quintessentially beachy white flower.  You already know the scent, although you might not know that you know it; it has a familiarity that may remind some of vintage sunscreen and others of childhood vacations.  For me, tiare is all about the summer of 2001 when I studied abroad in Rome.  Living alone in my neighborhood of Trastevere, I would wander the winding streets for hours after school, and on one of my excursions I discovered a tiny niche profurmeria that, to my knowledge, is still there today (I went back to visit on my honeymoon in '06 and the sales woman remembered me!).  I learned a ton about fragrance for her, as she patiently introduced scents to me and used beautiful Italian words like "particolare" and "spezioso" to describe them.  Comptoir Sud Pacifique Tiare was one such fragrance that I actually ended up purchasing from her; back then, it wasn't called "Aloha Tiare" and in fact its present incarnation is a reformulation.  While die hard fans complain that this iteration lacks the oily authenticity of the original (they're right), it remains as heady and true a tiare as the one that won my heart 13 years ago.

Official notes: tiare flower, coconut, frangipani, vanilla, ylang-ylang, benzoin, and musk.

Retail price $85; $52.19 at

Dior Dune
Dior Dune Alice Vitiello

Dior Dune

If you'd rather be on one of Corsica's arid desert beaches, your fragrance is: Dune by Christian DiorFirst, the mythology behind this scent: according to perfumista legend, Dune was actually Kate Middleton's signature scent when she was dating prince William.  There's actually very little about this fragrance that will immediately register as "beachy" to the American nose (fragrance is subjective, remember, and closely linked even with unconscious memories), but a Swedish reviewer on likens it to her childhood memories of amber hunting on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  It's warm, enveloping, dry, supremely musky and, above all, womanly.  There's nothing girlish about it.  The closest thing I can compare it to is CHANEL Allure Sensuelle, but that one came later, and this is where the idea originated.  Like Allure Sensuelle, a tiny bit of this one goes a long way.

Official notes: bergamot, mandarin, palisander, aldehyde, peony, broom, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, lichen, vanilla, patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, and musk.

$77.79 at

Just by Cavalli
Just by Cavalli Alice Vitiello

Just by Cavalli

If you'd rather not miss the fun on Italy's busy Ostia beach, outside of Rome, your fragrance is: Just by Cavalli.  During my legendary summer in Rome and in subsequent summer visits, I found again and again that Italian girls love to wear tiare flower in the summer.  Not just the flower, it turns out, but the tiare flower in the form of its classic monoi, which is tiare flower soaked in coconut oil.  It's a beauty secret of the Tahitian lovelies that the ever-fragrant French folks brought back to Europe, and now it's big over there as a summertime skin and hair enhancer (if you haven't heard of this stuff, tell me you live under a rock).  The scent of monoi oil is central to this fragrance, along with rosewood and neroli.  It's a relatively straightforward scent that's my personal favorite of the ones I recommend here; I love it for its playfulness, sensuality, and relative lightheartedness for a summer white floral.  If you're intrigued by the idea of tiare but you're at all headache prone, this will be your favorite of the bunch.

Official notes: tiare, palisander rosewood, neroli

Retail price: $60; price $39


Play by Givenchy
Play by Givenchy Alice Vitiello

Play by Givenchy

If you'd rather be in Ibiza at a nightclub on the beach, your fragrance is: Play by Givenchy.   Energizing and, indeed, playful, the character of this fragrance, for me, captures the fun of a summer night out.  Top notes of pink peppercorn and orange blossom capture the excitement and anticipation of getting dressed with your girlfriends, elbowing around each other in the hotel room mirror as hair is straightened and lipstick is applied.  The heart of amyris wood, Tiare flower and orchid perfectly capture the mood of the dance floor; the orchid is attractive, bright, and feminine while the tiare gives you that beachy feel.  You can use your imagination as to how the night winds up, but with a sensual base of  sandalwood, patchouli, Tonka bean and benzoin the fragrance definitely evolves with depth to compliment salty, warm skin.

Retail price $85; $55.19 at

Hamptons by Bond No. 9
Hamptons by Bond No. 9 Alice Vitiello

Hamptons by Bond No. 9

If you'd rather be at your house in the Hamptons, naturally, your fragrance is: Hamptons by Bond No. 9Who better than Bond No. 9, purveyor of all fragrances NYC neighborhood inspired, to capture the essence of a summer spent in the Hamptons?  While I'm not going to go there and mention a certain family of spoiled, glamorous, raven-haired hell-raisers who may have their own reality show about summering in the Hamptons, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.  Also, if you're a Cleveland native like I am, don't pretend that most of what you know about the Hamptons you didn't learn from Sex and the City reruns and the aforementioned reality show that shall not be named.  I freaking lived in NYC and I've never been to the Hamptons!  All of that aside, if you are a Hamptons type, this scent just might be your thing.  Clean, aquatic, vaguely floral, unisex for a man who's feeling dapper.  If you're someone who would rather wade in the water than sun your buns on the beach, no matter which beach you're dreaming of, this is an aquatic fragrance that gains sophisticated street cred from its level of abstraction.

Official notes: Citrus notes, green notes, sea breeze, jasmine, magnolia, Turkish rose, sandalwood, amber and musk.

Retail price $140; $122.19 at