Sex and the Sea by + for Francesca Bianchi 2016


Post by Claire Vukcevic


Hello lovely-smelling APJ people!

I’m supposed to be writing an article on ambergris for Basenotes, but instead of finishing up, I keep ordering more samples of stuff I hear has ambergris in it, and so we are already at 6,000 words and counting….But I can’t help myself – I am simply fascinated with ambergris and how different perfumers choose to work with it (or a synthetic replacement).

Sex and the Sea by + for Francesca Bianchi 2016


Fragrantica gives these featured accords:
Mimosa, pineapple, coconut, immortelle, rose, iris, sandalwood, myrrh, labdanum, benzoin, ambergris, civet, vanilla

Francesca Bianchi’s Sex and the Sea is a good example of how perfumers can take a material you think you know and find a completely new angle on it. Here, Francesca takes all the usual markers of tropicana (pineapple, coconut, lactones) and twists them into something far less comfortable than the creamy, sweet sun-tan oil smell we expect to smell.

Using a dry, urinous ambergris material (Cetalox, a synthetic replacement for ambergris), the fragrance drags the pineapple through salty sea water until it dries up into a weathered old fruit leather.

Imagine a pile of dried, salted pineapple mixed in with discarded coconut husks and ancient sea tackle, ropes, and flotsam washed up on the shore of an island somewhere. The heap of materials is dry and crusted over with salt, and if you get close enough you will notice a searing smell of old seagull piss, dry and ureic – not honeyed and wet.

sex-and-the-sea-20Francesca Bianchi

Underneath this dry, acid-toned salt-and-fruit-leather tangle, there is a queasily warm mix of milky lactones, fruit, and salt that comes off a little metallic and iodine-like. I’ve never smelled Secretions Magnifiques – not even by accident – but based on what I’ve read, I’d venture a guess to say that they are at least thematically related. Later on, there is a warm, unwashed body funk to this that is appealing.

Early reviews on Fragrantica are rhapsodic, with most pegging it to be a sexy or sensual fragrance. But I think that Sex and the Sea, while a very interesting way to use ambergris and pineapple, is not that easy or pleasant to wear. It contains a similar idea to Slumberhouse’s Sadanne, that is, a schmear of bright fruit over a layer of ambergris marine filth and bilge, but whereas Sadanne is sparkling and sweet, in Sex and the Sea, the result is far too urinous and tinder-dry to be a comfortable wear.

Longevity is everlasting. I would be surprised if cetalox ever truly dies on the skin or just eventually get scrubbed off. The kind of person I see enjoying this would be a fan of challenging perfumes that do animalic/sexy in a metallic, harsh, salty way.

sex-and-the-sea-13Francesca Bianchi

Hats off to Francesca Bianchi, though. She is certainly not playing it safe. Instead, she hands us a pile of salt-encrusted sea tackle and says, here, this is my idea of sex on the beach. It’s as far from the Eau des Merveilles take on ambergris as you can get, but, in my opinion, all takes on this fascinating material are welcome.

Further reading: Pierre de Nishapur
ParfuMaria has €98/30ml

What ambergris perfumes have you guys tried and liked?

Slán libh!



Claire also writes for Take One Thing Off

10 thoughts on “Sex and the Sea by + for Francesca Bianchi 2016

  1. Hey Claire,
    I found Sadanne way too sweet but I love the idea of this freakish sounding weirdo. Did you ever try SOIVOHLE’s Harbinger?
    Portia xx


    • Hi Portia! I’ve never tried anything of SOIVOHLE’s actually, must remedy that at some point! Pineapple and piss-soaked Cetalox…yeah, it’s freaky alright 🙂 By the way, I received your lovely package of First – thank you so much! I have yet to give it a proper wearing, but from the vial, it smells both animalic and prim. Unless there is galbanum or something green and spiky to ice-ick me in the brain, I figure I’m going to love it. You’re amaze balls, so you are.

      xxx Claire


  2. Thanks for this review! I’ve been curious about her perfumes. Sounds like something I’d at least like to smell. Reading this made me pull out a natural botanical perfume oil called Black Sea by LVNEA I bought at an artisan fair. It has notes of driftwood, lime, roasted seashells, and coconut. It does smell like its name and I find it pretty captivating although I never wear it 😦 I suppose Dune is another that comes to mind which I do love and wear.


    • Hi Elisa!

      I thought of you the other day as I located the one bottle of LIDGE in the whole of Dublin and hosed myself down in it – absolutely gorgeous! Velvety cocoa power and bergamot – what’s not to like. Once I had it on, I realized that I’d worn it before from a sample but I had obviously only retained a vague impression of it. Second time around, I thought it was excellent and that it stood out from everything else I tested that day, both niche and mainstream. I can see why you’re smitten. It has that powdery, velvety smoothness I associate with Dior Homme Intense.

      That LVNEA sounds very interesting. Your mention of roasted sea shells makes me think of that wonderful Choya Nakh note in Mandy Aftelier’s Tango, which is literally the essence of roasted sea shells. Dune is another interesting perfume….however it is forever locked in a bad swirl of teenage memories and I absolutely cannot wear it (even though I respect it). It is too much of a time travel machine for me to bear.

      Best wishes, Claire


  3. This one sounds like something I probably couldn’t handle on my skin. My absolute favorite is Angelic Encens by Creed which is discontinued. If you know of anything that smells like Encens, please let me know.


    • Hi Katherine,

      I found it difficult to wear comfortably myself, although I admired the sheer balls of its construction. I join you at the altar of Angelique Encens…’s a stunning perfume. It’s actually on my list of top ambergris perfumes that I’ll be attaching to my Basenotes article on ambergris. I have a scant 1ml of it that I’m eking out. I have found nothing truly like it, although I guess that Bois d’Armenie, Ambre 114 and some heliotropic florientals such as Shem el Nessim and Farnesiana replicate some aspects of it. I did find an attar by Sultan Pasha that reminded me of it – I think it was Encens Royale but will have to check. I am going to attempt to replicate AE by layering some Ambre 114 over an ambergris attar. Probably won’t work, but I am mad enough about AE to conduct dumb experiments like this.

      Best, Claire


  4. Hi Claire, I absolutely love ambergris and want to smell as many perfumes as I can with it. I must say though that this one has me duckkng for cover. If I happen to see it somewhere I will give it a try. Sandra xo


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