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Was Bleu Marine really the first Aquatic?

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Bleu Marine was released by Pierre Cardin in 1986, two years before Cool Water and New West for Him, and with a name like 'Navy Blue' it sounds like it should be the first ever aquatic, but was it?

First of all, what are we talking about here? There are two versions of Bleu Marine: Bleu Marine de Cardin and Bleu Marine pour Lui by Pierre Cardin - which was released some time later. Obviously the later version of a scent cannot be the first of anything, so I am going to ignore it for now.

Bleu Marine means Navy Blue in French, but that could refer to many of the 127 fragrances in the directory named Bleu... or Blue... So if the Cardin were just a parfum bleu, why not call it Cardin Bleu, or Bleu Foncé, or something like that which doesn't refer to the Navy?

If we look at the box of the original Bleu Marine, we can see three white lines on a blue background that look like the prows of three ships, which supports the aquatic interpretation. But if we look at the back of the box, the scent is described as 'fraîche, chaleureuse et intense', and even though Cardin translate chaleureuse as powerful, it actually means warm, not an adjective that readily comes to mind when a European thinks about the sea. The word Bleu may or may not refer to the sea, but the word chaleureuse is problematic for a marine scent, a genre that we think of as fresh and not warm. Oakmoss, which is involved in giving a salty effect to a perfume, also has a peppery piquant facet - which could be described as warm - and because there is oakmoss in Bleu Marine, it may be that Parfums Pierre Cardin thought it neccessary to refer to the 'warm' quality of the moss. Hence they used the adjectives fresh and warm together. These are contradictory terms, and this suggests that at the time they were doing this, the idea of The Aquatic was not clearly fixed in the minds of the people who were putting the whole package together.

The name and packaging suggest Bleu Marine is an aquatic, but calling it warm means there is some confusion about what's actually inside the bottle. Let's have a look and see what's going on with the juice.

In fact, Bleu Marine is a fougère. It begins with a Safari for Men like fruitiness (SfM was released in 1992, so BM is again ahead of the curve), and this is joined by a peppery-mossy note - which is in fact warm. These are backed up by a thick fougère and at this stage BM feels like a regular eighties Powerhouse. But as time goes on the powerhouse subsides and the profile opens out to reveal 'minty' and 'citrus' hints of freshness, and these develop on top of the salty moss and dry fruitiness. Add to that a note of calone, which gives a fizzy and slightly metallic tang, and a note of blue lavender, and Bleu Marine does start to express - albeit vaguely - a seaside ambience on top of its 80's fougère.

Despite it's aquatic direction Bleu Marine doesn't feel watery, but then many aquatics don't. There is the mossy-salty note of seawater, but it doesn't feel liquid. Instead, the aquatic is airy and metallic-ethereal and so Sea Breeze, or Ozonic might be better names for this style than Watery.

This is not a cut and dried structure that goes from fougère opening to aquatic follow up. The profile is often fluid, a question of nuance. After the burst of Powerhouse settles down the profile becomes unclear; different facets come and go, sometimes more light and airy, other times fruity - like a whiff of Safari for Men, and at other times there is no clear description to be given, perhaps 'gungy and vague' will have to do.

After three hours there are salty, airy, lavendery and tangy facets, and there are still the remnants of the fruity fougère. It feels a bit like a hybrid of two styles and so, just as we have seen from the packaging, there could have been some uncertainty about what type of perfume BM was meant to be.

One reason for that is something which may be familiar to modern perfume lovers, the industry's fear of novelty. Very few (successful) perfumes are radically new, most of them procede by increments: a bit more of this, a bit less of that - and gently does it. But, even though we are dealing with the emergence of a completely new genre, the perfumers saw fit to hide their creative light under a conventional bushel - no doubt for the sake of getting it seen. Anything new can be exciting but also dangerous, and with novelty comes the risk of failure; so if the new perfume happens to be a Masculine, multiply the risk factor by Y (chromosome) and you have Timidity baked into the equation.

However it looks to us today, it's hard to imagine how radical Bleu Marine (and especially Cool Water) would have felt back in the 80's. The aquatic is now an accepted style, but at the time there was no such thing as an Aquatic scent, it was an unknown quantity, completely new, no one had smelled it before. And I think this explains why the aquatic, or rather the sea breeze in Bleu Marine can be hard to spot; the industry didn't want to scare the punters off with their new fangled sea odour and they played it safe by hiding the novel accord behind a conventional intro. As I say, it seems hard to credit these days - something as innocuous as a marine scent could have been cause for concern when it first appeared.

The other reason for BM's sense of vagueness could be the fact that, at the time, the aquatic had no track record of success and there was no template for composing a good one, or even any one at all. So, in this context, BM could be seen as an experiment, a trial run, one that came to be released in advance of any potential competition. And in light of the story about Cool Water being refused many times before it was accepted by Davidoff, Bleu Marine and Cool Water could have been closer contemporaries than the two years between them would suggest.

So having established that Bleu Marine is an aquatic of sorts, a Fougère (aquatic) as opposed to an Aquatic fougère, how does it relate to that epitome of the aquatic, Cool Water? Is it possible to show fellow feeling between the two? Yes, I think so. They have the mossy note in common, and Bleu Marine has the bitter fruitiness that recalls the crab apple in Cool Water. There is also the use of calone.

But one is not a copy of the other, they do have elements in common, but they present them in different ways.

And coming back to the question in hand - was Bleu Marine the first Aquatic? My conclusion is - in the strict sense - probably not. Even though it did come first, and deployed crucial aquatic notes like Calone, moss and fruit, it didn't employ them in what we would call an Aquatic form. Bleu Marine was a powerhouse fruity fougère with a secondary airy-aquatic component, so it would be more accurate to call it a proto-aquatic, a precursor to the Aquatic as we know it today.

Which leads me to wonder, would there have been a Cool Water revolution if Martin Gras and Raymond Chaillan hadn't released Bleu Marine first ... ?

It's also possible to imagine that word got out about the new perfume Pierre Bourdon was hawking around in the mid 80's, and, in the hiatus between composition and release he was pipped to the post by a rival. Was the original aquatic in fact derived from something that had yet to see the light of day? Who can say for sure? Certainly not an under-employed blogger in 2020.

Whether it was the first Aquatic or not, Bleu Marine certainly predates the rest of the Sea Scents, and from this point of view it looks like a pioneer. But if that's the case, Bleu Marine is a pioneer that doesn't get the recognition it deserves, and there are three main reasons for this.

First of all, Bleu Marine was not a fantastic perfume, it lacks the courage of its convictions and the marine half is underpowered. Secondly, BM has suffered from the decline of the Pierre Cardin brand, which went from 'credibile designer' to discount store, and this has dragged down the reputation of the perfumes, and finally, there is the fact that the new version of BM is nothing like the original - which prevents new generations from smelling Bleu Marine in it's proper form.

It may not have been a great perfume, but its importance to the history of perfumery means Bleu Marine deserves to be remembered.

Comments & Questions welcome.

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Updated 24th August 2020 at 04:27 PM by Wild Gardener

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