Poolside.FM is the sunniest corner of the Internet. Marty Bell’s free, experiential web “radio station” splices ’80s and ’90s infomercials and sunny Soundcloud synth wave. The two-year-old site (and an accompanying app) take you back to an old-school computer desktop, complete with 2D icons, AOL-style instant messaging, adjustable themes, and a 1997 timestamp. Now, he’s spinning the nostalgic digital hangout into real-life products, starting with Vacation, “the world’s best-smelling sunscreen,” and a matching perfume.
Though it’s got all the trappings of 1989 Malibu, Poolside was birthed from cloudy, gray Scotland. Bell—who also founded the U.K. finance app Nude—teamed up with entrepreneurs Dakota Green and Lach Hall to develop Vacation, a “leisure-enhancing brand” that recently debuted with a $20 SPF 30 lotion (to find it on the site, scroll all the way to the right) and the $60 Vacation Eau De Toilette.
As with Poolside.FM, Vacation’s branding leans hard into ’90s nostalgia, inviting potential customers to meet the brand through a campy Corporate Sales Video and claim a ritzy, random Vacation job title via a generator that doubles as a lead gen campaign. I waffled between “Flamingo Commodities Broker” and “Beach Photo Posture Consultant.” My editor here at Fast Company has claimed the title of “Director of Competitive Snorkeling.”
According to Bell, the company sourced its design cues from old-school travel brochures and timeshare pamphlets. The family vacation imagery that’s used throughout the brand’s marketing and web materials was sourced from Facebook. Bell and his team contacted the photos’ owners, some of whom were pushing 80, to license their images and home movies.
The full effect is totally delightful and deeply immersive.
That carries into the brand’s products. Considering that the iconic smells of legacy sunscreen brands such as Hawaiian Tropic and Coppertone have a near-Pavlovian effect in conjuring summertime warmth, Vacation’s signature scent fits right in, but is also totally unique. To develop the perfume, the team tasked Arquiste Parfumeur’s Carlos Huber and Givaudan’s Rodrigo Flores-Roux (creator of Clinique’s Happy) to create a scent that conjures “the best day of summer spent by a pool.” The result is a unique fragrance that merges the expected (coconut, orange blossom, and banana) and the peculiar (chlorine, swimsuit Lycra).
“Very obvious references were included, almost cheekily, but we infused the composition with more conceptual scents, using certain synthetic raw materials that can be described as ozonic, like the very specific smell of the back of an old TV, or even vinyl-like,” explained Flores-Roux. “These notes are used broadly in perfumery, but for Vacation, they take a bit of center stage presence.”
The first time I slathered on the sunscreen, I was hit with the unmistakable banana—the artificially sweetened kind, like Runts candy. The experience is saccharine—but in a good way. It’s pure summertime euphoria in a bottle: bright, energetic, with a slight sugar hangover.
The fragrance dries down to something elevated and alluring, leaning into the fresh oceanic, orange flower, and vanilla notes that are warm, addictive, and—as Flores-Roux described them—”buttery.” I found myself catching whiffs all day, a pleasant reminder that I was wearing sunscreen and I was not, in fact, dead inside after 15 months indoors. (However, remember that sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, so that fragrance may build over time.)
Bell’s multi-sensory approach to building a brand appears to be working. I’ve been reaching for the perfume each morning and happily slathering on Vacation sunscreen before I head out the door. Poolside.FM’s retro soundtrack now cranks loudly from my second monitor as I’m working.
While Vacation strategically launched as many of us head into a post-vaccine summer, I like knowing the eau de toilette on my vanity offers an anytime getaway in just a spritz. Or as Bell mused, “I love the idea of someone walking into the office in the dead of winter smelling like Vacation.”
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