I think the smell depends upon the location of the ocean and the components in that particular body of water, like Limestone, iron compounds, copper, algae, high dissolved mineral content, etc.
Here's some trivia: Elemental composition of ocean water (by mass): Oxygen 85.7 Sulfur 0.0885 Hydrogen 10.8 Calcium 0.04 Chlorine 1.9 Potassium 0.0380 Sodium 1.05 Bromine 0.0065 Magnesium 0.1350 Carbon 0.0026 Calypso Marine Notes: bergamot, raspberry, bamboo leaves, nutmeg, patchouli leaves, lotus flower, driftwood accord, sandalwood, musk, white amber Il Profumo Nymphea is very oceany to me, as well: Nymphea notes: bamboo, white peach, sweet orange, white water lily, lothus flowers, water jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, white rose, white fig, honey And (this is very subjective, of course), Nica is very oceany to me: Nica notes: blueberry, grape, tangerine, violet, freesia, cardamom, cedar wood, sandalwood, musk But the Crme de la Crme of ocean fragrances to me is Les Parfums de Rosine Ecume de Rose.
One fragrance that really brings the ocean to my mind is Calypso Marine.
It truly has the "feel", if not the exact components, of Laguna Beach at sunset in the early spring.
Best sea air frag I have experienced is Profumum Acqua di Sale (salt water).
Marine frags in my experience are very, very difficult to get right. a million baths for seawater soaked grandchildern mixed with the southern cali soft water & a strange bottle of perfume honeysuckel scent, I think, among other things, plastic bath toys from the 60s, clean towlels, the wall paper wet, the garden air coming in the window, someday i'll bottel it just for you.
So does anyone know exactly what isolated fragrance chemical is clinging to the fabric, that still smells like the ocean? I live in the Ocean State and to me it is the smell of the iodine from the sea plants that tends to stick to everything.
It's not sunscreen or perspiration, but true ocean water after you've dried your skin with the towel. I know nothing about Marine Biology, that is only my humble "average jane" coclusion. ;-) The overall smell of course is more complex, since you are also smelling the beach and the people and the cool air and everything, but since you asked on what clings to the towels...(and it's the same on skin, I might add) Good question!
As far as fragrances that remind me of the ocean, I like Vivara by Emilio Pucci.
For some reason, almost anything with a strong vetiver note also reminds me of the ocean.