Manoumalia was composed in 2009 by Sandrine Videault, in an homage to the island of Wallis in the South Pacific. Ms. Videault lives on the island of New Caledonia, not far from Wallis. The Wallisians have a richly perfumed heritage – not only those gorgeously scented tropical flowers used in leis and floral bracelets, but also sandalwood dust used as a hair coloring agent and curcuma (related to turmeric) as makeup. Ms. Videault also comments, in this article by Helg at Perfume Shrine, that Wallisians often wash their hands in classic French perfume, favoring old-style chypres, ambers, and white florals. Indeed, the composition of tuitui perfume includes L.T. Piver’s Pompeiia, a 1907 French fragrance.
The name makes references to “manou,” a tribute gift, and Malia, the Wallisian woman that shared the scented traditions of her island with Ms. Videault.
Of the Les Nez line, I’ve only tried this one and The Unicorn Spell. I liked TUS, with its notes of raw green bean and violet, and its silvery aura, very much, but I know that the Les Nez fragrances are widely divergent from each other, and I wasn’t expecting anything like TUS from Manoumalia. What I was expecting was a rich and luscious tropical white floral. My tropical experiences are fairly limited – I’ve only been to Hawaii once, for five days. We spent three days in Honolulu, Oahu, visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial and the University of Hawaii as well as the touristy but beautiful beach at Waikiki, and then hopped over to the Big Island of Hawaii, staying in a little mom-and-pop hotel in Hilo and visiting Volcanoes National Park and the observatory at Mauna Loa. I sniffed every flower I could get my nose on (plumeria, wild ginger, orchids); I smelled bus exhaust and suntan oil and rummy drinks and sulfurous volcanic fumes and lots of green plants. That’s the extent of my tropical experiences, and while I enjoyed them very much, the fragrances that have recalled Hawaii to me, so far, have been Ormonde Jayne Frangipani and Maoli Colonia Dulce.
Notes for Manoumalia: fagraea, tiare, ylang-ylang, sandalwood dust, vetiver, amber. I’m not a huge vetiver fan, but I do love a tropical floral. White flowers make me sigh with pleasure, and I get on well with sandalwood (who doesn’t?) and amber. I was enticed by the Perfumes: The Guide review that calls Manoumalia “soft as lips, caressing like a sea breeze, and as lush as a sunset,” and by several blog reviews that praised its uncliched tropical angle, its contrast between big white flowers and earthy darkness. Helg at Perfume Shrine calls it “kiss-me-stupid beautiful.” How could I resist?
And then, a few weeks ago, there was a mention of it on Perfume Posse (Musette started it, in the comments, about 2/3 of the way down the page). I knew my sample had been languishing in the “to test” basket until I could have time to devote to it, but in the comments, Musette described it as “powdery grease,” and that was so far from the other descriptions I’d read, I had to go and put it on, hoping I’d get “beautiful” instead.
Was it the power of suggestion? Was I simply looking for “powdery grease” instead of “soft as lips”? I still don’t know.
Because I really didn’t get either. That is, there is a powdery aspect to Manoumalia that I have to assume comes from the sandalwood dust, or possibly the vetiver. It’s not exactly unpleasant, but the dusty bit reminds me of my great-aunt. And there are gorgeous white flowers in there, too – sweet, luscious, lolling tropical flowers. What I wasn’t expecting was a meaty, fleshy, almost bloody angle that knocked me sideways.
As you might remember, I got “rotting raw chicken” plus camphor out of the acknowledged-to-be-difficult opening of Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle. The camphor didn’t throw me, and neither did the really lovely, shiny tuberose that followed. But the misfortune of having cleaned my fridge that week just ruined TC for me, because of the two lonely pieces of raw chicken that had gotten lost in the back of the fridge. Ugh. I gave TC several wearings, hoping to get past that garbagey note. Alas. No hope.
Manoumalia probably contains some tuberose – fagraea and tiare being flowers that, like lily of the valley, don’t actually yield scented oil and therefore require reconstruction via other means. I suppose it’s possible that I’m getting this meatiness out of some part of the white floral composition. What it really reminds me of – WARNING, this is about to get icky, so if you’re squeamish, skip to the next paragraph – is that post-partum discharge called lochia that contains blood, mucus, and placental tissue. It smells sweetish and fleshy in a not-totally-disgusting but utterly-memorable sort of way. Give birth once and you’ll remember the smell for the rest of your life.
So what I’m getting from Manoumalia is this mixture of tropical flowers, earthy wood, and… lochia. While I recognize that for some people, the hint of decay just makes Manoumalia realistic and reminiscent of the tropics, for me it’s completely unwearable. I asked my children and husband what they thought of this fragrance, and they said, “Nice. Flowers. Pretty. We like it.” Huh, I said. You don’t smell anything weird? Anything… odd? Anything that doesn’t smell just like flowers? “Nope. Nice, pretty flowers. We like it.”
So it’s me. But if I’m the one wearing it, and I’m the one getting “fleshy” out of it, it’s my perception that counts. It’s perfectly understandable to find a particular scent well-done and interesting, and yet not enjoy it. That’s my position on Manoumalia: it’s well-done, and I don’t like it.
Like most tuberose scents, it does last well and project nicely. I typically get four to five hours of service from two spritzes. Compared to other niche fragrances, it’s not unreasonably priced (though I admit that if I liked it, I’d only own a decant, as it’s out of my league) at $105 for 50ml.
Links: Article on fagraea at West Hawaii Today; review at Perfume Shrine; Grain de Musc; Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things; Tom at PST; Abigail at I Smell Therefore I Am; Legerdenez; March at Perfume Posse (read the comments on this one, they’re instructive); Olfactarama.