Perfume Review: Les Nez Manoumalia

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 AmLegerdenez; March at Perfume Posse (read the comments on this one, they’re instructive); Olfactarama.

Photo of Manoumalia from LuckyScent; photo of fagraea from WildSingapore.


13 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Les Nez Manoumalia”

  1. Oh no she didn’t!
    So you really ‘went there’ and told us what it is you smell ?


    Well I remember you saying that it did remind you of that on the PP thread and I remember how my throat closed up thinking about it. YUCK. Weird. I wonder if it does but if there is any chance then I will probably steer clear.

    And our perception and what we (the wearer)
    feel the perfume reminds us of and how it makes you feel matters the most.
    I don’t wanna smell myself and be reminded of standing around in my hospital gown and then having to take that ‘first’ shower after you have had your lil’ bundle of joy. (shudder)

    Thats just too raw, too real and not cute.

    The memory AND how I looked. 😛
    (4 damn times!)

    😉 ~T

    1. Um, yeah, I said it. You know, there’s no guarantee that YOU will get that… unless you go looking for it… wait, I probably just guaranteed that you will. Dang.

      I have three kids – the first two were born by c-section after labor, and I had to wait a couple of days before that first shower. Ugh. I was looking at my stitches and thinking, “Bride of Frankenstein,” but every nurse that came in said, “Oh, your stitches look so GREAT!!” Hm. Really. The third kid came down the baby highway, and that was SO MUCH easier.

  2. I also get a rotten smell from manoumalia… something that gets to my throat in the opening.
    I really never seem to smell the lush white flowers, it seems I’m just perceiving some of their most unpleasant facets, proving they might be there: camphor, meat, blood, salty rubber, and then more rotten meat.

    So I am not even going to venture in the “it’s well done, but…”, because to my nose it completely misses the balance between interest and wearability!

    1. That rotten stuff really gets to me too, Z. I didn’t get any camphor out of this one, but the meat… gah.

      I’m willing to bet that not everyone perceives it, though.

  3. It’s aliiiiiive! I feel like Dr F. Srsly, though, that Manoumalia just ooked me up – I am not sure why I get so much powder (that alone is a deal-breaker – Teinte de Neige had me running for the shower like I’d been doused with napalm!) – but the greasy-discharg-y undernotes – well…….

    ……and then Masha, bless her heart, reminded us all that this is how the tropics actually smell! And she’s right, though I haven’t been to anyplace that vegetal in quite awhile. I do remember, though, that the smell of decay (and it’s twin, rebirth) is all over the tropics. So Sandrine got it right, I’m thinking – I’m just anosmic to a key component in this scent, which would be the scent of flowers.

    Oh, well.

    Making my own vegetal mess today – turning compost, dead-heading plants and repotting stuff that has flourished in 90% mushroom compost for the past year – the smell of decay and birth/rebirth is everywhere.

    1. Hi, A – Masha was exactly right about that death-rebirth cycle, wasn’t she?

      I just went stomping through the garden this afternoon after a rain, finding tomatoes that were sitting on the dirt and are now rotting. Bleah. (Our garden is sited right over the septic drainfield. It thrives. 🙂 ) The squash and cucumbers are fabulous, though – I’ll find six-inch cukes and say to myself, I’ll go get these in two days, and then when I got to pick them up, somehow they’ve ballooned up into these really *obscene*-looking 14-inch monsters! Whew. More death-rebirth.

  4. This is a late comment, but your take on “Manoumalia” was so fascinating, I wanted to respond. I do get a carnal scent from it, but for me, it’s more reminiscent of female skin around certain cycles, the estrogen-pumping times of pregnancy and lactation. It could’ve just as easily been called “Mammalia” and would’ve felt appropriately named. It doesn’t smell icky to me–or even dirty, necessarily, but it does smell like the epitome of “natural” or “organic”; as if a pregnant woman mashed flower petals and coconut oils on her skin, then rinsed her hands in an astringent, almost turpentine-like bath. It smells like sun-warmed skin musk, creamy-buttery flowers, dirt, oily woodchips and cut greens. And on me, just as it’s about to become a buttery, oily mess, an almost linen-like sheerness is pulled over it and the sandalwood dust and vetiver give a dry-oil freshness. It’s just…odd. But, I think, in the best, possible way; it really has a “Jolie Laide” sensibility, reminding how certain smells connect us to a primal state of being, are strangely “ugly beautiful” and wouldn’t be appreciated if they didn’t specifically reference cozy, nostalgic, fundamental kinds of human experiences. Blood, ammonic and feces scents turn us off, yet we’re willing to cherish the scent of breastmilk, hair sebum and sometimes body sweat. “Manoumalia” snaps us out-of our modern illusion that we can boast an unquestionable separation from other animals. We can’t. We’re driven by the same needs as other living creatures, even if the way we fulfill those needs has been evolutionarily tweaked to best suit our interests. “Manoumalia” is the scent of this reality.

    Love your bravery in describing it! Go on–we can take it!

    1. Welcome, Lulu! What a wonderful review you’ve done here – thanks very much. You’re right about our being human animals, primal beings underneath our veneer of civilization. There’s something very artful about a fragrance that can remind us of the birth-and-death cycle.

      Even if I’m not crazy about smelling like blood.

      I will say that I didn’t notice my body odor changing with pregnancy itself – it may HAVE, of course, but I didn’t notice; the last time I was pregnant was ten years ago. I did notice a different smell to my skin while I was breastfeeding, though… I remember my husband holding our first child when she was about two weeks old and telling me, “She smells like you.” Then he leaned over and kissed my shoulder and said, surprised, “And you smell like her!”

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