Memo Manoa

For the life of me, I can’t remember if I visited the niche perfumery Memo on my Paris trip last spring.  I meant to; it was on Grain de Musc’s left-bank list.  I was definitely in the area.  Maybe I couldn’t find it, or they were closed that day.  I don’t know.

Then a sweet friend sent me a decant of Memo Manoa out of the blue, the way sweet friends do sometimes.  You perfumistas know all about that.  This was some weeks back, and I’ve been working through my decant, which is sitting right here beside my laptop as I type this, trying to decide what to write about it.

As you know, I have a weakness for quoting the folderol on perfume websites, so here’s the partial blurbage for Manoa: “In the heart of Inca country lies Manoa, the City of Gold. Legend has it that El Dorado, a young man entirely covered in gold, would carry the offerings of his people aboard a diamond-studded boat once a year. He would navigate on an immaculate lake to unload these gifts on Manoa, an island formed over time by the accumulation of treasures…”  Man, I can picture the cover of that soft-core novel on the shelf in the romance section of Barnes & Noble right now, can’t you?  El Dorado, with his, uh, entirely-gold-covered and airbrushed six-pack abs; and our awaiting maiden above, all lipsticked and smokey-eyed.  Also, for some reason, the immaculate-lake detail cracks me up.

Fragrantica was a bit more specific: “warm and spicy, exotic and mystical, with fresh hues that radiate a golden aura. It opens with sparkling bergamot, lemon and ginger. The heart contains notes of iris, tonka bean and cypress, laid on the oriental base of opoponax, vanilla and labdanum.”

At first, Manoa smells most strongly of the (un?)holy union of opoponax (sweet myrrh) and labdanum, for which we could run together a whole slew of adjectives – sweet, resiny, powdery, animalic, woody, musky, leathery, amber.  Only that list doesn’t work at all, because Manoa has to be taken in as a whole.  Smelling Manoa is like gazing intently at a single, large sheet of hammered gold leaf.  It has a soft, dense, seamless opacity, both hypnotic and mildly narcotic, a little strange – a resiny comfort scent worn by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth.  It’s both baffling and impossible to turn away from.

Then, the sheet of gold leaf is turned on its edge and, improbably, begins to separate into minute, individual layers as I go about my day.  There’s the smell of smoke at the top, like brush being cleared at a great distance in the desert.  In the middle:  the faint sweetness of vanilla.  And it all rests in a basket woven from wet, fresh-sour reeds, an exotic smelling item I might find in a street market in Cambodia.

Sixteen-year-old Diva loved it, exclaiming (after I’d sprayed it on for the 27th time), “that smells soooooo gooood.”  When pressed for details, she came up with “spicy” and “smoke, but not like a fireplace.  More like something outside.”  Then fourteen-year-old Enigma said “something smells fantastic, what is that?” and gave it “three thumbs up.”  Considering the amount of perfumage they’re subjected to over here, that kind of reaction is notable.

Do I like it?  I still have no idea.  But it’s so interesting.  If it were less weird it’d be a comfort scent, sort of like Via del Profumo’s Mecca Balsam, only waaaaaaay less sweet.  But if it were more comforting it wouldn’t be anywhere near as wonderfully peculiar.

Browsing the Memo website, I could kick myself for not investigating further.  “Inle – An osmanthus submerged in a cloud of tea.  Moon Safari – The leather side of Vetiver. Siwa – Vanilla revealed by a cereal.”  (I really want that one and Inle.)  And there’s more on their site.

I’m wondering if any of you have smelled any Memos?  I see Siwa and a couple others on Surrender to Chance.  I might have to break my vow of poverty and order one up.

PS.  Here’s the notes for Siwa: cinnamon, aldehydes, narcisse, whiskey, popcorn, musc and vanilla.   As they say, lol.  That’s either got to be great or awful.

source: private sample;  image from Memo website.

  • Flora says:

    I also had a sweet friend send me a decant of Manoa, and I just love it. I like Oriental scents that are not too sweet; this way I can actually appreciate the opoponax and labdanum for what they are. Yes it’s a bit odd but it suits me somehow. I would love to try the rest of the line, especially Inle.Osmanthus always calls my name….

  • tammy says:

    I am a-skeert of the sparkling bergamot and lemon opening as well as the fresh-sour reed basket.

    I don’t know what it is about citrus; not sure if it’s my skin or my nose, but I have a hard time smelling anything else if there is much citrus in a fragrance. Vanilla has a similar behavior. I can tolerate very few Guerlains because of it.

    But resiny comfort scent sounds divine, and I love Mecca Balsam.

    Probably gonna have to samp this one, darn you, and Tamara, too!

    • March says:

      This could go either way, right? I had an impossible time trying to actually compare it to anything. Mecca Balsam was as close as I could get, sort of, but they’re pretty different.

  • Catherine says:

    I’m not often intrigued right now by perfume reviews–a sort of satisfied-with-my-stuff hiatus, I guess….

    But these sounds *fascinating*. I *must* remember to try them somehow. Thank you, dear March, for the ever-evocative review.

    • March says:

      You’re welcome. The Big Cheese said the funniest thing to me last night. He said, haven’t you smelled everything already?!?! But there’s always more…

  • Aparatchick says:

    “osmanthus submerged in a cloud of tea.” Want.It.Must.Have.It.

    Oooh, and they have candles! “Lost in Mykonos – Wild mint and Ouzo” and “St-Moritz fizz – Wood fire and hot incense.”

    On the other hand: Cereal? I make Mr. Aparatchick move far away from me when he has a bowl; the smell makes me sick. So at least I can cross one off my list.

  • Tamara*J says:

    Manoa is perfect for frigid cold temps and snuggling in your bed or jacket. I drained my decant and even tried to share the love with two other pals. I think it’s wonderful,thick and sweet.
    All about the base notes man.

  • Louise says:

    A dear friend (Hi, Melissa!) got me a decant of this for a gift-and I have almost drained it ; )

    Weird and comforting-a perfect description. One that I personally try to acheive.

    Thanks, Marchele1

    • March says:

      You’re welcome. This sounds like one of those scents we overlap on enjoying. And I owe you personally for Mecca Balsam. 😡

  • Robin says:

    I cannot even remember if I tried any of these. For some reason I think I tried one of the original 4 and didn’t care for it. Wonder why nobody has picked up this line in the US….

    • March says:

      Yeah, who knows? I think it’s amusing how we can still “discover” some obscure line, in addition to all the new stuff.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Hoping to hop over to Paris in the spring so I will have to check these out! Popcorn, whisky and vanilla? Sounds like it could be fab or a high-school party horror :o

    I love the David Bowie description as well … I am in funky mode today myself with Silver Factory. A very kind perfumista ( waves at Ann!) sent ‘me a sample that arrived this morning and I love it. Metallic rubber and incense…who knew!

    • Ann says:

      Hi M, so glad you’re enjoying the Silver Factory.
      And hi to March, another great post. It must be amazing stuff to get the teens’ seal of approval. And all this just as I’d promised myself no more sampling for a while. Ah, Temptation, thy name is March!

  • Rappleyea says:

    Very enjoyable review as always, March. The notes – and your description – of Manoa sound great. Not so much the popcorn…

    • March says:

      Okay, YOU don’t like popcorn. At least in perfume? I can go either way. The buttery bit’s kind of fun, but I don’t want popcorn as a dominant note.

  • Cheryl says:

    Well… these at least are inspiring curiousity. Labdanum. LOVE. Osmanthus. LOVE. And we all love popcorn?

  • Musette says:

    I’m all about the diamonds and the gold and the airbrushed abs (for the definitive tome on how to build an island, read Thomas Perry’s “Island” – hysterical!)

    ….but I’m still stuck on the notion of popcorn and coconut. Cereal notes are also a bit iffy – sometimes they are just perfect…but usually they threaten to bring up my lunch!

    xo >-)

    • March says:

      Oh, the cereal thing is no doubt not for everyone! 😉

    • Ann says:

      Hi there! Is that Thomas Perry as in “Butcher’s Boy” Thomas Perry? I thought I’d read all his stuff (love, love, love his Jane Whitefield series), but maybe this one flew under my radar.

      • March says:

        Same one! I loved a different one but have forgotten the name. You HAVE TO READ METZGER’S DOG. Pretty sure that’s Perry. It doesn’t matter who it is, READ IT. Hilarious.

  • Shelley says:

    Ah, Manoa. I agree with Melissa; on the right day, so fabulously decadently wonderful. I first smelled it on someone else, thought, oh, this is one of those I don’t think I should like this because it feels a little over the top but I want to smell it more cents, and got myself a quantity. When I wore it on myself the first time, I thought ruh-roh, because it reminded me that a headache could be coming. But I went to it again–on a “clear” day, as it were, and fully aware of what it would involve and still itching for some opoponax. Which it gave me, seemingly nearly straight up. I’ve dared one other time and it behaved like it had a little more going on than a simple opoponax something, but I don’t know that I could have teased out what you did.

    A statement which could apply more to your skill than my perception. :) But I agree with you; in the end, this one is more about the general perception than the elements. And in general, the perception is comfortable beauty that might perk up your nose at what makes it work, but in the end you don’t care. (As long as you are ready for it.)

    I tried Siwa a while back. I remember it being all of those things. Not as a gold leaf amalgamation a la Manoa, mind you. Each..of..those..things. Perceptible individually, after the first blast. Though the whiskey, popcorn, musc, and vanilla must have overcome the aldehydes enough for me not to think of that as the major element, lol.

    Three thumbs up, she said? :)

    • March says:

      Now you really have me wanting to try Siwa, because it sounds so totally bizarre! I bet I’ll like it, as long as it isn’t super-sweet or majorly boozy. And for something so (seemingly) linear at first, Manoa is interesting as it unfolds. But you’re right, I wouldn’t want to wear it on a headache-y day, and probably not in warm weather.

  • Victoria says:

    I have not tried any of these, but your description is intriguing. Siwa sounds delicious, since I love cereal notes in fragrances.

  • pam says:

    Fascinating post. OK, I’m on the lookout for these. Especially with notes like “popcorn”. Got to be interesting. Thanks, March.

  • Melissa says:

    What a great review! I love Manoa. On the right day. The opening is such a thick brew of opop and labdanum. It’s almost too much and I only wear it when it’s pretty darn cold out. If I concentrate really, really hard, I can pick up on the ginger and citrus, but not much. The topnotes pretty much blend right into the opening. But it isn’t unilinear-you’re right about the development and on different wearings, I would probably use different words to describe the way that it unfolds. It’s pretty fascinating. Sometimes I shy away from it because that opening is so powerful, but the development and the drydown are worth the initial blast.

    I recently tried a couple of the other Memos with mixed results. I can’t even remember which ones they were. Siwa, which I tried a couple of years ago, I recall as being pretty interesting and I would like to re-try it. I think that of all of them, it gets the most love. Manoa is still very much unknown, which is too bad. Obviously, I think it’s the best of the bunch.

    • March says:

      I didn’t know any of these got love, because I’d never heard of the brand! I definitely want to try Siwa and a couple of the others. And it does wear differently each time, which is part of why it’s so interesting.

  • Sherri M. says:

    So the teenagers loved this one?! I will definitely have to try on the merit of that alone!

    Glad to hear from you as always and thank you for a great review! :-)

    • March says:

      It’s funny that the teenagers love it because it doesn’t seem to me like the sort of thing they’d like at all. Mostly they complain that my smoky scents smell like something caught fire, and not in a good way.

  • Francesca says:

    Aw, man, just when I am on an austerity kick, you make me want to go right out and buy some frag. xxx

  • aotearoa says:

    A nice person sent me this as an extra when I treated myself to a few mls of her Tribute Attar (which is absolutely divine and I have discovered a new thrill by putting a tiny drop of vintage Joy Parfum with it-sorry,nothing to do with the Memo’s but it is soooo good!).
    The Manoa opening is a bit of ginger on me and then I get lots & lots of vanilla -it’s summer here and I think I’ll try it again when it’s a bit cooler.
    How odd to read about it when I had never even heard of them before. I’m undecided for now.

    • March says:

      I wish I got the ginger; I think that’s what the girls are referring to when they say “spice,” and I love ginger. I’m trying it in cool weather, which is maybe more optimal.

  • Millicent says:

    Oooh, this never happens, but yes — I actually have tried some of the others. Manoa was not yet in the Singapore department store I was browsing, but six others were: Inle, Moon Safari, Siwa, Sundance, Jannat and Lalibela. The very nice SA let me leaf through her briefing book while smelling them. Crazy blurbage indeed! This may not be fair, but overall, I was disappointed because none of them really evoked the places they’re named after. I kind of loved the popcorn and coconut in theory, but the only one that I wanted to test on skin was Sundance (hoping for lots of pimento). It got all loud and abrasive somehow and required three heavy soapings to wash off. Your review of Manoa has inspired me to try again, though, since that nice SA gave me samples for all six.

    • March says:

      I’m kind of over expecting fragrances to reflect the places they’re named after; half the time I figure it’s whatever name was available. I haven’t tried any of the others, obviously, but I want to.

  • hongkongmom says:

    thanks for a great article and creating another need to try!!!!:-)

  • taffynfontana says:

    Sounds interesting

  • Erin T says:

    Popcorn! Well, I need to try Siwa, obviously. You’ve made Manoa sound irresistible, also. Like the slightly silly bottle, too. Have barely heard of Memo, I think? Will have to go over to GdM and re-take Denyse’s Rive Gauche tour.

  • (Ms.) Christian says:

    “…a resiny comfort scent worn by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth.”

    Ah, that single bit of a phrase made my night. Now I am going to get my hands on this.

    If I’m ever on the ledge of a 100 story building, someone reading me your reviews and Lee’s will most assuredly get me back in the window.