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.