Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two From the Tropics

When I was six, I moved with my family to Japan.

Like most children of that age -- at least way back then -- I simply accepted this and, in fact, saw it as an adventure. (This became even more adventurous when the plane lost an engine over the Pacific and we had to bunk on Wake Island for a couple of days, but I digress.) When we finally arrived in just-before-statehood Honolulu, at the rickety old wooden terminal with ceiling fans, a smiling Hawaiian girl came up to me and hung a lei around my neck.

In all my short life, I’d never smelled, or felt, anything so delicious. The flowers, just out of refrigeration, were cold and their petals were stiff. I’d never seen anything like them. They were white, and yellow and pink, and surrounded me with a fragrance I never forgot.

I realize now that this was my first perfume experience.

My mother put the lei into the little refrigerator in our hotel room. Each day of our stay there, the petals deteriorated a little more, browning around the edges, ultimately losing the freshness of their fragrance to a note of creeping rot, and when we left for Tokyo, she threw it out. I whined like a baby.

This memory came back to me when I smelled Manoumalia (Les Nez) recently, and again when I tried Amaranthine (Penhaglion) last week.

Interesting how, as the cold gray winter descends over North America, the perfume blogs and forums are all alight with tropical florals. We go from pining, in late summer, for the heavy ambers and musks of fall, and then out of nowhere comes this. Amaranthine, which seems poised to reinvigorate the staid old house of Penhaglion, was done by Bertrand Duchaufour. I believe it is his first for them. Manoumalia, the very definition of a “niche” fragrance, was made by Sandrine Videault, who lives and works on the Pacific island of New Caledonia.

Of the two, the Manoumalia is the more interesting to me. Tropical flowers are all about taking care of business -- the business of reproduction -- quick. This is the evolutionary reason for their strong and heavy fragrances. Manoumalia opens heavier than most perfumes end; sweet, almost like chocolate, but not too sweet. Videault, who was one of Roudniska’s last students, knows what she’s doing. More olfactionary artist than commercial perfumer, she designed this scent as a sort of tribute to the Wallisian tribes that populate her area, using a common shrub flower, fragrea berteriana, along with tiare and ylang-ylang, but then took it darker with sandalwood dust, vetiver, and an amber. (Most Hawaii leis feature frangipani, also the name of Ormond Jayne’s tropical scent, which I wrote about a few posts ago; it’s gorgeous, too.)

Amaranthine, which clearly is a commercial scent (although a very fine one) comes in quite a bit lighter and a lot greener. Looking at the notes, I see green tea, cardamom, freesia and banana leaf. There’s your tropics. I love not-quite-ripe bananas, with their nearly green skin. Smelling the two side-by-side, the Amaranthine has the “throw” and longevity which marks the use of at least some synthetics; while I don’t know this for sure, I’d bet that Manmoulia is composed primarily of natural essences.

Does this make Manmoulia better? Some would say so; not me, though, because I think they’re both amazing. My scent-eating skin loves the mixture of synthetic and natural best, as the synthetics work to “set” the scent, thereby making it last more than an hour or so, which is the fate of most naturals on me -- not that I’ve tried them all. Far from it. But even now, as I write with one on one hand and one on the other, the Manmoulia is nearly gone, after an hour, while the Amaranthine is still going. (On blotters, however, the Manmoulia is still almost as strong as the Amaranthine.)

So we’re all different. Different skin. Big news? No.

I haven’t been back to Hawaii since I was a child. It seems to be such a Resort Vacation Destination now. I know that there are back roads and undiscovered places and so on, but to get there, you have to do the packed-like-sardines/tin can/bus/hideous American airport thing, and I think I’d rather remember it like it was. New Caledonia, now, that’s another story. It’s been on my list for years. The one Pacific island I’m dying to see, and now there’s this beautiful scent from there, too...and, one day, I will.

Thanks to Perfume Shrine and Now Smell This for information on these scents.

Manoumalia’s notes include Fragrea Berteriana, ylang-ylang, tiare, sandalwood dust, vetiver and amber accord.

Amaranthine’s notes include green tea, white freesia, banana leaf, coriander, cardamom absolute, rose, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, egyptian jasmine absolute, carnation, tonka absolute, musk, sandalwood and condensed milk.

Vintage Hawaiian shirt fabric image copyright Ron Chapple Studios. Used under license from Dreamstime.com.


Perfumeshrine said...

And this is where you (eloquently)fall for Manoumalia......it was meant to be! I think it's brilliantly conceptual but also infintely wearable, a piece of art.

[haven't tried amaranthine yet so can't compare].

The Left Coast Nose said...

This is a beautiful post...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the linkage of scent to place. I remain unconvinced that a scent can capture something like a city, although my mind is still open.

But your post reminds me that the natural life of a place has a scent that is powerful, and not just confined to the memory/experience of a single person.

I've never been to Hawaii, but I travelled a bit in my mind with your posting.

Many thanks.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your reviews on both fragrances. I love Manoumalia because when I put it on, I am instantly transported to the South Pacific and picture myself covered in moist earth mixed with fragrant white tropical flowers. There is no other tropical perfume like Manoumalia. In a league of its own.

Amaranthine on the other hand is the more refined side of the tropics. Not as sensual or unique as Manoumalia but a good tropical scent none the less. I think it's a nice addition to the otherwise tame line of Penhaligons.

Have a nice rest of the weekend.