Perfumes often seek to transport you to another place or time. In the case of Parfums de Nicolaï‘s Musc Monoi, the goal seems to be a tropical beach where a gentle breeze carries the smell of tropical flowers and the salty sea to cover your sun-kissed skin. To some extent, Musc Monoi accomplishes that goal, though not to the degree that I would have liked.
On her website, Patricia de Nicolaï describes Musc Monoi (or, to be precise, “Musc Monoï” with trema dots) as follows:
Combined with the benzyl salicylate molecule associated with the ylang flower, Musc monoï is strengthened by jasmine, magnolia and neroli. The fresh and heavy marine scent of the calone, the sensuality of the coconut and the mellowness of the sandalwood sign a perfect captivating fragrance. An addictive creation for a powerful wake.
The succinct note list, as compiled by Luckyscent, is:
Neroli, lemon, petitgrain, ylang-ylang (benzyl salicylate), jasmine, coconut, calone, magnolia, sandalwood, and musk.
Musc Monoi opens on my skin with bright, sparkling citruses, jasmine, and calone water notes. On their heels is the richer, more velvety caress of ylang-ylang, a wisp of coconut, and clean white musk. A subtle woodiness lurks far, far in the distant background, but the general impression is of a very fresh, citric floral fragrance with a light suggestion of tropical creaminess, salty water, and clean musk.
Nothing about Musc Monoi is heavily tropical and, quite thankfully, there is nothing unctuous, oily, buttery or remotely reminiscent of Hawaiian Tropics suntan oil. When the company first wrote to me about the scent, I was told that Ambre Solaire had been one of Madame de Nicolai’s inspirations for the fragrance. I was simultaneously thrilled and filled with dread, because Ambre Solaire and its related cousin, Bain de Soleil, had been a big part of my teenage life. (I remain fascinated by the Bain de Soleil woman to this day.) Yet, at the same time, who really wants to smell like they’re covered with suntan lotion when they’re wearing perfume?
So, when Musc Monoi was finally in my hands (after a few postal nightmares), I approached that first sniff with trepidation, only to be greeted by what was primarily a blast of citrus freshness with only a light dash of the tropics. The flowers actually feel a little green, dewy and sparkling, more than anything thick, rich, or heavy. The coconut is frequently just a fleeting, darting nuance on the periphery, and more milky than anything oily. And the citruses feel more like slightly sweetened lemons than the greener, more pungent, occasionally bitter neroli.
Unfortunately for me, the calone is quite significant on my skin. I’m not a fan of the note, but it is present to quite a significant degree whenever I’ve tested Musc Monoi. I’ve worn the perfume about 5 times, and I’ve noticed that the amount you apply impacts the extent to which either the lemon or the calone dominates the other notes, but it’s always one of those two that leads the charge, especially in the first three hours.
At times, the aquatic element takes on the smallest veneer of something approaching chlorine pool water. I don’t think it is my mind making mental associations, either. The calone and the very noticeable white musk somehow combine together to create a whiff of something that goes beyond mere “sea water” or marine notes. It’s neither a strong smell nor a very long-lasting one, but it definitely does smell like chlorine on my skin once in a while. For the most part, however, Musc Monoi conveys only a light, vague sense of something beachy, like lemony skin with a trace of salty water after a day in the sun.
Roughly 15 minutes into its development, the citruses, calone-salty water, and clean musk all grow stronger, while the flowers turn abstract. You can definitely smell white flowers with varying levels of greenness and sweetness, but it’s now much harder to pull apart and separate the individual notes in the overall gauzy, light cloud. One thing that I’d like to stress is that Musc Monoi does not have a heady, heavy, narcotic floralcy. If you’re one of those who is terrified of loud, big, white flowers, this is not a scent to make you run for the hills.
By the same token, nothing in Musc Monoi smells of tiaré, the Tahitian species of gardenia whose aroma is used in so many “monoi” products. And Madame de Nicolai is not saying it does, either. Neither the perfume’s notes nor its description mention tiaré or monoi elements. Instead, there is a light approximation of a monoi scent created by means of white, semi-tropical flowers with a drop of coconut milk, a scent whose potential cloying unctuousness has been cut through by bright, clean, and aquatic notes in order to keep it fresh. (I’m guessing that Madame de Nicolai shares my trepidation about smelling of hardcore tropical oils when not sitting on an actual beach.)
Musc Monoi is a very easy, wearable, uncomplicated scent, but it is also a very simple one that doesn’t change much on my skin. It essentially remains a citrusy, calone scent with slightly greenish, white flowers and floral musk that only subtly suggests something about the tropics or the beach. After 45 minutes, Musc Monoi begins to slowly manifest a layer of creaminess in the base, a layer which rises fully to the top at the start of the 3rd hour. In the meantime, there is a growing sense of salty skin warmed by the sun, except you’re also rubbing that skin against some very fluffy towels that have been dried with clean, white, fabric softener sheets.
I have to be honest, I really dislike the white musk in combination with the calone. By itself, neither note shrieks at you like a foghorn or overwhelms the other elements in the composition. Together, however, they are too dominant for my personal tastes. Regular readers know how much I loathe clean, fresh musks. The one in Musc Monoi may be much lighter than in some fragrances I’ve tried this year (Oncle Serge, I’m looking at you in particular after the absolutely horrifying Laine de Verre and Vierge de Fer), but when combined with calone and strong citruses as well, the end result is far too watery and commercial. Perhaps I would have an easier time of it if the white flowers were richer, heavier, and deeper, but they’re very gauzy, wispy, and generally abstract. In fact, for the first 90 minutes, they are largely overwhelmed by crisp lemons. Later, the flowers are seamlessly submerged with the other notes, but I often feel as though I’m chasing after a will o’ the wisp. There is no real substance to them.
At the start of the 2nd hour, Musc Monoi is a very airy, light, creamy blend of lemon, calone, and florals with a “salty skin” vibe. A subtle suggestion of something vaguely “tropical” lurks deep in the creamy base, while a ghostly wisp of abstract woodiness occasionally pops up far in the background. It doesn’t smell like sandalwood, but more like generic, soft, beige woods.
The nicest part of Musc Monoi is the creaminess which slowly seeps up from the base. By the start of the 4th hour, it’s extremely noticeable, and adds to the pleasant, easy feel of the fragrance. Once in a while, the ylang-ylang pops its head up in a distinct form, and gives Musc Monoi a softer depth. Around the same time, the calone finally (finally!) starts to creep towards the sidelines, though the lemon never seems to end. For the most part, especially from afar, Musc Monoi is largely a gauzy, abstract, citrus-floral with clean musk, some creaminess, and a lingering impression of warm, salty skin. The fragrance remains that way without change until its very end.
Musc Monoi has generally soft sillage and moderate longevity on my skin. It is an eau de toilette, so it’s never going to be a huge sillage monster or have much heaviness. No matter how much or how little I applied, Musc Monoi was always a very airy, thin, and light scent. When I used 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the sillage was initially 2 inches before dropping after an hour. Roughly 90 minutes in, Musc Monoi hovered a bare half-inch above the skin, and turned into a skin scent on me at the 2.5 hour mark. In terms of longevity, it died 6.75 hours from the start. When I used 3 big sprays, my numbers increased a little bit. The perfume projected 2-3 inches at first, became a skin scent at roughly the 3.25 hour mark, and lasted just under 8 hours in total.
On Fragrantica, there aren’t a lot of reviews for Musc Monoi thus far, but two of the people who have tried it generally like the scent. They write, in large part:
- me likes! [¶] this is a watery more citrus, musky, coconut version of Lys Soleia. The petigrain adds such a lovely accord. [¶] to the top of the want list it goes!
- Musc Monoi is more about Musc than Monoi, easy to wear, not offending anyone, fresh I think. If You love to spray Your Perfume several sprays on skin – here You can do that without thinking its “too much”. [¶] Edit: After one hour You can find the sweetness in here, mostly Ylang Ylang plus coconut
The third Fragrantica review parallels a number of my own feelings about the fragrance:
Musc Monoi is a fictional Tiaré made of Ylang, Jasmine and Magnolia- as the description on the sample says.
It opens quite citric and fruity with a strong Neroli+Petit Grain note (which I really like) and a bit later Ylang adds. It fuses to a Tiaré-note without being too much of a gardenia or generic “White Flower” (that normally is creating the Tiaré accord in Monoi scents as the absolute is very expensive), stays light and doesn’t fail to play “Monoi” to my nose.
10 mins later, at the point where the powdery metallic Calone comes through (if I’m not mistaken I also smell Helional) and the aromatic Neroli fades, it gets nondescript, it almost falls apart- whether being a lush flower nor a refreshing beach-scent.
I understand the attempt and also like the concept of a good Monoi in combination with a watery Beach-aspect, tend to have sympathy for the Nicolai-line, but for me (as a lover of the natural macerat) it’s too “calonly” and feels somehow if the creation of it was not ready yet…
I don’t share that last opinion, and I don’t think the perfume feels as though it wasn’t ready, because I believe Musc Monoi is precisely the clean, light, fresh scent it was intended to be. However, I do agree that Musc Monoi doesn’t feel like a really lush, heady, floral fragrance with the sort of tropical undertones that I expected, and that the calone is too substantial. I hate to say it, because I too have sympathy for the Nicolai line, but Musc Monoi does veer towards the “nondescript.” I blame it all on its very safe, commercial profile of a “fresh, aquatic floral with citrus.” If only the flowers had been richer, deeper, and more dominant, the coconut had been more noticeable, and that blasted calone-musk duo had been less overbearing….
On the plus side, however, Musc Monoi is affordably priced and an easy scent to wear by people who like this sort of thing. A small 30 ml bottle goes for roughly €36 or $50 (with a few variances). So, if you’re looking for something with a tenuous link to the tropics and a light, clean, watery floralcy that suggests a day at the beach, give Musc Monoi a sniff.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.