Parfums de Nicolai Musc Monoi ~ perfume review

Rene Gruau for Jantzen

For many years I have been in love by the famous Ambre Solaire oil. I always wanted to create a fragrance from which I can use this wonderful smell, synonym of sunny beaches. A fragrance with a powerful sensuality that smells on your skin like a hot summer day was my main obsession! — Patricia de Nicolaï1

I've never smelled Ambre Solaire, the suntan oil originally released by L'Oreal in 1935 and now sold under their Garnier brand name. But most anyone will recognize Musc Monoï, the latest from French niche line Parfums de Nicolaï, as the smell of a summer vacation at the beach. 

Musc Monoï isn't meant to be a replica of Ambre Solaire,2 and don't let the 'monoï' in the name fool you into expecting gardenia. Musc Monoï could be ylang petals soaked in coconut oil, but it's lighter and airier than even that would imply. The opening is lively and citrusy, and then quickly turns floral. There are brief flashes of all the flowers listed in the notes (the complete list: neroli, citron, petitgrain, ylang ylang, magnolia, jasmine, calone, coconut, sandalwood and musk), including a lovely few minutes, early on, when the magnolia shines through. Then it settles into a transparent ylang, with fruity banana-ish undertones and hints of milky coconut.

Musc Monoï smells more like a tropical suntan product — I thought right away of modern sunscreen sprays — than a tropical drink, and happily for me, the calone is a mere whisper, just enough to suggest the sea, and not so much as to evoke sliced cantaloupe. The pale woody-musky dry down does a reasonable job of smelling like sun-warmed skin, but the lasting power is so-so, just like summer.

Verdict: I'm not sure why, but I didn't like Musc Monoï the first time I smelled it. Subsequent tries have brought me around, but not to the point of putting it on my buy list, despite the very tempting price of the 30 ml bottle. (I said this before, but props to Parfums de Nicolaï for continuing to offer a 30 ml size for less than $50 — it's one of the last great bargains in niche perfume.) For now, Musc Monoï is going into my purgatory basket, and hopefully I'll remember to dig it out for another try in July or August.

Do comment — what's your favorite beach-inspired fragrance?

Parfums de Nicolaï Musc Monoï, perfume bottle

Parfums de Nicolaï Musc Monoï is available in 30 (shown, $45) and 100 ($130) ml Eau de Toilette. For buying information, see the listing for Parfums de Nicolaï under Perfume Houses.

Note: top image is detail from a Rene Gruau advert for Jantzen swimwear, via Pinterest.

1. Via press materials.

2. Bond no. 9 Fire Island reportedly also smells a bit like Ambre Solaire.

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72 Comments

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  1. scentfromabove says:

    EL Bronze Goddess is my beach-inspired fragrance. Everything about is screams the beach. I guess I will keep this one instead of trying Musc Monoi.

    • Robin says:

      I do love Bronze Goddess. This one is very different…but worth a try!

  2. happy888cat says:

    My favourite beach-inspired is still Bronze Goddess. I would go for Bobbi Brown’s Beach every now and then (read: rarely) but I tend to find the plasticky realistic sunscreen too much after around 2 wears.
    I think a great bargain find is Yves Rocher’s Monoi. It is creamy, coconutty and quite lasting too and the price simply can’t be beat.

    • Robin says:

      Still pissed I didn’t manage to snag a jar of the BG Whipped Body Creme. Next year…

      • Tara says:

        PSA…It apparently is still available at Ulta.com

        • Robin says:

          HUGE thanks, it’s been sold out everywhere else for ages. Done.

      • happy888cat says:

        If you are in the US Robin, I think its still available on EsteeLauder.com!
        I am pissed about the shimmer body oil. I was too late and that sold out like hot cakes!
        Try mixing some non scented body cream with the fragrance and apply it? (Its just not the same if its not the real thing though is it? :( )

        • floragal says:

          Wearing the smell of suntan lotion as a fragrance has never appealed to me. The incongruity of sitting at my desk as far away from a beach as one could be while smelling as if I’m all lathered up to get that Bain de Soleil tan is an odd thing to me.

          Having said that, as long as I don’t smell too coconut-y, it is a great scent to smell.

          I will try this!

          Guerlain’s Terracotta is another one I would love to try to get!

          • floragal says:

            sorry, this was not to be a in reply to you… not sure how it landed here!

          • Robin says:

            Funny, I do wear beachy scents at the beach, but also in winter when I miss the beach!

        • Robin says:

          Well that’s funny…every store was sold out, didn’t even think to look at EL! Facepalm. Oh well, got it now at Ulta, so glad this came up.

          • Robin says:

            Oh, and sorry you did not get your shimmer oil! Maybe that will turn up somewhere too…

  3. Rappleyea says:

    I love the idea of a Bain de Soleil or Coppertone smelling scent for summer, and I may try this one. The one thing that would stop me is the “musk” in the notes, which my skin seems to blow up out of all proportion (or maybe it’s my perception of the note).

    I think your “purgatory basket” is more condemning than if you outright hated it! ;-)

    • Robin says:

      Oh, how funny…I don’t think of my purgatory basket that way! Some things do come out into the yes pile.

      This is definitely musky, but a different musk than in some of her other scents.

      • Robin says:

        Adding…it’s classified as a floral musk, if that helps.

  4. Janice says:

    I also like Bronze Goddess, and have worn and enjoyed Fire Island. EL Sensuous Nude also has a sort of beach-like feel to me. I’m not sure I’ll get around to trying this one but I’m glad to know the calone isn’t cantaloupe-y.

  5. Merlin says:

    I’v realized that I just can’t do anything ‘exotic’ or beach related. I seem to be one of the few that cannot wear Bronze Goddess. Yesterday morning though I did re-discover Elemis Exotic Frangipani and Monoi moisture melt (half-used in my cupboard) and for some reason I adore its scent. Its a wonderful body oil but such a pity the scent of it does not last!

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I think there are others who don’t like it. I adore it. But still have not tried the new Guerlain Terracotta, maybe that will give it a run for its money (if I ever find it).

      • Merlin says:

        There may be, but I’v not seen many comments (anywhere) from that sector of the population. They may be a secretive lot…

        Terracotta had a similar feel to it – I react like a vampire would to the sun, lol!

        • Robin says:

          Well, that might be true. I think for many people (including me) it’s a sort of nostalgia trip, the smell of suntan lotion. So someone who grew up with Ambre Solaire might likewise have a very different reaction to Musc Monoi than I did.

      • Nightingale says:

        Robin, I can send you a sample of Terracotta if you like! Say the word – I think you should have my email address?

        • Robin says:

          That is so kind, thank you! If one doesn’t drop into my lap this summer, I may take you up on that.

    • kindcrow says:

      I keep trying beachy/tropical perfumes, but all of those white flowers ruin things for me.

    • cassieflower says:

      Elemis may be missing a trick here, given that Nuxe have introduced a perfume version of their body oil. I think it would be a winner.

  6. Lucy says:

    Don’t throw things at me…but I love the small bottle of Mahora I bought a few years ago. It’s one of the few scents I own that really melts into my skin and smells like it belongs there.

    This sounds so nice too. I love that it’s available in a small, affordable bottle. There’s not much that I need more than 30 ml of.

    • Robin says:

      We never throw things :-)

      • Merlin says:

        Much too ineffectual. We stab, bludgeon and shoot…

        (but not usually Guerlain supporters – at them we only thumb our noses and snicker – and then only if they don’t like the ones we do.)

        We have not yet voted for Mahora so you are safe…for now ;-)

        • Robin says:

          LOL…I thought we just sprayed Vera Wang Princess on naysayers?

          • Merlin says:

            Robin, I thought this was not a violent forum – shame on you!

          • Robin says:

            8-O

    • sweetgrass says:

      If loving Mahora is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. ;P

    • cassieflower says:

      Lucy, I am on your team! Love Mahora, but lament the fact that I can’t get my hands on another bottle.

  7. Absolute Scentualist says:

    I really need to try Bronze Goddess again. The last time was the year it replaced Azuree Soleil and I remember liking it and thinking I should get a bottle but I never did. But since my Azuree Soleil is getting pretty empty, I need to find a replacement.

    While I do like a few PdN perfumes, this just sounds way too light and watery for me. Fire Island had been my go to basic summer fragrance… Until I blind bought Guerlain Terracotta le Parfum. Honestly, I can’t stop wearing it. At first I wondered how I’d go through such a huge bottle, but I don’t think it will be that difficult. I only hope it comes back next year.

    Robin, that BG cream sounds wonderful! I should go track it down and see how it layers under all my beachy/tropical perfumes. It would probably be gorgeous under Intense Tiare.

    • Robin says:

      I just found the cream — see above!

      This is more light / airy than light / watery … really did remind me of spray sunscreens. But also reminded me a bit, in style, of Hermes Vanille Galante, which of course is watery too.

      Jealous of your Terracotta!

  8. caffeinequeen says:

    My favorite beachy fragrance is Minnie Wilde Magic, which I believe was created by Yosh Han. The second I smelled it, it evoked memories of staying at my grandparents’ Florida condo and hanging out at the pool, slathered in Bain de Soleil. It has a very distinct warm skin/suntan lotion/tiger lily smell to it. I’m sorry it’s discontinued! I have a bottle and save it for when I need an instant pick-me-up.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I do remember that coming out, but never smelled it!

  9. stinker_kit says:

    I like to layer the Yves Rocher Manoi de Tiare with their excellent coconut scent, or Gorilla Perfumes Lust or maybe Pacifica’s excellent Wakiki Pikake. So basically, it’s coconut plus jasmine……

  10. ockeghem says:

    I don’t have a thing for suntan lotion…came of age maybe too late for that, and too much in the Midwest. I preferred to stay out of the sun in the summer to save my skin, except for the few misguided attempts to “lay out” on my driveway in June when I was in middle school. (Also, I desperately disliked the place my father was assigned in high school, so anything that smells like the cheap suntan lotion the other kids used while laying on the gravel beach at the local dammed reservoir would make me want to actively flee.)

    But I just want to say here that I love, love, LOVE the 30 ml bottles Parfums de Nicolai sells. I’m far more likely to buy a bottle from them that’s a strong like, rather than an absolute, passionate love, because I’m not making a major investment.

    Seriously, I don’t get why other brands don’t do it. I’m currently trying Aedes Iris Nazarena, which I like a lot, but $245 is way too much to spend for yet another bottle when I have so many (and I have a FB of Iris Silver Mist that I requested from someone visiting Paris back in the day — it’s very different, but…another $245 iris? Can’t justify it). You’d think the volume argument would make sense — companies would sell so many more bottles if they sold smaller amounts. Anyway, go Parfums de Nicolai! Just wanted to say that.

    • Robin says:

      So true. Many people complain at PdN’s packaging, but I can only assume it’s one of the reasons they can stay reasonably priced.

    • floragal says:

      I really like they’re packaging! Very simple, clean, bottles can work on any counter/shelf/dresser.

      • Robin says:

        I don’t mind them at all. I liked the old bottles better, but everybody hated those too.

      • mals86 says:

        I really like the feel of the 30ml squarish ones in my hand. The tall ones are… awkward, either old or new.

  11. annemarie says:

    In my part of the world (Australia) I have not seen ‘tanning oil’ for years and years. SPF sunscreens of course don’t smell of coconut and tropical flowers, they just smell of chemicals. (Which is fine, I prefer that to melanoma.)

    I’m interested to hear what other people think. Are all these beachy, tanning oil fragrances – EL Bronze Goddess, Nuxe oil, Guerlain’s Terracotta, and now this one – really just about nostalgia?

    My kids, aged 16 and 11, would not associate ‘beach’ with coconut and tropical flowers. It is just not a scent memory they will ever have, I predict. Even when I was a kid tanning oils were going out and SPF was coming in, so beachy fragrances don’t lure me in all that much. But I do at least recognise them.

    • Robin says:

      Funny, I just said something similar above. Hard to say. I do think Bronze Goddess smells good, but it might be about nostalgia too. On the other hand, the smell of sunscreen from my childhood is Coppertone, which is quite nicely captured by CB I Hate Perfume’s version…but I like Bronze Goddess better.

  12. imapirate says:

    I bought this immediately, partially because I love PDN scents, but also love that they are an easy buy. Not too expensive to commit. I’m tired of buying full bottles that eventually turn or just sit there, unused. My immediate reaction was that I loved it, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it reminded me of. There’s definitely an “oily” smell that feels beachy. I think I actually have to try this out at the beach, and then it might come to me. It might be a good layering scent, and I don’t think there’s anything else out there that smells like this. I’d love some comparisons to Terracotta. Again, I have to give props to her Eau Soleil for the summer, which I think was under-rated.

    • Robin says:

      I admit I did not love Soleil. Still a huge fan of a number of her summer scents though…Eau d’Ete, Eau Exotique, Chateau.

  13. aimiliona says:

    I like the ones that smell like salt: Fleurs de Sel and Cote d’Amour.

  14. CM says:

    I like so many of PdN scents…I have quite a handful! This sounds worth a try in my book. One of my fav summer scents is her eau Turquoise and I’m rationing my bottle. L’eau a la folie is also a favorite in summer. Terracotta, like so many who have mentioned it above, will get a lot of wear this year.

    • Jillie says:

      CM did you know that L’Eau a la Folie is discontinued now? I am so sad as it was one of my absolute favourites …… sigh …….

    • Robin says:

      I’m rationing my Eau Exotique too!

  15. Waldina80 says:

    Mmmm. Beachy!
    I love my coconut perfume oil from the Body Shop. Always makes me feel beachy!

    Another beach-inspired scent (or so I think) is EA Mediterranean. I find it a touch salty even. Scored @ Canadian version of Tj Maxx (Winners!). Not sure I love it though.

    Also have a summer version of Shiseido Zen in the pink & purple bottle. Smells exactly like BananaBoat tanning oil IMO. Definitely beachy. Not sure I love it, either.

    I must get a sniff of EL BG! Always gets a ringing endorsement here!

    • Robin says:

      I don’t think I ever managed to smell the EA…had forgotten it entirely!

  16. ladymurasaki says:

    My impressions were similar to yours, Robin. I like it but not enough to buy a FB. As for my favourite beach-inspired fragrance, I love Heeley’s Sel Marin, Olivine’s Amongst the Waves and Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee.

    • Robin says:

      The one I really want a FB of is Chateau, but need to get a new sample and see if it’s still mossy.

  17. donanicola says:

    I am fascinated by the comments above in relation to the different attitudes/memories surrounding tanning. However it must be nostalgia for me because I’m of the generation who remembers Ambre Solaire and associates it with holidays (also I’m English and I think, could be wrong, that AS was a European thing). I’d like to try this since the closest I’ve smelled to AS are BB’s Beach and Bond’s Fire Island (and a CB I Hate Perfume one, not M. Hulot’s Holiday, maybe At The Beach). I like the original Azuree Soleil and I’m deeply fond of Ensoleille Moi (the name!) but I don’t wear them all that much. Nice to get a hit of every now and then.

    • donanicola says:

      Oh and that Rene Gruau ad is fabulous.

    • Robin says:

      Yes, don’t think AS was used here widely, if at all. I certainly don’t remember it. Bain de Soleil was the “upscale” tanning product when I was young, otherwise, it was usually Coppertone or Hawaiian Tropic.

      Is Ensoleille Moi still in production? Was surprised they never did a second fragrance.

      • donanicola says:

        It was hard to get hold of in the UK and that was 3 years ago but I’ve noticed the odd bottle here and there in France in the Andre Gas boutiques. Not that that means it’s still in production. I remember Denyse’s review when she mentioned that Mathilde Laurent used a hell of alot of real tiare or monoi or something making it expensive to produce. Maybe he got cold feet after that :))))

  18. james1051 says:

    At the Beach 1966
    Could also be called Coppertone 1966

  19. Eva S says:

    I’m not much for beach/sunlotionscents usually, maybe because I dislike tanning…Really curious to try the Terracotta though, and I like salty scents like Lys Mediterranee.
    Today I’m wearing Jean Patou Chaldee which is also a sort of holiday/beach perfume-very nice and I can’t say it reminds me of anything else. The bottle looks very classy as well!

  20. Oakland Fresca says:

    For a cheap summery thrill, Trader Joe’s Coconut Body Butter delivers. It is a great creamy rich consistency (not sticky) and feels very luxurious. Caveat: The scent is more sugared coconut flakes or coconut marshmallow than coconut with white flowers–definitely sweet.

    • Robin says:

      Good to know, thanks! I happen to be heading there this weekend.

  21. rebieFR says:

    Does KAI count? I love this fresh and sunny fragrance inspired by the white flowers in Hawaï.

    • Robin says:

      Hey, anything counts, we’re not picky! I tend to think of Kai as very much a California scent, despite the Hawaii inspiration — either way, that’s beachy.

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