Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino Il Volto probably wins the award for the longest perfume name of 2017. The words translate to “there are no hands to caress my face” and come from the first lines of a poem written by Father David Maria Turoldo in 1948. The length of the name makes it impractical for me to refer to all nine words repeatedly throughout this review, so I’m going to make my life simpler and just call the fragrance “Io Non Ho Mani.” (In my head, I mentally call it “Yo, No Mani” in a Rocky Balboa voice. “Yo, Adriennnnnnnne, Io No Mani.” It’s terrible; I know I’m a philistine and an uncouth barbarian, but I can’t seem to help it.) Name aside, “Yo, No Mani” turned out to be quite a happy, unexpected surprise. I thought it was a great spicy, woody, tobacco, incense-y, amber oriental.
Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino Il Volto is a pure parfum that was released earlier this year. Essenza Nobile explains its inspiration, background, and notes as follows:
The title of this perfume means “There are no hands / To caress my face” and is taken from the first lines of a poem by Father David Maria Turoldo in 1948, which in turn formed the inspiration for a series of photographs taken by Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli in the 1960’s, all of which feature black-clothed priests holding hands or playing together in the snow or against a white background. It is this series of photographs that inspired this perfume, and the inspiration can be seen through the series of contrasts in notes (the black of the priests’ robes against the white of the background) and the sense of friendly, laughing conviviality that connects one priest to the other.
The tobacco is also a strong motif – some of the priests were indulging in a pipe or cigarette when the camera caught them out – so the tobacco here is rugged, sweet, but deeply ingrained with the scent of smoky church resins such as powdered benzoin and frankincense, suggestive of the happy mixing of the sacred divine with the worldly pleasures of the humble. A rich sandalwood, myrrh, and amber base suggests the velvety, cloistered silence of the priests’ halls and inner sanctum: but the bristling, bright green herbs and citrus of the top notes are suggestive of wild, sensual nature outside in the fields and meadows where the priests go to play their games.
I rarely comment on bottle packaging but I must say, I’m not at all keen on the bottle’s enormous, plastic-y, black top. I also find that the black-cassocked priest on the back looks, from afar, a lot like the head of black demon ghost peering out, which is both odd and a little disconcerting. (Just look at the image from the bottom. His white hands are the demon ghost’s white eyes.) Maybe it all looks better in person, although I remain skeptical that anything could change the cap’s resemblance to a crumpled-up Hefty garbage bag.
Let’s move onto the note list. According to Luckyscent, Io Non Ho Mani has:
Petitgrain, bergamot, galbanum, myrrh, cedar, geranium, clary sage, cinnamon, styrax, ylang-ylang, incense, benzoin, tonka bean, tobacco, amber, sandalwood.
Io Non Ho Mani opens on my skin with a rich cloud of warm, slightly earthy, red-brown spices shot through with bright citruses, dry woods, sweet amber resins, myrrh, and custardy, spicy, sweet ylang-ylang. Cinnamon leads the jockeying horses right out of the gate, followed by a lovely clove-ish eugenol note, then a crisp bergamot and a petitgrain orange-scented woodiness. A slew of other notes appears right behind them: styrax wafts a quiet, smoky leatheriness, while cedar provides a dry, dusty woodiness which is off-set by waves of warmth and sweetness from toffee’d labdanum amber, cinnamon-scented benzoin, and slightly powdery tonka. A small pop of myrrh blossoms within minutes into a major note that imparts a sweet, earthy, resinous, and dusty aroma. To me, it smells more like sweet myrrh or opoponax than myrrh, but let’s not quibble because it works very well with everything else. Tying everything together are thin ribbons of tobacco which add a gorgeous, addictive, dry-sweet, gingerbread-scented aroma laced with a bit of a tobacco-vanille accord.
When smelled together, the result is a fantastic, rich, inviting, warm, perfectly balanced, and highly nuanced bouquet. It makes me think of an old cedar spice chest where each drawer is filled with a different spice, wood, or resin of both the ambered and incense variety, and they’re all open at once so that all their scents mingle together in the air. Initially, during the first 30 minutes, the sum-total effect very much in the same vein as Tauer‘s L’Air du Desert Marocain, except Io Non Ho Mani is never so dusty, earthy, or arid on my skin. It’s a sweeter, richer, warmer, more citrusy, and less granular in the way of desert sands. (It also lacks any intrusive, rough woody-amber aromachemicals or Tauerade tarry creosote base.)
One thing I really like is the way the citrus notes smell and how they’ve been presented here. The bergamot isn’t shrill, thin, synthetic, or lemony. Instead, it’s warm, rounded, smooth, and just a wee bit sweetened. It’s also just a light touch which works to add a subtle brightness and lift to the array of heavier, darker, or earthier notes. The petitgrain is my favourite, though. It’s much more prominent than the bergamot on my skin and exudes a gorgeous woody-orange aroma.
More importantly, it grows strong enough after 30 minutes to change Io Non Ho Mani’s vibe and feel, moving it away from the dry, faintly dusty, woody Chinese apothecary spice cabinet to something which is more festive and Christmas-y. The way it interacts with the warm, rich, cinnamon and amber bouquet evokes thoughts of orange-spice mulled wine, sipped by a fireplace or in golden candlelight. Yet the woody orange petitgrain is never so strong or forceful that it turns Io Non Ho Mani into something redolent of the dreaded Orange Spice Yankee Candle. Like everything else about the fragrance’s first 2.5 hours, it’s a carefully calibrated note and a delicate touch which has been integrated seamlessly into everything else.
In fact, I’m enormously impressed by Io Non Ho Mani’s balancing act as a whole. This is a fragrance with a number of dark, heavy, powerful raw materials and spices so the end result could have been excessively dusty, earthy, culinary, sweet, musty, or arid. Tauer’s LDDM, for example, is far too dusty and parched for me; MDCI‘s Les Indes Galantes is not only an excessively syrupy twist on the citrus-spice-resin-incense oriental but, worst of all, falls headlong into Yankee Candle Orange Spice territory on my skin; and the Fazzolari/Gardoni Cadavre Exquis is too much of an unbalanced Frankenstein hodgepodge for my tastes, transposing savory foods onto a Tauer-like, spicy, smoky, leathery, resinous amber oriental in a rather bombastic way.
Io Non Ho Mani, however, is pitch perfect in its first 2.5 hours, not only in the completely co-equal proportions of its individual notes but, perhaps more importantly, in how they all work together. After the first 2.5 hours, the balance shifts to give certain accords or notes more of the lion’s share of the limelight, but the overall integration continues to be seamless, smooth, and harmonious. It’s not easy with these sorts of materials, so kudos to the perfumer.
I find the end result to be incredibly cozy and inviting. Admittedly, spiced ambers are my “cozy comfort” category and, yes, Io Non Ho Mani is not a particularly complex scent when viewed on some levels as a whole, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable to wear. It’s one of those things which envelops you with warmth, offset by just enough darkness to keep things interesting. Plus, the types of darkness are continuously changing: sometimes, it takes the form of smoky styrax leather; sometimes, it’s woodier (dry, smoky cedar); and sometimes, it’s more incense-based, veering between resinous and warm incense smokiness (myrrh and sweet myrrh/opoponax) or the meditative, liturgical, Churchy sort (frankincense).
In many ways, Io Non Ho Mani is quite a simple fragrance at its core because it consists of three accords which flesh out a central bone structure created by a fourth accord. The bones are formed out of a fully fused, seamless core of myrrh, cinnamon, and amber. That lies at the heart of everything. Woods, incense, tobacco and, to a much lesser extent, leather build upon it like flesh, sinew, and meat, or, to give another analogy, like four walls which sprout up around a house’s foundation. Petitgrain, ylang-ylang and, then later, tonka, vanilla, and sandalwood form the decorative touches of its interior design. When examined (or smelled) from a distance, one sees the overall house which looks, on the surface, to be a simple design and doesn’t appear to morph or twist into other shapes.
One has to look below the surface, smell up close, and focus to detect the shifting nuances. Like, for example, the way that the styrax leather, the dry cedar-heavy woods, the wood smoke, and the tobacco expand after 75-90 minutes, overtaking the spice-amber-myrrh to become a lead accord and thereby ushering in Io Non Ho Mani’s second stage. The fragrance turns darker, drier, and smokier, and the amber’s sweetness is cut in half. At the same time, the petitgrain and ylang-ylang are banished to the distant periphery where they are quiet for long stretches of time and where the petitgrain dies away completely by the start third hour. The petitgrain’s virtual disappearance and the shift in the overall balance of notes not only ends the holiday, Christmas-y imagery but changes the entire scene as a whole.
Now, I’m transported to the shadowy corners of an old Russian Orthodox church that I went to in Kiev when I was a teenager, back in the days of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain. Much of the church was dark, almost gloomy, its shadows filled with the scent of old wood, dust, and incense, but there were two walls of light, quite literally, formed by rows of candles and gold icons. In fact, every inch of one large, floor-to-ceiling wall was taken up by icons. I tried to look for an image to show you, but was unable to find anything which looked just like the inside of that church. Nevertheless, Io Non Ho Mani brings back that day in its feel and vibe, except here, there is tobacco, the priests wear cassocks made out of blackened leather cassocks, the golden light is formed by rich amber, warm spices, and myrrh, and there is a big splash of red from cinnamon across some of the icons.
Each note takes turns in the spotlight, ebbing and flowing like waves. Sometimes, there is more tobacco or smoky, blackened leather; sometimes more dry woods or wood smoke. Sometimes, the cinnamon and myrrh feel as though they’re buried deep within a smoke-covered orb of amber; sometimes, the myrrh is so forceful that it swallows up everything else. (I think this is a fragrance whose dominant notes, balance, and ratios will be heavily impacted by individual skin chemistry and, therefore, must really be tested first.)
Io Non Ho Mani shifts when its third stage begins roughly at the end of the 4th hour and the start of the 5th. The essence of the scent remains the same, but the notes have changed in order, prominence, and nuance. Now, a myrrh-opoponax combination is the driving thrust, above and beyond all else, wafting a powerful mix of woody, spicy, smoky, lightly honeyed, and deeply balsamic aroma. Its resinousness feels almost tarry on occasion, but perhaps that is the styrax which is layered within it alongside labdanum, benzoin, and sandalwood. Cinnamon dances like red fireflies around the myrrh. A soft, light veil of powdery sweetness covers the bouquet, thanks to the arrival of tonka on the scene, while a wonderfully velvety texture run underneath it. I suspect the latter is the indirect result of the ylang-ylang whose tendrils constantly wove around the background during the 3rd and 4th hours, supplemented by a touch of creamy vanilla. Although neither is detectable in a major or distinct way at this stage, Io Non Ho Mani has a wonderful sweet creaminess in both texture and aroma underneath all that smoky, spicy myrrh.
One of the things which contributes to the impression of a very simple fragrance is Io Non Ho Mani’s linearity, the way each phase lasts for hours and hours, and how the next consists merely of a shift in emphasis or a re-ordering of the notes. For example, the 4th stage which begins roughly 7.5 hours in is essentially a simplification of the 3rd and its notes. It’s almost entirely focused on myrrh which is lightly flecked with wisps of tobacco and cinnamon, then encased in labdanum amber. The result is a scent that is spicy, dry, woody, musky, tobacco-ish, sweet, smoky, and warmly golden. It’s like a cousin to Tom Ford‘s Amber Absolute or Sahara Noir, only here the smoky myrrh is the star of the show, the labdanum is a sidekick, there is no frankincense, but there are light touches of tobacco and cinnamon instead.
I was sure that this was the drydown, but Io Non Ho Mani realigns itself one last time several hours later. Roughly 12 hours in, vanilla re-appears, smelling creamy, silky, and smooth. At the same time, the amber seems to change to benzoin, and the tobacco becomes a ghostly whisper in the background. The fragrance now smells mostly of smoky myrrh laced with vanilla, then set against a soft, increasingly amorphous golden, spicy sweetness. Everything is so soft, quiet, overlapping, and blurry that it’s becoming difficult to separate out the individual parts. In its final hours, all that’s left is golden, lightly spiced, creamy sweetness and warmth with an occasional whisper of myrrh-ish smokiness buried deep within.
Io Non Ho Mani had fair projection, strong sillage, monster longevity, a heavy body and weight, and great potency. With several smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle on the same patch of forearm, the fragrance opened with about 2.5 to 3 inches of projection and about 3-4 inches of sillage which grew to 7 or 8 inches after 30 minutes. It took a long time for the numbers to drop. When the 6th hour rolled around, Io Non Ho Mani’s projection hovered just above the skin, but the scent trail still extended about 3 to 4 inches. It took 8.5 hours in total for Io Non Ho Mani to become a skin scent but, even then, it was easy to detect up close if I put my nose on my arm. It only required effort after the 14th hour. That’s excellent, in my opinion. In total, Io No Ho Mani lasted just a hair over 22 hours. I think if I applied the equivalent of three sprays on my arm, this fragrance would probably last well into 36-hour territory on me.
All in all, I was impressed. Io Non Ho Mani feels like a super-rich extrait, it smells like a super-rich extrait, and it performs just like one, too — which is a lot more than I can say about the significantly more expensive Roja Dove extraits that I’ve tried this year. Given the totality of circumstances — Io Non Ho Mani’s performance, its richness, its heft, the smoothness of its seamlessly integrated notes, the clear quality of its materials, and the absence of any intrusive, jarring, harsh, or abrasive aromachemicals — I think this ends up being quite a reasonably priced fragrance as compared to other pure parfums of the same caliber. A large 100 mls of pure parfum costs $220 or €175. No, they’re obviously not giving it away but, relatively and comparatively speaking, $220 for 100 ml of pure parfum isn’t bad in today’s niche world for what you’re getting. You pay that amount for just 50 ml of a Tom Ford eau de parfum, and they’re usually quite synthetic in their materials these days. Io Non Ho Mani, however, is a smooth, rich, expensive-smelling fragrance, in my opinion, and thoroughly enjoyable to wear as well.
Yes, it’s quite linear and no, it’s not particularly complicated or complex. At the end of the day, its changes often amount to a change in the direction or make-up of the tides which lap at its shore. Does the lack of a wholesale transformation between the long stages render it boring? It might for some people. Frankly, I think the greatest potential problem or risk with Io Non Ho Mani won’t be boredom through simplicity but the way that some of the notes may manifest themselves on a person’s skin. As I said earlier, I think this is a fragrance where individual skin chemistry might be even more important than usual because of the significant number of dark, smoky, or earthy materials. The myrrh in particular has the potential go wrong, possibly turning medicinal on some people or overly smoky for their personal tastes. I also think that you pretty much have to love myrrh, cinnamon, and balsamic resins to enjoy this one.
On Fragrantica, many of the reviews for Io Non Ho Mani are positive, but two or three are either neutral or implicitly negative. For example, one person calls it medicinal, metholated, and heavy on the cinnamon; another simply says “smell of felt-tip pens from 80s” with no other explanation. On Luckyscent, most of the reviews are positive as well. I’ll let you read the comments on both sites on your own if you’re intrigued by the fragrance.
I think you should give Io No Ho Mani a test sniff if you fall into one or more of the following categories: 1) you love myrrh, cinnamon, or incense-woody tobacco-amber fragrances; 2) you wouldn’t mind a cinnamon-myrrh counterpart to Amber Absolute, Sahara Noir, Ambre Loup, or Ateliers des Ors‘ Larmes du Desert; 3) you would enjoy a warmer, sweeter, richer, heavier, and not so arid or dusty version of Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain; or 4) you would like a myrrh-driven version of Sultan Pasha’s Resine Precieux with cinnamon in lieu of any funk from asafoetida. If any of these things apply to you, then I strongly recommend giving Unum’s latest a sniff. I think you’ll be as pleasantly and happily surprised as I was.