The Bloom of Youth
Essence of Monoi
Text & Photography by Eric Pasquier
The women of Tahiti have been famous for their beauty since Captain James Cook first came here in the late 1700s.
The secret of their smooth-skinned, youthful appearance is, however, much older. For 2000 years, the Tahitians have been making the essential oil: Monoi – coconut oil infused with the Tiare flower.
As ERIC PASQUIER discovers the Tahitians swear by this exotic, natural beauty product and today it is big business, with companies eager to strike oil in Tahiti.
Tahiti is the main island of French Polynesia and it is situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the closest continent being 6,000km away.
This tropical oasis with its sunny climate – receiving 3000 hours of sun annually – must surely be the earth’s best equivalent to Paradise.
With such idyllic surroundings, it is hardly surprising that Tahiti is home to a suitably luxurious product – ‘Monoi de Tiare’. The exotic name alone suggests a level pampering befitting a Queen. Monoi means ‘perfumed oil’ in Reo Maohi - the original language of Tahiti - and is made from the white Tiare (Gardenia Tahitensis) flower that is Tahiti’s national emblem.
These brilliant, star-shaped flowers have a very important role in Tahitian life. In fact, life without them would be unthinkable on this island. For as long as the Islanders’ can remember this flower has been used to make one of the purest and most effective oils of its kind. The Polynesians slather it on in beauty creams, dab it on as a medical ointment and also offer it to the gods in religious ritual.
With its heavenly smell, the Tiare makes a fitting offering to even the most discerning of gods. But apart from the flower’s perfume and delicate beauty flower the flower also has antiseptic qualities. All Tahitians will have a bottle of Monoi in their medicine cupboards as an ointment for the sore or irritated skin. In Tahiti, it’s a few drops of Monoi a day instead of a daily apple that keeps the doctor away. Even cases of eczema can benefit from a regular Monoi treatment. It also clears up dandruff and acts as an insect repellent. The oil is easily and quickly absorbed and unlike many oils, it leaves no sticky mess, which makes it a perfect after-sun treatment to soothe and hydrate irritated skin.
The oil is also a natural moisturiser. Just looking at the healthy glow and smooth texture of the Vahines' skin (Vahine is the name given to Tahitian women) is proof enough of the oil’s amazing hydrating ability. New-borns are covered head to toe in Monoi de Tiare at birth and it looks like for the locals it’s Monoi morning, noon and night, from the cradle to the grave.
So isn’t it time that Monoi de Tiare was made available to the rest of the world? Well, it already is. Monoi de Tiare has been exported to the States since 1942 and has been available in France since the 1970’s. It is only recently, however, that export figures have really started to soar. A group of seven organisations have formed “le groupement interprofessionnel du Monoi de Tahiti (GIMT). Together they established the exclusive “appellation d’origine” certificate, guaranteeing the quality of their products and placing themselves a cut above the rest. It is important to look out for the “appellation d’origine” as there are many inferior versions of Monoi for sale.
In order to qualify for the certificate of quality, companies must follow strict rules regarding the production of the Monoi oil. They must use the traditional 2,000-year-old method for extracting the essence from the Tiare flower. It all starts with picking the flowers. They must be ‘nipped in the bud’ so to speak. Flowers in full bloom can no longer be used. The buds must then be steeped in the finest of coconut oils within a day of harvesting. If this does not happen many of the Tiare’s natural properties are lost. In addition, to create the proper level of concentration there should be no fewer than 10 buds per litre and the buds must be steeped in oil for no shorter than 10 days. Strict surveillance is maintained to make sure that the rules are followed closely. Flouting the rules means losing the much-desired “appellation”.
Nowadays there are a host of beauty products available containing the precious Monoi Tiare Tahiti, ranging from shampoo to soap to cream. A luxury product produced with such care normally would be marketed in sophisticated, designer packaging with a whopping big price tag attached to it. Unlike most large cosmetic companies, Monoi Tiare Tahiti has chosen to invest most in the product itself and not in the packaging, or advertising. Monoi Tiare Tahiti, therefore, has kept the same simple packing since in 1942 when it was first exported to the United States.
After all, Monoi Tiare Tahiti sells itself, as sales go to show. Since 1995 the export has increased nine times! In a society where new beauty products are constantly being developed, an unchanging, solid product is taking the Western world by storm. It’s been tried and tested for around 2000 years. If you can’t make it to Tahiti, you can get a little of Tahiti to come to you – in a bottle of Monoi Tiare. Each bottle of Monoi contains a hand-picked Tiare flower – Tahiti’s tropical bloom of youth.