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Angel – Still beautiful after all these years - August 23, 2013 New Fragrance Listing

Photo of Angel "Star" bottle from fragrantica.com

I bumped into an old friend on the subway last week. We had an intense relationship for several years a long time ago. Then, as happens sometimes with those kind of connections of the heart, life intervened - the relationship faded, and we drifted apart.

I’m talking about Angel, the 1992 perfume by Thierry Mugler. Smelling it again like that, so unexpectedly, was like getting hit by a thunderbolt. I realized how beautiful this perfume is, how it has stood the test of time and is now a classic in the perfume pantheon. I’m wearing it now as I write - wearing it as I always have, as a single shared spritz to the wrists so that its famed sillage is enjoyed mostly by me. I like it that way.

After its launch, Angel took a couple of years of focused support by the Mugler fashion brand before it became the run-away game-changer, the ubiquitous waft and official “love-it or hate-it” scent of the 1990’s, the first Oriental Gourmand. Angel marked the start of a perfume trend, and inspired some excellent scents in this new gourmand genre, like Lolita Lempicka, Chopard Messages, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 and Jeux de Peau, MDCI La Belle Hélène, Bijou Romantique, which we have listed in our Decant Store.

What makes Angel a game-changer? These things don’t just happen willy-nilly. Angel was created by Olivier Cresp, working with Vera Strubi and Yves de Chirin and  the creative direction of Thierry Mugler. In an interview on persolaise.com, Olivier Cresp gives this background describing the long creative process, which I quote at length because I find it so interesting:

“Why do you think it [Angel] became so successful?

Because it was weird, it was completely different.

But did you know that whilst you were creating it?

That's a good question. Yes, I knew deeply, in my blood, that it would be a success. I knew it could be number 1. At the beginning, it was called Patchou, for patchouli. The first sixty experiments were just a blend of patchouli and vanilla. And then Vera Strubi came to me and she really fell in love with that formula. And together we made maybe 50 experiments, and she wanted something extremely floral. But that didn't work at all. She was very smart and sensitive, and she said to me, "We've got a block. We're in a cul de sac, we can't go on. Are you ready to talk to Thierry Mugler?" And I said, "Why not?"

So he came to me, he stayed for three hours on the sofa, and I was talking to him like a psychiatrist, and he spoke about his childhood when he was living in Alsace, and he explained that he used to dip bread in chocolate, and he talked about a fairground. I didn't know Alsace at all, I'd never been there. I grew up in the south of France, but of course I knew some fairgrounds from Grasse and Cannes. So in fact I tried to mix his childhood with mine. And that worked very well. I used some chocolate, some praline, some cocoa. When I was living in the States, I worked in flavours, so I tried to use that experience, and it worked. It was a very strange combination. On some days, it was overdosed with cocoa, or with chocolate, or with honey and so on. But then after two years, I found the right balance.”

Angel has a lot of notes – here they are, as listed by fragrantica.com: melon, coconut, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, bergamot and cotton candy; middle notes are honey, apricot, blackberry, plum, orchid, peach, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, red berries and rose; base notes are tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, dark chocolate and caramel.

In traditional dry-down mode - top, middle, bottom notes - it should work like this: start with fruity-candy sweet, move into floral-fruity sweet, and end with warm candy-foody sweet accords. That’s not how Angel works. It’s described on the Mugler website as being inspired by the duality in all women – “part childlike innocence, part sophistication and glamour”. That duality is obvious right from the first sniffs, and is part of the weirdness, the brash originality that made Angel so controversial when it was launched, and it’s also what made me an Angel lover. I’d never smelled anything like it.

At the top, I smell tart fruits, but they seem mixed with something sour, almost rank, which certainly gets my attention. Next are sweet notes   – I see images of pink cotton-candy and golden honey with melting dark chocolate – and then dark herbal patchouli, which I love, comes up very loud and very clear. The strong patchouli is softened by vanilla and caramel as Angel moves into the heart, becoming smooth and almost dreamy, and well, delicious – not edible, just a really delicious SMELL! At this point, you could call Angel a gourmand scent – sweet with an herbal twist, feminine and girly-soft.

But it changes as it dries down, and this is the duality that the website refers to, the spark of genius that has made it a classic. Patchouli comes up again, and mixes with dark bitter chocolate to transform Angel from a romantic girlish scent into a full-fledged femme fatale. Dark vanilla, tonka and patchouli make the long dry-down of Angel seductive and compelling – full and rich, but still with hints of the lighter fruits and florals which keep its waft so weirdly interesting. Once you experience the full dry-down of Angel, you will remember it always. The dark herbal soft scent on clothing and bedding the next day is divine.

Angel is loud and soft, bright and dark, sweet and sour, light and heavy, weird and comforting, feminine and masculine – it’s loaded with contrasts and opposites. This is what makes it different, this is its brilliance, and what has made it a modern classic. If you tried Angel years ago, and thought it was just too much, try it again now. You’ll likely be surprised how your perception of it has mellowed since its launch changed the rules of the perfume game. If you’ve never tried Angel on your own skin, and experienced its magic, it’s about time you did. Use a single spritz.

Today, we’re adding Angel to our Decant Store. Decants are $4.00.