Monday, August 04, 2014

Thierry Mugler- Angel

Twenty two years later I'm ready to talk about Angel by Thierry Mugler.

The 1990s were interesting time in perfumery. Guerlain was in a major creative slump, the public nose was fatigued after a decade of Giorgio and Poison, resulting in a shift towards aquatic shower-fresh fragrances. It's not a coincidence the other game-changing blockbuster of 1992 was L'Eau d'Issey. But 1992 was also the year of some major designer releases, such as Donna Karan's original fragrance, Asja by Fendi,  and Dolce & Gabbana's eponymous perfume,  while Laura Biagotti came out with Venezia and Jean Patou with Sublime. Elsewhere in Perfumeland Jo Malone cheered us up with Grapefruit, Patricia de Nicolai was working her magic (Vie de Chateau, Mimosaïque), while Serge Lutens releases Feminite du Bois under Shiseido and then started his own label with Bois de Violette and Bois Oriental. In my own little bedroom I cried myself to sleep every night for months wearing the new Chloe Narcisse, not knowing that in less than a year I will be buying the just-released Minotaure by Paloma Picasso for a new boyfriend who would eventually become my husband.

As you can see, I'm procrastinating. I'm supposed to talk about Angel, I know.

I hated Angel when it came out. I hated Angel for years and years after. I could pick it wafting from young women yards ahead of me in waiting lines, sitting several rows away in a lecture hall, remnants of sillage in elevators, and traces of this Mugler monstrosity in dressing rooms and locker rooms.  I hated it there and then, but I mostly hated it on myself. My skin amplified every bit of fruit in Angel, especially the rotten melon that made me smell like I just rolled inside a NYC dumpster. The chocolate, caramel, vanilla, honey, and whatever else was in there got swallowed whole by the patchoulified fruit, and a sour-rancid note that has no place in perfume or on human skin would start projecting itself to high heaven making angels and demons weep.

A few years ago a former SA in one of the major department stores told me how the most hated tasks he and his colleagues had was refilling Angel bottles for customers. No matter how careful they were trying to be, a drop of Angel was guaranteed to end up on their skin or clothes and their day and appetite would be ruined. He also told me that Angel no longer smelled like its 1992 self and that it kept changing. Rumors of reformulations have been circulating for a while now, and given the fact that it has been twenty two years no one should be surprised about it. Raw materials change, IFRA happened, market needs shift-- and formulas change. But is Angel still Angel?

Yes and no.

I've been testing the current EDP, acquired at Sephora as a GWP. You can't miss it. It's Angel, alright, the mother and father of all fruitchoulis (the grandfather, though, is the 1955 Nirmala by Molinard, which deserves its own review at some point). But something is missing: the extremes. There's far less rot, fewer scary clowns, and the overall sensation is somewhat toned down-- enough so that I could actually spend quality time wearing it without jumping out of my skin. The 2014 Angel eau de parfum is still a fruitchouli and a massive gourmand that hits the "yummy" spot, but there's more chocolate-pineapple than melon, the cotton candy is several degrees stronger and more pink, and the overall impression, while still more complex and layered than, say- Euphoria, is no longer the nightmarish carnival of perversion Angel used to be.

The dry-down is mostly patchouli and a very synthetic vanilla thing that at its worst reminds me of Sorriso by Profumum. For the record, on my "Can't Stand" list, Sorriso is ranked much higher than the current version of Angel. Much, much higher. A gourmand lover that I am, there are many perfumes that suit me better than Angel, which can still grate on my nerves. But I guess I made my peace with it. Angel and I can co-exist in the same universe. Just not in the same elevator.

Sillage, longevity, and projection are still in world domination level. Half a spray is all you need for a 24 hour wearing (I had to re-wash my shirts after each time, because Angel survives the gentle cycle and the Sorriso resemblance intensifies).

I'm taking into account that some of this impression might be me more than the actual Mugler perfume. I've spent the last eight years (plus change) testing hundreds upon hundreds of perfumes, exercising and challenging my nose. My tastes have become broader and my tolerance higher. But I have also known Angel for twenty two years, and I've smelled it and sampled it semi-regularly since 1992, so it's not simply gaining a whole new perspective on a long-forgotten fragrance. Both Angel and I have changed. I hope that in my case it's also for the better.

Angel by Thierry Mugler (starting from $25 for the 0.23 oz Eau de Parfum Spray, and still offered in refillable bottles as well as regular ones) is available from most department stores and at Sephora.

Photos: the 1992 and 1995 Angel campaign photos, shot by Thierry Mugler himself and starring Estelle Lefébure (1992) and Jerry Hall (1995). Both were photographed on location, in Jerry Hall's case it was White Sands, New Mexico, while Estelle was actually standing on a NYC skyscraper ledge, much further than the security guards intended to allow (via NY Magazine).


  1. Ok, that was very fun to read! A woman that used to work...hmmm not with me but around me... With very little taste and even less marbles, used to wear the infamous perfume. I can't even think of it without cringing my nose. Very nightmerish, though my nose is nowhere near yours. I can hardly tell Amber from Patchouli (I'm exaggerating, but hopefully get to make my point).
    Great review. Nicely written... Still don't dare to try the new version.

  2. My friend broke up with a newish (3 months or so) beau who bought her Angel (well, it was the last straw). I completely supported her. I stay very far back from the counter when there is a bottle of Angel being bandied about, and I don't think I shall be trying the reformulation!

  3. If only Asja had lived and Angel had died....

  4. It's definitely changed and become more muddled and generic over the years. The original was like overripe nectarines, dark chocolate and pine, of all things - probably due to a really good quality patchouli. Strangely back then I did not find it sweet despite the obvious fruit note, and everyone else I knew identified Angel as bizarrely, smelling of Christmas (again, that excellent piney patch). Now, while it's recognizable as Angel, I find the patch muddier and cleaner, the overall scent generically fruitchouli-cotton candy sweet and no ripe nectarine anymore. But I salute it for being completely different when it came out. Even back then I knew not a even a full spray was more than enough! Also worth noting, Angel Innocent still has the best lifelike nougat note next to Molinard's Tendre Friandise and their Iles des something or other (not sure if these are discontinued but TF was rumoured to be identical to Iles (although Iles came first).

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  5. I'm pretty sure that Angel put me off gourmands for the rest of my life. It didn't help that my bestie at school was wearing tons of it (and was sitting next to me), and the boy next to her was wearing the male version. I'm getting all the migraines just thinking about that, and I can still spot the Angel wearer in a crowd!

  6. There is nothing angelic about this perfume. I believe this fragrance can be used as a torture device to get criminals to confess their deepest darkest sins :) Fantastic and entertaining review.

  7. I didn't like "Angel" either. In fact, I used to hate the smell of it!
    Recently I found a sample around the house, tried it and loved it. I kept smelling the sample bottle over and over again. I guess our "nose" changes over time!
    Interestingly I can't sense the "fruity" notes, only the "gourmand" ones (caramel, chocolate...).

    And now I'm in love with "Angel" :-)
    I have to go and get a bottle!

  8. You've said it so well! I do not understanf how this abnormality had success and managed to stick around for mire than 20 years!

  9. Wow...I don't think I've ever read a more vitriolic review of a fragrance (or much of anything)! Angel was one of my favorite fragrances...many other scents that people love smell terrible on me. Angel does not. I haven't worn it for years, but when I used to, I consistently got compliments. From strangers...asking what I was wearing. I never smelled rotten fruit, and I certainly didn't smell like I had rolled around in a dumpster.

    Maybe those who hated it had the wrong body chemistry to combine with Angel. But...NOT everyone hated it. Again, I don't understand how one can make such sweeping statements about something that is so much an individual preference.

    1. I think you raise a couple of excellent points, Bisbee. When it comes to scent, preference is highly personal and opinions can be expressed without vitriol. How we respond to a scent is not just a matter of body chemistry and olfactory sense. It is also deeply rooted in our emotions and memories. In short, it is highly subjective. Consequently, when a scent is so thoroughly trashed with such melodramatic hyperbole, people who like it are probably going to feel offended. And, even those of us who don't have an opinion one way or the other about the scent, can be taken aback by the high level of acerbity. As old fashioned as it might sound, I think there is room for all of us to express our opinions without gratuitously disparaging the taste and preferences of others.

      I never wore Angel because it did not suit me, but a friend of mine did and she smelled absolutely lovely when wearing it. So, when I read the exaggerated negativism contained in the post and some of the comments, I just considered it the minority report. Those opinions, although strongly stated, are obviously not definitive because Angel is still going strong and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. So, you Angel lovers are safe :-)

    2. "You Angel lovers"? That's pretty pejorative language--as if they were an alien species--from one who constantly (and in a most tiresome way) carps about "getting along." Do you refer to minorities that way as well?

    3. Oh, Iron Maiden! "You Angel lovers. . ." pejorative? Really? Perhaps you would have been happier had I said, "Those of you who love Angel . . ." but I doubt it as it is obvious you just want to lash out. And, as for the rest of your irrational comments, they reveal a bitterness and lack of civility in you that is lamentable so I won't bother to engage you further.

  10. Fixed the typo and won't post my comment, even with that part omitted? Cunt.

    1. are a piece of work!

    2. Iron Maiden - It's fine to have a difference of opinion, but enough already with the nasty-grams!

  11. Ugh, I still have traumatic memories of the hallways in highschool. It seemed that there was a competition between Angel and Tommy Girl to see which one could gain control of the hallway, you couldn't walk through any building in 1996 without passing through clouds of the wretched stuff. Throw in a little Polo Sport on the boys and it made for a nausea inducing experience... I personally couldn't stand either perfume, and prefered to wear such fragrances as Organza, Opium, or Samsara (I'm sure not everyone was happy to see me coming down the hall either, none of those were popular with most 16 year old girls). At some point early in my HS career my aunt gifted me with a set of Angel EDP that came with an oversized bottle, some lotion, body wash, and if that wasn't enough some sparkly powder that smelled like the perfume and could be applied using a ludicrously oversized powder puff. I can't fully blame my aunt, she took the advise of the sales girl, and this was undeniably popular at the time. I made several attempts to wear and like the stuff before moving on for good. It didn't smell terrible on me (I got some of the rotton fruit, but nothing major), it just smelled terrible to me. Every time I smell this I can't help but remember a quote from Mean Girls "You smell like a baby prostitute". I still can't stand passing one of their ever present refilling stations without getting a flashback to my highschool days, generally I walk on quickly.

  12. fell in love with angel at first sniff in france, before it was sold over here. my french mother hated it, but it was instant love for me. wish i'd kept my first star bottle, since they changed the design later. i would agree that it has changed. it doesn't have the same heart or spirit somehow. these days i like the "cognac" version better than straight angel. the summery version of angel is okay, too, and so are the garden angels. though those fade quickly. oh, and i think i was probably gassing out more people with amarige than angel in those days - now THAT was one strong scent!


  13. I remember trying Angel when it first came out and thought "holy cats alive this is strong!" but then again, it was in the FL heat and humidity, it bloomed and grew bigger by the minute!
    I've since learned that if I wear it very (very!) sparingly - 1/2 spritz is all it takes, it's nice. I think the Cuir flanker is very well done and no fruity notes to speak of in that one.

  14. I must say, I also loved Jerry Hall as the face of the Angel ad campaign, I'll always identify her with that and Opium but then I'm a child of the 80s!

  15. Can't deal with Angel. Didn't like it then, don't like it now. *shudder*

  16. Amusing how recent your post on Angel is!

    I offered miniatures of perfume to my grand-mothers.
    One really liked the Angel one. And I smelled it on the other one, I was surprise how good it is.
    I re-tested it today in shop, to know if was worth buying for my grand-mother and me. Answer is no, and I'm disappointed.

    The miniatures are vintage.
    Since the epoch I started to be passionate about perfume (~6 years), Angel is meh.

    In the miniature, I love the cofee liquor of it. It's really masculine. I like the really earthy patchouly of it, the hissy jasmine and scratchy blackcurrant, I loved the drama.
    (I had a previous good impression on an old spray sample. It has a patchouly like the cauldron of a witch or molten bitumen by summer sun, not far from Bulgari's Black)

    Angel is a hermaphrodite no more. It veers clearly and mellow cuddly feminine, more maltol, rounder patchouly, no hissy top note. No more top note, really.

    As I can't accessorize the present Angel, it has no interest for me anymore. I'll pass. And the current stuff is still really pricey.
    Even for a girl, I think Angel has lost 60% of the message it conveyed. As if Angel has aged with it's wearer, from alluring women with shoulder pad, to conventional suburb women that avoids fun and risk.


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