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 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 and 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 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 a 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).