Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
I generally try to steer clear of too much hyperbole, but in the case of Angel, every hyperbole describes it perfectly. The most polarizing, the most memorable, the most dramatic, the most grotesque… Angel, created for Thierry Mugler in 1992, is one of the great perfume success stories of the last two decades. Its introduction on the market is also an interesting case study into what it takes to make a classic: quality juice, a strong character, a memorable signature and also time. Today, most brands go for the quick sell, releasing fragrances that are bland and derivative; the new launches are rarely given time to take hold in the market place. Angel was not a runaway success; it took three years of constant support from Thierry Mugler and its parent company, Clarins, for this fragrance to start topping the best seller lists. And the rest is history!
What follows is not so much my standard perfume review, but rather an exploration of how this fragrancew came about and what makes it unusual. In the end, I share some of my favorites among Angel offspring, including some fragrance that I find fantastic but that fared quite badly on the market. I also would love to hear your thoughts on Angel, positive and negative.
Angel: New Gourmand Fragrance Genre
My relationship with Angel has been that of distant admiration; however, as I go further with my perfumery training, Angel is becoming a constant presence on my desk. Since its launch, the gourmand fragrance genre has expanded dramatically to the extent that “gourmand” is now a commonly used fragrance classification. While the gourmand idea in perfumery is not at all new, Angel took it to the extreme. It is not simply a teasing suggestion of a dessert, but a full feast of crème caramel, cotton candy, raspberry macarons, candied fruit, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and honey. The interplay of familiar scents and the completely novel character of this perfume make Angel fascinating.
Angel grew out of fashion designer Thierry Mugler’s desire for a mouthwatering, delicious scent. At the core of the composition is a strong accord of patchouli and Veltol, a fascinating and extremely potent aroma-material that smells like vanilla caramel and cotton candy. In fact, if you put just these two materials together in the right balance, you will have a very strong Angel impression. Although it is built as a modern composition based on a single distinctive element—patchouli and cotton candy, there are plenty of embellishments that make Angel not only complex, but surprising.
Wearing Angel: Contrasted and Polarizing
The initial impression is that of effervescent citrus and tart berries which give a bright, crisp sensation. As the luscious notes of caramel and honey grow stronger, the patchouli foils the composition, giving it a dry, earthy quality. The abstract accord of crisp, watery notes woven into the structure of Angel further lightens the gourmand decadence. Angel dries down to a smooth, dark accord of bitter chocolate, patchouli and almond praline.
The contrasted nature of Angel is what intrigues me the most about this composition. It is quite heavy, strong and extremely tenacious, yet it is not at all dense and opaque. The fresh, tart notes sprinkled throughout its development give the fragrance a surprising lift. The sweet notes should make it seem sugary and pretty, yet pretty is definitely not the right adjective to describe Angel. The combination of strong peppery bergamot notes and patchouli gives it an almost masculine quality. On the whole, Angel conveys extreme decadence and seduction. To its haters, it is the most vulgar perfume on earth. Its sillage is monstrous and its character is overwhelming, to the point of causing physical discomfort.
My Favorites from the Angel Family
I can write a whole post on Angel copycats and offspring, but I will just mention a few of my personal favorites. Some of these have been discontinued, but they are still easy to find online. Lolita Lempicka is perhaps the best of the Angel children, a moody, elegant blend of patchouli, dark cherries, anise and iris. Chanel Coco Mademoiselle takes Angel into a chypre direction, with a cool mossy note contrasted with the caramel-patchouli accord. The original Prada Eau de Parfum, especially the Intense version, is a great option for those who love patchouli. It is essentially an elegant, toned down version of Angel. Issey Miyake Le Feu d’Issey explores the savory side of gourmand with an accord of bread, sandalwood and patchouli, which was also explored recently by Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau. Givenchy Organza Indécence is a beautiful vanilla and woods fragrance, inspired by the scent of sugared almonds. Chopard Madness, a complete market failure but an excellent perfume, takes Angel along a spicy route with a strong accord of pepper, cardamom and incense.
What do you think of Angel? Do you love it or hate it?
Thierry Mugler Angel includes notes of bergamot, mandarin, dewberry, honey, red berries, patchouli, Australian sandalwood, coumarin, vanilla, caramel, chocolate. Available from all the major retailers.
Sample: my own acquisition