It’s time finally to talk about THE perfume for me – the first, the one that started off my obsession when I was a young women, which is Angel by Thierry Mugler – an amber vanilla fragrance for women launched in 1992, created by noses Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin.
To me Angel is one of those fragrances that represents a significant, sometimes revolutionary, change that the perfume world experiences once a decade or so. And this milestone perfume marked a huge shift in direction of the mainstream, which I both hate and love it for. I blame Angel for the now dominant, overly sweet, sometimes headache-inducing fragrances that saturate the market. I admire Angel for creating a whole new perfume genre – the gourmand. Since the name of this site is Scentgourmand, you can bet that delectable perfumes are a top choice for yours truly.
I remember the day I smelled Angel for the first time. I was still a university student, and I was with my mother browsing the cosmetics floor of a department store, something we enjoyed doing together and that I’d probably still do with her if I didn’t live across the ocean. I think it was probably La Baie in Montreal but it might just as easily have been in Vermont or some other US state mall just south of the boarder.
New releases in perfumery had always beckoned my snoz to the counter in these pre-internet times. Mugler’s Star-shaped bottle had no difficulty reeling me in. I recall the lady at the counter gushing over it and her warning me: “One spray.” She was right. The original formula was like nothing else I’d ever smelled before, and to this day, even though I know the notes well, the concoction is so complex and well blended that it is hard to identify them.
- cotton candy, coconut, cassis, melon, jasmine, bergamot, pineapple, Mandarin orange,
- honey, red berries, blackberry, plum, apricot, peach, jasmine, orchid, caraway, nutmeg, rose, lily-of-the-valley,
- patchouli, chocolate, caramel, vanilla, tonka bean, amber, musk, sandalwood
This perfume is the winner of 2007 FiFi Hall Of Fame award. It took them a while, but I guess you need to prove that you can maintain super seller status for at least a decade, and still sell. And this juice does still sell, although these, days only in its far less bombastic and obnoxious reformulated self, along with her flankers and sister scents that compete for the spotlight, sometimes smelling very different. And the reformulation? Sorry, it is NOTHING like the original, at least in terms of performance.
The vintage original I purchased recently on eBay shows its age through its colour. It should be blue, but it’s brown, and the markings are distinct. You can see the original Thierry Mugler signature, slightly curved on the side of the star on the old bottle. I don’t know the exact date of my item, but it’s the real deal. Although sadly, I do think the smell has mutated a little down the evolutionary smell chain: There is a slight tinge of oldness to the scent, and the top notes and performance levels have faded.
If you’re looking at buying this perfume and want a particular batch or time period, note that the box design has changed, too. The first formulations can find Angel written in small black lettering with Mugler’s full curvy signature at the bottom. Later boxes straightened out his signature and had a bigger font for Angel. The newer boxes just print out MUGLER – no Thierry, no signature.
Last year, I had a craving to revisit Angel, and I was delighted to find a huge 100 ml bottle for a decent price. The seller was transparent and said she got it on Amazon and explained how it was nothing like her memory of the original Angel. I took a chance, but it turns out we must have the same memory. The bottle I have is either a fake (yes, I do believe Amazon has been guilty of that) or in fact the reformation is that disappointing.
How is it subpar? Well, sadly it suffers both in artistic impression and technical merit. The scent has a more discernable patchouli from the start, and it’s harder to get at the cotton candy and chocolate. But it still smells like Angel, only lacking that wow factor somehow. And the progression has altered. I was wearing this new version on a walk last week and on my wee sojourn I got wafts of ice cream and waffles. I thought it might be kid playing eating ice cream near the path or following me (that happens to blonds in Japan). After I had made some distance – a couple of kilometers, I realized the ice cream vibe was wafting off my own person. It was Angel – a pleasant smell, but not one I’d originally have associated with the old formula.
The real disappointment comes from performance. With the old formula, I a couple of sprays would last all day. And everyone would smell me, for better or worse. With this stuff, multiple sprays all over, and it’s gone in an hour or two. Such a waste. Such a disappointment. But I found a bottle of vintage juice, so I am saved, and will continue to hoard ones like it as I find them (if I find them0. And the original formula – I must repeat, is a performance monster – it has unfathomable projection, sillage, and longevity. The bottle will therefore likely last me a fair while!
One thing to know about the Mugler brand is that it is the King of flankers, and when it comes to Angel, they come out with flankers on a regular basis, and some of them have barely a slight nod to the original, so know that before you purchase. There’s Angel Iced Star, Angel Nova, Angel eu Sucre, Angle Passion Star, Angle Muse, Angel Fruity Fair and versions in different strengths in different bottles, too. It’s a lot. Although it has happened on occasion when I prefer a flanker to the original, in general, I prefer to stick to the first – it tends to be a a winning top seller for a reason, and that’s why it’s “flanked.”
The masterpiece that is Angel is a highly polarizing scent. People tend to very precisely either love it or hate it, and if you hate it, it’s likely because it’s incredibly obnoxious and sweet. I’m definitely on the love side of the spectrum, even though I don’t wear it so much now. I’ll try to describe this based on a sniff from my vintage bottle, but note again that the juice inside is not perfectly preserved, and my memory is not as it used to be.
The original Angel is a huge praline and patchouli chocolate caramel bomb, but it leads with a fresh and surprising sourness. It’s like sucking on a chocolate covered cough-drop while sticking your face in a mound of earthy patch and mint. It’s a linear scent which is heavy and incredibly strong and sickening to some, but sexy and magnificently beautiful to others. There are so many notes in here vying for attention that is really is tricky to break down. Honeyed tart berries, dusty dark cacao, icing sugar, and more – a mangled explosion of notes screaming in a bizarre, frenzied, divine, deafening symphony.
Angel also has just that pinch of ugliness or skank or filth to it (thank you, patchouli) that makes it seductive and Godly – and that is definitely not true of the reformulation, which is a 2D rather than 3D fragrance. Honestly, the je ne sais quoi has become a c’est quoi, ça?
If you’re using the original and you overspray, I must warn you: you’ll get toxic industrial solvent or an insecticide for post-apocalyptic termites and cockroaches. And it’s not like that will cool down in less than an hour. This is Angel, so do spray conservatively. And never, ever wear this in hot and humid weather unless your mission is genocide. I wouldn’t dare wear it to the office, either. Obviously.
Going by memory, what’s different about this old juice is I get less chocolate and more patchouli, and also a very slight mustiness. It’s old, after all. I will take this old stuff over the reformulation (or possibly fake) any day, though.
Obviously, if you don’t like patchouli, this is not for you – original or reformulated.
What’s interesting to me is that much as there were some people who didn’t like the original due to a nauseating sickly sweetness that can induce headaches, I think that there are far sweeter fruitchoulies on the market now. But they are indeed cleaner and much more polite than Angel.
In a nutshell, Angel is that flirtatious, opinionated, attention seeker at the party showing off more cleavage than many are comfortable with. She’s definitely a stunner and can be a lot of fun, but as she steals the spotlight, it’s kind of a bummer for the more subtle and worthy-in-their-own way merry-makers at the event. She’s the last to leave the party, too, so if you don’t like her, you either have to tolerate her or hit the road.
The other thing is, of course, that she’s become a victim of her own popularity. She was so popular at one point that everybody knew her, and she was many a woman’s signature scent. The fact that Angel was and is still incredibly distinct helped.
With the newer formulations, though, the mystery and intrigue of the scent is no longer there, and this is sadly true also for the original scent due to overuse. Tastes change with the times, too. Bombastic fragrances from the 80s and 90s were overtaken my more demure and lighter fragrances in subsequent decades. If someone is wearing the original Angel, someone else nearby of my generation or close to it will think, “Oh, someone’ s wearing Angel” (wow!) or else “Oh, someone’ s wearing Angel” (ugh!).