Sunday, January 25, 2015

His or Hers? 8: Amouage Gold

Amouage Gold pour Femme (1983)
I first tried this perfume a couple of years ago, and my immediate impression was that it was very similar to Estée Lauder White Linen. Both creations offer a strong aldehyde experience. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the aldehydes really dominate these compositions. There are lots of other participants, but the aldehydes steal the show to the point where I have to be in a certain type of mood to wear this sort of perfume.

In some ways I hate to admit this, because so many people gush over Gold, but to my nose, White Linen extrait is a more appealing perfume. I somehow get that weird buzz which appears to scintillate the central nervous system of devotees of Chanel no 5. Everyone needs to have that essential life-transforming aldehyde experience with one perfume, but which one it will be varies from person to person. Chanel no 5 never really did it for me, but White Linen extrait did--once. Alas, I was never able to repeat the experience, and was a tad disappointed when I acquired a bottle of the eau de parfum and found it to have a fuzzier oak moss quality rather than the white Dial soap clarity-inducing zing.

In my initial testing of the made for women perfumes from this house I found Amouage Dia to be even more intensely aldehydic, or perhaps with fewer base notes than Gold, so I did end up preferring Gold to Dia, but if the truth be told, I was not enamored of either. Trying Gold again a couple of days ago, I realized that I still find the aldehyde a bit overdosed to the point of shrouding the flowers.

I wonder whether the same mistake was made in this case as was made with Chanel no 5? Legend has it that the mixer added five times more aldehydes than prescribed by the formula. But that was what Gabrielle selected, and the rest is history.

Perfumer: Guy Robert
Notes (from lily of the valley, rose, frankincense, orris root, jasmine, myrrh, amber, musk, sandalwood, cedar, civet + ALDEHYDES!!!! (why are they missing from the pyramid at Parfumo, I wonder?)

Amouage Gold pour Homme (1983)
I was happy finally to give Gold for guys a sniff, in honor of Vladimir Putin's recent valiant attempt to avert World War III. It is rumored throughout the world wide web that Vlad's signature scent is Amouage Gold pour Homme, so that was reason enough for me to pull out my carded sample. What I found, to my surprise, was a perfume rather close to Van Cleef & Arpels First! The first clue was the heavy civet. But the blended florals are really beautiful in Gold pour Homme as well.

In fact, upon reading a review by jtd it dawned on me that Amouage Gold pour Homme is like First without aldehydes, and Amouage Gold pour Femme is an aldehyde bomb, so First is basically the equivalent of a cross between Gold pour Homme and Gold pour Femme!

My favorite of the three is Van Cleef & Arpels First. But First is not in the running today. Amouage Gold pour Homme is a better perfume than Gold pour Femme, in my opinion. It's more complex and not marred by the aldehyde overkill of Gold pour Femme. In fact, when I wore it the other day I was forced to postpone my bath because I couldn't bear washing it away!

Some of my perfume pals do not like Gold pour Homme. Perhaps they find the civet too heavy. I, in contrast, find it to be an excellent perfume--for guys and gals alike! Yes, it's old school, in some sense, but it's also a welcome blast from the past in this age of abstraction and Twitter perfumery. I've been finding that nearly all of the Amouage pour Homme perfumes are highly wearable by me, and in several cases I prefer the Homme to the FemmeGold is no exception to the rule!

Perfumer: Guy Robert
Notes (from dog rose, lily of the valley, frankincense, orris root, jasmine, myrrh, amber, patchouli, oak moss, musk, sandalwood, cedar, civet

Running Tally: His or Hers?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

His or Hers? 7: Bvlgari pour Femme/Homme

Bvlgari pour Femme (1994)
Created by Sophia Grojsman nearly twenty years ago, Bvlgari pour femme smells today surprisingly fresh and new. This feminine composition features sweet florals—rose, mimosa, and violet loom large—in a clean resinous base and does not seem dated in the least. Having recently received one of the small .8 ounce purse sprays of this creation, I am able to report that there is no obvious distinction between my “vintage” bottle and the latest iteration of this now classic perfume. Many of Grojsman's perfumes have been reformulated—to their detriment and to the disappointment of most of the people who fell in love with them at the time of their launch. Bvlgari pour femme is a rare exception to the rule. Is this because this jeweler's perfumery branch has not been sold off to one of the corporate conglomerates? Perhaps.

Bvlgari pour Femme edp is one of only a few perfumes which I wore in the twentieth century and still wear today. Not only has it not changed, my attitude toward it also has not. Sometimes we experience a change in tastes and decide that what we used to like or even love, we do not anymore. That certainly happened to me with a number of perfumes, including Oscar de la Renta Oscar. My attitude toward the perfume already in my possession changed—it was the same, but I became disenchanted with the scent.

So in the case of Bvlgari pour Femme edp, the fact that no reformulation appears to have taken place is only one part of the equation. The reformulation of nearly everything else does however suffice to explain why most of the perfumes which I wore in the 1990s are history. I mean literally a part of my perfume history, like old friends from the past whom I have no intention of meeting up with again, even if I could, in theory, say, by joining the hunt for vintage bottles at e-bay. Not going to happen.

Every bit as appropriate as it was back at the time of its launch, Bvlgari pour Femme edp is a sweet violet-rose composition similar in some ways to both L'Artisan Parfumeur Drôle de Rose and Miller Harris Coeur de Fleur. They are all united by their violet-tinged, water-washed rose. The big distinction made by the Bvlgari violet rose is that there is a substantial clean musky base which imparts a decidedly perfumey quality to the composition as a whole. It smells somewhat resinous to me, and in addition to making Bvlgari pour Femme seem more like an elixir than a watery sweet floral, it also adds a kind of golden shimmer. Mimosa contributes to this effect, as well.

More formal than both Drôle de Rose and Coeur de FleurBvlgari pour Femme is also very distinct from Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose, yet another fine violet-rose creation. The Bvlgari perfume, apparently the first in its olfactory neighborhoodand another iconic idea generated by the great Grojsmanstrikes a balance between formality and informality. Wearing this perfume is like getting all dressed up in satin pajamas to spend the night at home.

Perfumer: Sophia Grojsman
Notes (from bergamot, neroli, violet leaf, jasmine, jasmine sambac, mimosa, rose, iris, musk, sandalwood

Bvlgari pour Homme (1995)
During the 2012 holiday season, I was plied by retailers with carded samples of Bvlgari pour Homme. I assumed for that reason that it must be a new fragrance. Imagine my surprise on learning that this perfume was launched way back in 1995 and is nearly as old as Bvlgari pour Femme! Is the composition the same today as it was back then? I honestly have no idea, but the fragrance does seem to have a fairly big following, judging by the reviews I've seen. Here's my take:

What a baffling composition. I am told that some twenty-odd notes are present. Of course, we all know that notes are mere metaphors, but in the extremely bizarre case of Bvlgari pour Homme, the metaphors clash head-on with my experience.

Aldehydes? Certainly not. Bergamot, well, okay, yes, I suppose, since it is present in 33% of all perfumes. Maybe I can conceive of this as a tea scent. But the rest? They may as well say that this perfume contains unicorns and elves, since I smell them just about as well!

None of this is to say that there is anything essentially wrong with Bvlgari pour Homme. It's nice. It's light. It's polite. It's clean and keen. It's the perfect scent for the twenty-first-century open-cubicle office. Indeed: it smells to me rather like just pressed and starched long-sleeved cotton shirts complete with linked cuffs and button-down collars!

During most of my wearings of this perfume, my experience remained consistently the same. I simply do not detect the vast majority of notes listed in the hierarchy. One reviewer maintains that this is a big iso-E-super composition, so perhaps it is wiping out all of the other notes. To me, this does not have the same effect as Encre NoireTerre d'Hermès and the other iso-E-super bombs I've encountered, which I identify immediately by their sinus-clearing capacity. But maybe that is the best explanation for my inability to detect much of anything beyond a freshly pressed and starched cotton shirt in this composition. Certainly the longevity is excellent, which suggests significant aromachemical presence.

I should add a small caveat: during one of my four wearings of this fragrance, the muskiness came through much more strongly than on the other occasions. It occurred to me that this composition would not smell good on someone with an acrid skin—or while exercising.

Perfumer: Jacques Cavallier
Notes (from aldehydes, bergamot, lavender, mandarin, mace, neroli, black currant blossom, tea, cyclamen, carnation, geranium, coriander, pepper, rosewood, amber, oakmoss, musk, tonka bean, vetiver, cedar

Concluding Assessment: His or Hers?
Bvlgari pour Femme ou pour Homme?

No surprise, given my long-term relationship with Bvlgari pour FemmeHERS gets my vote today. I would love to hear from the guys out there about what I take to be the MIA notes in  Bvlgari pour Homme. Also: has it been reformulated? Does anyone know? Eighteen years seems like a long time, and if this fragrance for men were produced by nearly any other house, I'd have guessed yes. But apparently Bvlgari pour Femme has not been reformulated, so perhaps pour Homme, too, has remained the same?

I'll close by clarifying that I consider Bvlgari pour Femme to be a feminine, not a unisex perfume. In contrast, Bvlgari pour Homme strikes me as completely unisex, but I happen to like it less. In a lifeboat scenario where only one bottle was allowed for everyone on board, I'd be willing to forego the feminine version in order to avoid mutiny, but barring that sort of unlikely situation, I'd choose Bvlgari pour Femme for myself.

Running Tally: His or Hers?

Friday, January 23, 2015

His or Hers? 6: Dsquared2—He or She Wood?

Violets are a wonderful thing, so when I found out about the house of Dsquaredand their penchant for these fine purple flowers, I was willing to overlook the corny number 2 at the end of the house's name. Was it an effort to show that they remember junior high school math class? Don't know. Then there were the wood-encased bottles with truly absurd text on the unfinished cardboard box empirically indistinguishable, I might add, from the boxes in which testers are housed. The box of DsquaredHe Wood reads:

Il legno naturale che racchiude il profumo, rende il prodotto preziosamente unico, vivo ed originale nelle sue differenti venature.
The natural wood framing the perfume, makes the product preciously unique and original in its distinctive grain.

 Le bois naturel entoure le parfum et avec ses différentes veines rend le produit précieusement unique, vif et original.

We'll be the judge of that. Oh boy. It appears that the public relations team at Dsquarednever learned, first, the correct use of a comma and, second, that all important lesson “show don't say.” Nonetheless, with violets looming large and purple in my mind, I decided to overlook all of the evidence and buy these perfumes blind since they were quite inexpensive and samples seemed pretty hard to come by. What did I find?

Dsquared2 He Wood (2007)
I have to admit that the opening of He Wood is something of a turn-off. I smell basically a blast of that all-too-common and becoming increasingly and annoyingly more common pseudo-amberish/pseudo-cedarish aromachemical stuff—apparently it's a mixture of ambroxan and iso-E-super and what-not, and it's being sold by the ton to houses large and small. It is strong, loud, boorish and brash, and it often shrouds all of the other notes alleged to be present in the same perfume.

Perhaps I am hyperosmic to the stuff. All I know is that I am smelling Le Labo Another 13 and Juliette Has A Gun Not A Perfume and Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 and Molecule 02 in way too many bottles these days, and most of them do not bear any of those names.

Did perfumers blow it by revealing to us the secrets to some of their successes? Perhaps. Now that they've laid their cards out on the table, we know it when we sniff it, and if we happen not to like it, then this becomes the basis of an oft-repeated gripe. These chemicals undoubtedly serve to enhance facets of well-composed perfumes, but as focal notes they are not at all appealing to me.

I am aware that Molecule 01 continues to be a best-seller at Aedes and other emporia, and perhaps that's why perfumers have been opening up the spigot and letting it flow long and hard, but I've just about had it with the stuff. It's gotten to the point where perfumes which feature that all-too-familiar scent are immediately removed from contention for a possible full-bottle purchase. No, thank you very much. I've smelled far too much of the stuff, and in places where I frankly think that it should not be. A recent truly off-putting example: Acqua di Parma Gelsomino Nobile, which does start out nobly but then the jasmine petals are literally throttled before being beaten to death by this base.

Have I been spoiled by Miller Harris, whose wood-centric perfumes, En Sens de BoisFleurs de BoisTerre de Bois, and others, actually smell like wood rather than aromachemical mixtures? Perhaps. I only know that I've had it with the vat-produced “neither amber nor wood” juice being used to substitute for loftier and more refined and, above all, more natural materials.

I know that there are people out there who like the scent to which I am referring. I read reviews all the time by people who consider this scent to be the scent of wood. But it is not the scent of wood. It is the scent of aromachemicals.

Fortunately, the opening of He Wood is only the opening, and it is moderated by an expanding violet facetboth leaves and petalswhich arrives on the scene to rescue my nose from what otherwise would be an unwearable perfume. By the drydown, the blend is quite nice. It is sweeter than I'd have expected for a made-for-men fragrance, but it does not hold a candle to its fair sister, She Wood.

Perfumer: Daphné Bugey
Notes (from violet, violet leaf, vetiver, cedar, amber, musk, fir

Dsquared2 She Wood (2008)
It took me more than a year to write a review of Dsquared2 She Wood after having acquired a bottle because I was ambivalent about this perfume. I certainly loved the violets, but there was something about the aquatic side of the composition which kept me at a distance. Maybe that makes sense, since I do not usually like aquatic fragrances. What is interesting about this one is that it does not manifest any of the seasickness-inducing qualities so common in the aquatic category. I've now made some inroads into my 100 ml bottle, and never has She Wood made me feel angst-ridden or sick.

So why was I ambivalent? I suppose because I felt and continue to feel that the quality is closer to the Salvatore Ferragamo Incanto series than to more sophisticated violet perfumes such as Histoires de Parfums Blanc Violette or L'Artisan Parfumeur Violette Verte. In terms of similarly priced violet offerings, She Wood is not very close to Trussardi Jeans (or its compositional cousin, Alexander McQueen My Queen), nor is it very much like the Sonoma Scent Studio violet perfumes. I recently discovered that She Wood does bear similarities to Ellen Tracy Bronze, but that's probably neither here nor there, since Bronze was discontinued after a short production life during which it seems only to have been sold at TJMaxx.

Despite its name, She Wood seems very limpid and aqueous rather than opaque and woody, but there is just a tinge of wood in this composition, which seems to me closest to vetiver. Perhaps that is what makes this creation a bit odd. Rather than the usual treatment of wood, here we have a wood-flavored water. All perfumes are aqueous solutions, but this is a case where the water seems like an important note. This composition is not at all musky to my nose, and I think that floral woody aquatic would be the best category to place it in. As far as I know, it would be nearly alone, flanked only by Bronze. The violet and aquatic aspects are similar to Balenciaga Paris, but the smidgeon of wood sets She Wood apart.

This is a likeable and wearable and public-space-friendly perfume. I am not convinced that it is unisex, but there are probably some daring guys out there who would not mind in the least smelling like sweet watery violets.

Perfumer: Daphné Bugey
Notes (from bitter orange oil, jasmine, lemon, violet leaf, violet blossom, heliotrope, cedar, vetiver, amber

Concluding Assessment: His or Hers?


There are those who poo-poo the violet, considering it to be cheap and childlike. They think that because the scent of violets is easily mimicked using inexpensive ionones that somehow violet perfumes are less noble. My approach is different. I do not care how much the scent-making ingredients cost. So what if the scent of violet is cheap to produce? That just means more violets for me! So you see, my railing against the pseudo-amber/pseudo-cedar aromachemical STUFF is not really a snobby economic dismissal. No, I just think that it does not smell good, and when too much of it is used, it covers everything else about a perfume which might have made it beautiful.

Small wonder, then, that in the final analysis, my vote today goes to HersShe Wood. Neither She Wood nor He Wood contains much in the way of an authentic woody scent—as the names certainly imply that they should—but in She Wood I don't have to wait for the aggressive base to make way for the violets. No, they are there from the beginning, limpid, sweet, watery, and clean.

Running Tally: His or Hers?

Dsquared2 She Wood

Thursday, January 22, 2015

His or Hers? 5: Lolita Lempicka

I am a big fan of black licorice. My favorite is the Finnish national treasure known as Panda, and I dislike all of the fake-o varieties, which I'll not list here. If you dislike black licorice, then you don't care, and if you're into black licorice, then you already know who all of the imposters are, so there's no need to name and shame...

Licorice has been used in a fair number of perfumes, but only one house has made of licorice a focal note: Lolita Lempicka. All of the perfumes of this house either feature licorice or are compatible with it, at least according to my nose. In this way, they form a theme-linked set every bit as coherent as the rose perfumes of Les Parfums de Rosine.

Roses are beloved to so many people that it's not that extraordinary for a house to focus on that flower. But licorice? That was truly an innovation on the part of Lolita Lempicka. Just thinking about it makes me want to go brew up a cup of licorice root tea. Be back shortly...

Nearly the entire line is designed specifically for women, and the governing aesthetic of this house literally screams (or is it squeals?) out femininity. It's true: the whimsical packaging is geared more for girls than for women. The fantasy fairy-like images and embellishments seem like they belong in some sort of bedtime story about sprites and elves and unicorns.

Despite its generally girlish-leaning tendencies, the house of Lolita Lempicka has produced a couple of masculine fragrances, and the male counterpart to Lolita Lempicka Le Premier Parfum is called Lolita Lempicka au Masculin, logically enough. I've reviewed these perfumes before but decided to take them up today in a direct side-by-side test in order to answer the gripping question: His or Hers?

Lolita Lempicka Le Premier Parfum (1997)
Caveat: this is a sweet perfume. Indeed, I'd go so far as to warn that this is a very sweet perfume. To some sniffers, the manifest sweetness is bound to be a big turn-off, and usually I would number among them. However, going against the grain of my own general tendencies, I have always liked Lolita Lempicka, even though it really is too sweet for my perfume tastes. It is possible that I am won over in part by the whimsical bottle, but I do not think that that is the whole explanation. No, there are reasons grounded in the perfume itself.

For one thing, it's not just a thick purple syrup, as one might surmise from gazing at the note line-up commencing with, of all things, pineapple—one of my least favorite notes in perfume! Instead, the many layers do tease apart, and the wood and the myrrhish (myrrhoid?) base make the drydown quite a bit less sweet than the opening. I cannot claim to detect the vast majority of notes, but there is definitely some layering in here. I have a couple of friends who do not experience any layering whatsoever when they wear this creation, and for them it is far less agreeable, seeming closer to a dessert syrup than to a perfume.

The second reason why I don't write this one off, and indeed rather like it, despite the fact that it exceeds my normal sweetness limit, is because it smells as though it's made with lots of and only good stuff. I have a tough time dealing with this sweetness level in an average mainstream designer fragrance. Usually they are so obviously drenched in sucralose or nutrasweet or some other chemical atrocity that I wince upon application.

Not so, with Le Premier Parfum, although I must also confess that I do not wear this perfume very often. Why? Well, excuse the repetition, but the answer is the same: it is simply too sweet. For me, wearing this perfume is akin to eating Bassett's Allsorts. It's something that I like to do now and then, but not all that often. Sometimes I'll go on a binge and eat two bags in one month, but then I won't eat any for a long time after that. Within a single bag (bottle), there are lots of interesting flavors mingling, but the by far most dominant note is black licorice, which simply is not something that I wish to eat every day—although I enjoy it when I do. Even less do I wish to smell to other people as though I work at the Bassett's factory.

I wonder whether others smell the same intensity of licorice in this perfume? Yes, the violet is important, and the vanilla and heliotrope, but everything in this entire composition has been tinged with the scent of glycyrrhiza or licorice root. To my nose, the pseudo-myrrh (whatever it is...) serves really as a base for the licorice, which has seeped through everything, leaving a grayish coating behind.

I hate to admit it, but the sweetness of this perfume even rivals something like Guerlain Insolence. Fortunately, however, there is no repulsive plastic or polymeric je ne sais quoi in the Lolita Lempicka. No, this composition smells natural enough that it definitely will not be standing alongside Insolence at the post-nuclear holocaust Perfume Hall of Fame.

There are other good black licorice perfumes: Bvlgari Jasmin NoirHermessence Brin de Réglisse and L'Artisan Parfumeur Méchant Loup are a few which leap to mind. Lolita Lempicka Le Premier Parfum is considerably more complex, but a lot more sweet, so I'd be surprised if very many guys took a liking to this composition. But that's okay, because the house of Lolita Lempicka launched a perfume precisely for those who find the sweet opening of Le Premier Parfum too much. That said, I should add that the drydown becomes somewhat less sweet and more woody, should someone who usually shuns sweet scents wish to stoically wait it out.

Perfumer: Annick Ménardo
Notes (from pineapple, ivy, mahogany, star anise, violet, lemon, iris, jasmine, lily of the valley, amaryllis, glycyrrhiza, vetiver, heliotrope, almond, musk, praline, tobacco, tonka bean, vanilla

Lolita Lempicka au Masculin (2000)
My first review of this perfume was not favorable. It seemed synthetic and somewhat unappealing. Perhaps I was having a bad nose day. It is also possible that I harbored a fifty-cent whore prejudice against it, as my tester bottle cost me on the order of $20. 

 I may also have been adversely affected by the bottle itself, which perversely enough looks as though it's made of plastic, though it's really made of glass! Bizarrely, it actually looks a lot like a prop for one of the Friday the 13th movies. From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for a tombstone in a haunted graveyard. The whimsical sprites in the forest theme of this house must have been difficult to translate into masculine images.

So was I in a surly mood just because of the bottle when I tested Lolita Lempicka au Masculin? Who really knows? I'm of the considered opinion that everything in our experience may bear on our evaluation of a perfume, so why not how the clumsy bottle feels as we attempt to spray it on?

By the way, as an aside, this may be a good place to point out that all of the bottles of this house's entire collection feature a built-in sprayer-top. There are no separate caps. Perhaps Lolita is one of those people who easily loses detachable parts such as caps and so decided to design each bottle so that the cap cannot be lost because it's already attached. Well, that's one possible theory, but whatever the real reason may have been, one fortunate consequence for perfume and perfume bottle collectors is that tester bottles are empirically indistinguishable from non-tester bottles, so unless you're interested in the box, you can save some money by buying the tester, knowing that you will not be deprived of the cap, because it's permanently affixed.

Since first receiving Lolita Lempicka au Masculin and reviewing it rather unfavorably, I have come around and now appreciate its virtues. Yes, I have to admit that I've warmed up to this scent and can say that sometimes I enjoy wearing it. But that's the problem for me: it's a gamble. On a good day, I find it complex and compelling. On a bad day, I just want a bath. For this reason, since I never know whether I'm going to have a good or a bad nose day with respect to this fragrance, I do not choose to wear it unless I already have a bath on the horizon.

Today was a good day. I do not smell car interiors and rubber. The labdanum appears to be coming through, and also a touch of basil. Today, Lolita Lempicka au Masculin smells like a very fine unisex scent to me.

Perfumer: Annick Ménardo
Notes (from aniseed, basil, glycyrrhiza, violet, almond milk, rum, sandalwood, tonka bean, praline, vanilla, vetiver, cedar, cistus

Concluding Assessment: His or Hers?

When I want a more savory and drier treatment of licorice root, L'Artisan Parfumeur Méchant Loup is a better choice. It is also more dependable on my skin than Lolita Lempicka au Masculin. However, I have to admit that I have come around and now believe that the Au Masculin version of Lolita Lempicka is a better perfume, all things considered, than its female counterpart. Why? Because it's not a dessert-event perfume.

Lolita Lempicka au Masculin is an oriental woody with a dominant licorice note and lots of fascinating facets and layers, both bluish green and brown. So, yes, I must admit that it is a more wearable perfume. Your results may vary, and mine may too, but all that matters in today's evaluation is how these perfumes strike me today. I do greatly prefer the original bottle and confess to having developed a fetish of sorts for the feminine perfume bottles of this house, but as far as the perfumes are concerned, His gets my vote today.  

Running Tally: His or Hers?

His: Dolce & Gabbana Light BlueLalique Encre NoireLolita Lempicka au Masculin

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

His or Hers? 4: Thierry Mugler Angel

I sometimes change my evaluations of a perfume, for a variety of different possible reasons. Occasionally I discover that a fragrance which I initially was very enthusiastic about is not all that great in a long-term relationship. My best guess is that in some cases I had low expectations which were exceeded in my initial testing experience, leading me to overlook shortcomings or flaws out of a sense of relief. On the other hand, I may have a prejudice in favor of some niche creations, thinking that they must be better because they are niche, and this, too, can lead to disappointment later on down the line, once the honeymoon is over, so to speak.

I do not always revise my opinion downward, though it's easy to see why that would happen more often than the reverse scenario, since once I've written off a fragrance, there is really no rational reason to revisit it. So many fragrances, so little time! The occasions where I have revised my view upward tend to involve bottles or decants or fresh samples of perfumes which I happened to have ready at hand, even though I initially did not like them. Some were blind buys; others were gifts or freebies thrown in with an order. Having the fragrance lying around at least leaves open the possibility that I may give it another sniff, especially if I happen to read a review of another fragrance to which it has been compared, So although it is rare, I sometimes discover that a composition which did not seem to speak to me really did have something to say, but I was at fault for not listening attentively enough.

Thierry Mugler Angel (1992)

None of the above possibilities, however, has been fully realized in the case of Thierry Mugler Angel. I was very late to the Angel party, having evidently been busy with “other priorities” in 1992 and having somehow never traveled in circles of people who wore the potent potion—at least not in my presence. I finally got around to testing Angel only because I had received a sample from some store somewhere, and I had heard so much about the “legendary” creation that I felt that I could no longer continue on in my state of inexcusable ignorance as to the nature of this perfume.

My sample vial was one of those annoying opaque plastic models which make it impossible to see how much—or whether—you have sprayed any of the contents on. Those vials also irritate me because I've noticed that often they are nearly empty. In the case of my first encounter with Angel, the vial was definitely not empty, though it may have been concentrated through evaporation. The stuff was strong to the point of being noxious, and I can honestly state that I found it repulsive.

In my first review of Angel, I likened the composition to the scent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by a neighborhood child's mother who had run out of peanut butter and slapped on some grape jelly without noticing that one of the slices of Wonderbread was covered with spots of mold. So, no, I was not drawn at all to the scent of Angel, finding the opening unbearably gross, and as the perfume dried down it just seemed like the olfactory equivalent of garbage pizza to me. Way too much going on for my tastes, on top of the fact that it was intolerably strong and annoying.

When the fragrance had dried down completely, it was better, but I was so traumatized by the opening that the not entirely unpleasant drydown did not redeem the perfume as a whole. For the reasons given above, I did not make any effort to test Angel again for a long, long time. Why would I want to do that? Am I a glutton for punishment? The answer, I am afraid, is: Yes.

I did try Angel again rather recently in the name of truth and accuracy in reviewing, as I had received a mini of the newly launched eau de toilette and also happened to have a mini of the eau de parfum on hand, so I decided to compare them. This time I applied only a dot of the original Angel, and I was not entirely horrified by it as I had been before, but the biggest surprise was that I preferred it to the eau de toilette, which I found quite boring, rather like an emasculated Angel. Or perhaps the virgin without the slut? Either way, it seemed to me like an insult to the original fragrance to slap the same name on such a pale flanker. If you're going to make a statement, then make a statement! The wishy-washy character of Angel eau de toilette just reminded me of some spineless milque toast, or worse: a politician.

Today I was faced with yet another opportunity/challenge to don the dark Angel, in order to answer the gripping question: His or Hers? I applied the perfume—from a dab-on miniature bottleto both wrists and my neck, and I must admit that, once again, I did not enjoy the experience. Something about the heavy purple quality of this composition just makes it seem too dense and compact, with all of the notes smashed together into one impenetrable monolithic layer. I stuck it out as long as I could, but eventually I headed for the bath, having concluded that, though I had found Angel edp to be a better perfume than Angel edt, that was only because Angel edt was very, very bad—even sad.

I remain mystified as to why every sweet patchouli perfume launched these days is likened to Angel. Weren't there sweet perfumes before Angel? And did not some of them feature patchouli as a focal note, along with fruit and caramel? Let's see: how about Molinard Nirmala, launched way back in 1955? Why do those who hail Angel as revolutionary refuse to read the writing on the wall? Or on my lips:

Hype, people: hype.

Thierry Mugler is a marketing machine and a big concept house. They have had one exceptionally fruitful (lucrative!) idea, which ironically also came from somewhere else, it seems to me: Madonna. Did she not link the virgin and the whore image together in one entity (herself) way back in the early 1980s?

Appearances notwithstanding, these are not really criticisms of the house of Thierry Mugler, merely demonstrations that they are the most successful propaganda machine in the history of perfumery, and a big-time boon to the Clarins group. Hats off to the marketing masterminds at Thierry Mugler, for squeezing untold wealth from a perfume which smacks of another one launched nearly half a century earlier, using a concept first floated by the Material girl herself, all decked out in grunge and crosses, and going by the blasphemous name of Madonna while selling herself as the ultimate sex symbol and boy toy.

The sole innovation in this whole production, and this is perhaps the ultimate secret of Angel's success, is to have made every woman feel not like a woman (that was Chanel no. 5's ploy) but a star. We are all celebrities potentially, thanks to Angel, the celebrity scent without a celebrity and whose only referent is Jill Q. Consumer, ready and willing to refill her bling-capped Angel bottle again, and again, and again, from the vats strategically placed within arm's reach at high-end department store counters all over the globe. Yes, Angel wish fulfillment remains still today, twenty years after the perfume's launch, but a swiped credit card away.

Perfumer: Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin
Notes (from bergamot, jasmine, cassia, coconut, mandarin, melon, cotton candy, apricot, blackberry, honey, jasmine, lily of the valley, orchid, peach, plum, rose, red berries, amber, caramel, musk, patchouli, chocolate, tonka bean vanilla—it's a noseful!

Thierry Mugler Angel for men, aka A*Men (1996)

I only recently noticed that Thierry Mugler A*Men or Angel for men was first produced way back in 1996, only four years after Angel. That fact alone caused me to pause before launching into a negative review. This must have been one of the first men's fragrances to serve up sweets while holding on to manliness, here in the form of the scent of a new car interior. Thankfully the axle grease of Dior Fahrenheit is nowhere here to be sniffed (pace Couture Guru!). 

Rather than the mechanic, the gent in question is the car dealer, as smooth as Ricky Roma and ready to take his prospective customer out for a test drive in a slick model, one of the virtues of which, he insists, is that "Chics dig it."

Does it work? Well, that all depends on your views on rubber chocolates. To me, it's close to a scrubber, but I dislike rubber notes in perfume and could not bring myself to acquire even a small bottle of the famous Bvlgari 
Black, though I have liked most of the Bvlgari perfumes (well, up until the Omnia series, marking perhaps the beginning of that house's descent). I tested Bvlgari Black, and it was headache material for me.

In the case of A*Men, the same sort of weird sweet vanilla and rubber scent is simply too contradictory for me to be able to stomach. Maybe because I hate artificial food in general and eschew "foodstuffs" filled with science fiction-inspired ingredients. So naturally when I smell rubber and vanilla or coffee, which is more dominant than vanilla in A*Men, my inclination is to experience a slight gag reflex. I generally appreciate coffee and cocoa notes (preferably unsweetened) in fragrances, but this composition smells incredibly synthetic, perhaps more synthetic than anything in the rest of this house's line-up that I've sniffed.

I purchased a small, 30ml tester bottle of A*Men to satisfy my curiosity about this scentit wasn't much more than the price of a sampleand have tried to wear it several times, but for me it has turned out to be no more and no less than a prelude to a bath. 

To those who don't mindor perhaps even cravethe smell of rubber mingling in with their gourmand chocolates and coffee, this may work well. I continue to find the scent similar to that of a Starbucks venti spilled as a driver accelerates to a red light before slamming on the brakes.

From my perspective, this fragrance is only a “panty dropper” insofar as it makes me want to strip down for a hot bath. But guys, if you happen to like A*Men, go right ahead and don this juice, hit the bars, and I'm sure that some chic out there somewhere will dig it! And if you're a dude who doesn't happen to dig chics, surely there'll be another dude out there who will drool over this juice, too! Either way, just make sure that your car is sufficiently slick! 

Perfumer: Jacques Huclier
Notes (from bergamot, coriander, lavender, peppermint, honey, jasmine, caramel, lily of the valley, patchouli, cedar, amber, benzoin, coffee, musk, sandalwood, storax, tonka bean, vanilla—yes, it's a noseful, too!

Concluding Assessment
His or Hers?

The undisputed mother of all concept perfume houses and propaganda machines (from whom Tom Ford has taken many a cue) is Angel for her, launched in 1992. Angel is also less bad than A*Men, relative to my aesthetic sensibilities, because of my decided dislike of rubber-gourmand combinations (which has turned out to be one of the major reasons for my apostasy from Guerlain—see InsolenceIris Ganache, et al.). 

In all honesty, I must say that I have no interest in wearing either of these two perfumes, but if forced to make the Charybdis or Scylla choice and don one of the two, I would opt for microdot applications of Angel and hold my breath until the drydown. Hers gets my vote today. 

Running Tally: His or Hers?

Hers: Prada Amber, Thierry Mugler Angel