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

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