I had a bit of a strange, fragrance-related realisation this week, specifically that Thierry Mugler’s Angel is my favourite perfume. Sure, I’ve always said that I could never be tied down to a single perfume and whilst I have a top 5, when asked, I always say that I simply couldn’t narrow my perfume love to just one fragrance. Also I’m well aware that I regularly bang on about the sentimental importance of Angel’s sister scent, Alien – so it’s easy to see why I would not be a good poster boy for fragrant monogamy. All of that said, Angel is always the perfume that I come back to, and it’s the only fragrance that I can wear for weeks on end without thinking of anything else.
But what spurred this realisation, I hear you ask? Well, I had a serendipitous encounter at a rather wonderful Mugler event that affirmed Angel in her personal number one status. It’s not every day that I get asked to attend a tea party with a supermodel AND the creator of my favourite fragrance, but it is something I certainly could get used to, and I simply couldn’t turn down Thierry Mugler’s offer of hanging with perfumer Olivier Cresp and model Georgia May Jagger, to celebrate Jagger’s position as the new face of Mugler’s signature fragrance.
Hosted in a private suite at the surprisingly inconspicuous Sanderson Hotel (looks like a tower block on the outside and a Dalí-esque play house on the inside, complete with cosmic lift), the tea party staged an ode to Angel, to Mugler, to Oliver Cresp and to Georgia May Jagger. We were treated to a visual history of the fragrance and of Mugler’s fashion, viewing some of his most famous catwalk shows filled with supermodels, actresses and radiant muses draped in Mugler couture – an abundance of waspish waists and structured shoulders were to be seen. It was all very glam, dahling.
“I never imagined that I’d be the new Mugler girl”
– Georgia May Jagger
Georgia May Jagger is incredibly striking in real life and it’s easy to see why Mugler have picked her as the new face of Angel. She of course has a family connection to the scent and her mother, Jerry Hall was the original face of the fragrance and was Mugler’s muse, but GMJ brings something new to the Mugler brand – an edgy and distinct look that is as compelling as Angel, and as powerful as the brand.
Of her new role, Jagger said that it is “a huge honour to be included as the new Angel woman”, stating that the perfume was nostalgic for her and she could remember it being a “real thing of fantasy” in her mother’s dressing room. GMJ also spoke of the memory of her mother in the print advertisements for Angel, which were shot by Mugler – likening the image of her to that of a mermaid under the moonlight, and hinting at the memorable impression her mother’s role in the Angel story had left on her as a child.
“The smell brought back the glamour – the clothes in her closet”
– Georgia May Jagger
We were also given a sneaky look at the brand new creative starring Georgia May Jagger, and whilst you’ll have to wait to see what it looks like in time, I will say that it is a breathtaking bit of film that manages to appear seductive, dangerous and fiercely-glamorous all at once. It is definitely the best Angel film we’ve seen over the last few years and it most certainly captures the essence of Thierry Mugler, the spirit of Angel and the beauty of Georgia May Jagger.
The most interesting part of the day was Olivier Cresp’s talk on how one of the world’s most famous scents came into being. At the time of Angel’s creation, Cresp was working at Quest International (now a part of Givaudan) and for himself had been tinkering with a Patchouli and Vanilla composition called ‘Patchou’ – a fragrance that Cresp was starting to become smitten with by the time it reached modification 50-55. It was at this time that Yves de Chiris (also at Quest) met with Vera Strubi, who was in charge of Mugler’s parfums at the time and who had reportedly asked for something that had to be “exceptional and beautiful” for Mugler’s debut fragrance.
As with most fragrances, perfumers were asked to submit briefs to pitch for the creation of what would become Angel. Cresp and Yves de Chiris showed Strubi ‘Patchou’ and she fell in love with it, therefore the wheels of history were set in motion and Olivier Cresp was officially chosen as the perfumer to create the very first fragrance for the House of Mugler. His approach was to take time and focus on one perfume. Cresp stated that, over time (from modification 100-125), Patchou became more flowery, resulting in a very elegant and feminine blend that wasn’t quite right. It was decided that it was impossible to make the composition floral and the direction was changed following discussions between Oliver Cresp and Thierry Mugler.
“I was left alone with Mugler. We had very rich conversations.”
– Olivier Cresp
During these rich discussions, Mugler spoke of many things, from stars and the colour blue, to his grandmother and his childhood in the Alsace region of France. He also spoke of fairytales, delicious treats and dipping things into chocolate. Smelling Angel today, it is easy to see how these conversations influenced the fragrance, and as Cresp explained to his intrigued audience, the composition was changed from something floral and elegant to something more gourmand and edible.
Cresp submitted accords with honey, praline and many other edible themes. At the time, this array of gourmand notes was entirely new – in fact, it was completely groundbreaking, and Cresp relied on his work, and experience in the world of flavours to bring about interesting olfactory nuances, that were eventually added to the composition to make for something incredibly unique.
After two years and over 600 modifications, the result was Angel, a fragrance that was made up of; patchouli (a high quality molecular distillation), vanilla (the patchouli and vanilla coming together to create honey, chocolate and fruity nuances), a praline accord, ethyl maltol (olfactory candy floss) and a fruit/dewberry accord. During his talk, we experienced these accords in isolation and it was fascinating to see such a familiar fragrance broken down into its core parts, and even more intriguing to piece them back together again to create what we all know as Angel. The most surprising part for me was the fruit/dewberry accord, which smells so fresh and juicy on its own, but becomes just a touch of sharpness when sniffed against the heavier notes, such as patchouli and vanilla.
“I created a trend”
– Olivier Cresp
Olivier Cresp described Angel as a “unique fragrance”, saying that its creation opened the doors for a new family of fragrances amongst the orientals and chypres. In 1992, the year of Angel’s launch, there was no such thing as a gourmand fragrance, whereas today there are thousands. He also describes it as a perfume of contrasts, mentioning that “contrast was one of the key words when creating the perfume”, and stating that the blue colour of the juice hints at something aqueous and ozonic, but delivers a gourmand trail that it is entirely unexpected.
These contrasts are what make for a divisive fragrance, and right from the word go people would either love or hate Angel. Market testing, which is par for the course in the launch of a fragrance today, was neglected when Angel launched, and when it was released, it was only available in a small number of boutiques in order to slowly build up sales momentum, but one anecdote Cresp shared showed the ‘love it or hate it’ impact that Angel had. Pre-release samples were handed out to unwitting consumers who, either ran for the hills to scrub the stuff off or fell madly, deeply and truly in love. The trajectory of Angel hasn’t changed to this date.
I was sat next to Olivier (I tried to refrain from fanboying too much but probably failed) and questioned him further on the contrasts of Angel, asking him whether he saw the gender contrasts in the scent that I did (I once called it a ‘cosmic drag queen’). He agreed that there was a contrast between the masculine and feminine in Angel and told me that it wasn’t shocking for men to wear the fragrance at the time it launched, but in the perfume industry today, the gender lines appear to be much more strongly defined.
I also asked him about the formula, and whether it had been changed over the years. He answered by saying that due to its short formula and relatively safe ingredients, the composition had not been altered. This is most unusual for a fragrance that has been on the market for over 20 years, but then Angel isn’t an ordinary fragrance, in fact to call her a ‘fragrance’ isn’t befitting – Angel always has, and always be an olfactory legend – a mythical being dreamed into reality by four brilliant creative minds.
They don’t make them like this any more, it’s true, but Angel is and will forevermore be a goliath of the perfume industry. You may love her or you may hate her, but you cannot deny that she is a fearless fragrance that defined a genre – a unique and intimidating olfactory experience that has been imitated a thousand times, but never duplicated. Bow down in respect to this fragrant queen, and beware because she has a killer new face and she’s badder than ever.
Image 1 via press release. Image 2 via Georgia May Jagger’s Instagram page. Image 3 my own. Image 4 via Judith Brockless at Basenotes.