Pablo Picasso and the Classics – Mugler Les Exceptions Perfume Review

Let's Catch the Oriental Express to Mugler Town
Let’s Catch the Oriental Express to Mugler Town

In the 1920s, the legendary Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was driven to move away from cubism and paint in the style of the classics, just to prove that he could. Having always been at the forefront of modern perfumery, the equally iconic house of Mugler have decided to make a similar move with their latest collection of fragrances: Les Exceptions. Mugler create bold, extra-terrestrial fragrances that are far removed from the tropes of modern perfumery. They do not follow genres or olfactory families, they create them, having famously crafted the oriental gourmand genre with Angel, the solar woody genre with Alien and the, err, well, whatever genre you could classify that weirdo, Womanity as – bioluminescent fruit, perhaps? In fragrance Mugler are the leaders, not the followers.

Les Exceptions de Mugler
Les Exceptions de Mugler

Sandrine Groslier, President of Clarins Fragrance Group and Mugler Fashion bills Les Exceptions as a new vision for Mugler, the collection is “a new way of being bold”, she says. But how can you be more bold than Angel or Womanity for that matter? Well, Mugler’s answer to that question is to revisit the classics, just like Picasso, but to reinvent them rather than reiterate them. The result is a collection of six fragrances, each of which revisits the classic olfactory families (floral, chypre, leather, fougère and oriental) but with a ‘Mugler’ twist. Created by perfumers Olivier Cresp (he of Angel fame) and Jean-Christophe Hérault, Les Exceptions each add an olfactory collision point – a note that subverts the genre – to bring an entirely new presentation of a classic theme. Let’s take a sniff!

Chyprissime – Traditional Accord: Chypre, Collision Note: Juicy Pear

Are you bored of modern pseudo-chypres? Do you long for more than just a bit of cleaned up patchouli misrepresented as a cyprus? Are you longing for something with a bit more bite? Well, Mugler’s Chyprissime may just be the thing for you. This is a fizzy, patchouli-heavy chypre (using a molecular distillation of the material) that has its sharpness accented by a fresh pear note. Everything else one expects from a true chypre, the likes of oakmoss, labdanum, bergamot, rose and lavender, are all present and correct, creating a multi-faceted herbal chypre with a modern and effervescent feel that is vibrant and exciting, just like the Mugler woman.

Cuir Impertinent - Traditional Accord: Leather, Collision Note: Star Anise
Cuir Impertinent – Traditional Accord: Leather, Collision Note: Star Anise

Wait, this isn’t a leather?! This is cut grass! Well, those were my first thoughts when sniffing Cuir Impertinent, anyway. The novelty here, or should I say ‘serious perfumery’ is the injection of freshness and grassy greenness into a leather accord – an accord that is so usually salty, smoky and dry. This is Jean-Christophe Hérault’s solo contribution to the collection and I would position it as the most unusual. The collision note is star anise, which adds a subtle spicing to the relatively sweet and earthy leather accord, extending the freshness of that cut grass effect in the opening. For someone who struggles with leather, Cuir Impertinent is a literal breath of fresh air, proving that Mugler always has the innate ability to subvert the mainstream and make it all the more fascinating.

Fougére Furieuse
Fougère Furieuse – Traditional Accord: Fougère, Collision Note: Neroli

Everyone loves a good fougère, right? I know I certainly do and it’s a shame that these days, a good one is hard to find. Cleverly, Mugler’s Fougère Furieuse takes strong cues from one of modern perfumer’s greatest examples of the genre: YSL’s Rive Gauche Pour Homme. The idea here is to create a unisex fougère by pairing the traditional notes of the family (geranium, coumarin, oak moss, bergamot, lavender and patchouli etc.) with the traditionally feminine note of neroli. The result is a bold, boisterous fougère presented with a wink and a sparkle. It’s completely handsome but at the same time relatively genderless, thanks to the fact that it isn’t that heavy, as many fragrances in this style are. Fougère Furieuse is more fuzzy than furious.

Supra Floral – Traditional Accord: Floral, Collision Note: Incense

If you’ve read this blog before, you will know that it was always very likely that I was going to like a fragrance from Mugler called ‘Supra Floral‘ because, let’s face it, my adoration of the house of Mugler and anything remotely floral certainly precedes me. Supra Floral does not disappoint. Its central floral accord is a big old waxy hyacinth that is sharp and intense. It is supported by a gigantic green stripe of galbanum that makes it all even sharper as well as incense, which a nice glossy sheen. To me, it harks back to retro aldehydic florals like Rive Gauche, but it’s much smoother and less abrasive. Supra Floral is the glamazon of the group – it’s big and diffusive, but at the same time it has a paired back simplicity to it. It’s like a smart, Mugler power suit in pure white – clean but angular and supremely floral.

Oriental Express
Oriental Express – Traditional Accord: Oriental, Collision Note: Carrot Core

It’s hard to sniff Oriental Express and not be transported straight to olfactory heaven. As one would expect from the name, this is Mugler’s take on a classic oriental and where else should they take inspiration from the queen of the genre – Shalimar? Essentially, Oriental Express is a less animalic take on the classic Guerlain, relying predominately on a labdanum-heavy amber accord that is given the exotic touch by swathes of creamy, delicious vanilla. The ‘olfactory shock’ comes from the contrast of this oriental block against the unusual note of carrot seed. This creates a warm and powdery iris facet with an earthy, rooty vibe. The result? A delicious, fur-like oriental that evokes the well worn fabrics on a transcontinental railway train. Each passenger on board brings their own story and sets off on their own adventure. If you smell but one fragrance in the Les Exceptions collection, make it this one.

Over the Musk
Over the Musk – Traditional Accord: Musk, Collision Note: Ambrette Seeds

I fell hard for the Over the Musk and I wasn’t expecting to. Oriental Express is the star, Cuir Impertinent is the fascination and Chyprissime is so darn wearable I don’t know how I’ve not ended up with a bottle already. Over the Musk therefore, possibly takes the place as the least innovative and intriguing scent in the collection but strangely, it’s also one of the loveliest. This fragrance is so un-Mugler it’s almost blasphemy, but it’s also very beautiful. Over the Musk is a gorgeously velvet-like musk (featuring ambretolide and ambrette seed) with much skin-like sweetness and only a hint of animalic funk. There’s a waxy white floral vibe that adds to the texture, along with the soft, smooth sweetness of vanilla too. All in all, it comes across as a high-end and luxurious floral musk with a super-modern and fashionable feel . Like its name would suggest, Over the Musk elevates the genre to a higher level, specifically all the way up to couture.

Les Exceptions - Exceptional Fragrance
Les Exceptions – Exceptional Fragrance

The Verdict

Les Exceptions is perhaps the most solid exclusive collection offered by a designer brand. It’s up there with Chanel’s Les Exclusifs and Dior’s Collection Privée however, the difference with the Mugler, for now at least anyway, is the fact that it feels more curated due to its capsule size. I’m sure in time Les Exceptions will grow (a new fragrance ‘Woodissime‘ has just been launched – yes, I want to get my hands on it) but as with all things Mugler, it will remain incredibly well thought out.

With Les Exceptions, Mugler has proved that they can ‘do’ the classics and its interesting that they chose their niche line to experiment with the traditional, whilst their mainstream pillars offer up weirdness and uniqueness in bucket loads. But then again, this is Mugler and they have never done anything by the book, which is why we love them.

Each of the fragrances within the collection offers a contemporary twist on a classic theme and they are all exceptionally well put together. I’m honest when I say that I’d happily purchase bottles of over half of the collection (Oriental Express, Chyprissime, Over the Musk and Cuir Impertinent are on the list) and I wouldn’t say no to the other two either, which is a surprisingly high hit rate! With Les Exceptions, Mugler has further proved that they are one of the key, innovative players in the market and when it comes to making exceptional fragrance, there really is no need to look elsewhere.


Mugler’s Les Exceptions are available exclusively to Harrods and in 80ml Eau de Parfum for £135.

Samples provided by Mugler. Image one & nine my own. Image two-eight via Mugler. Notes and quotes via press release.