Gourmands: Main Course or Dessert?

The "Dessert" of the Oriental Week this past Friday was an afternoon dedicated to Gourmand perfumes - a modern sub-category of the Oriental fragrance family. This relatively recent trend turned into an established genre beginning with Thierry Mugler's Angel. This cult perfume was created for avant-garde fashion designer Thierry Mugler by nose Olivier Cresp in 1992, and closely followed by the iconic licorice, cherry and violet based Lolita Lempicka (designed by perfumer Annick Menardo in1997).

Angel, now one of the top five best-selling perfumes in the world, was not an immediate success. It took Thierry Mugler's devotion and deep conviction in the fragrance, matched by investing plenty of creative marketing effort into before the world warmed up to Angel - first through a cult of loyal customers who were completely addicted to its unique combination of patchouli, blackberry, helional, citrus and ethyl maltol (a novel scent molecule reminiscent of cotton candy) - and later, a world-wide loyalty to Angel as a brand, with a star-shaped refillable bottles and unusual spray mechanism, hi-tech urns for refilling in most retail locations, and many sequels, limited edition bottles, advertisement with unique haute-couture gown made for each model (some of which were celebrities).

Lolita Lempicka also belongs to a fashion house (of the same name), and like Angel it was cleverly marketed, yet with more earthly, whimsical fairytale-like visuals and connotations. The unique bottle, asymetrical apple-shaped with a stem that doubles as the spray nozzle - has highly imaginative posters and video clips to boot. It took the Lolita fantasy to a different level - while the name of the brand (and perfume) alone evokes that not-so-innocent child-woman from Nabokov's famous novel (the Lempicka part is named after the Polish painter, Tamara de Lempicka). there is more magic added to the mix in what feels very personable (if that's your taste), resonating on a rather deep level of self-identity, appealing to the artistic, whimsical girl-at-heart personality. And what did it smell like? Reminiscent of candy, but with hints of green freshness from ivy leaves and anise notes, Lolita Lempicka focuses its foody obsession on licorice candy, giving it a more floral treatment than Angel with the addition of violets, and the sweetness comes primarily from heliotropin (which smells like a very sweet cherry pie), coumarin and vanilla - evoking the scent of Amarena cherries. There is a lot more powderiness to it than Angel, and the contrasting earthy quality comes from a vetiver root.

Niche perfumeries did not escape from this trend either, with dessert-like creations such as the artificially almondy, syrupy-sweet Rahat Loukum (Serge Lutens), and cherry-like Luctor et Emergo (The People of the Labyrinth). The sweetness in these perfumes went completely overboard, even more than the vanilla and ethyl-vanillin saturated Shalimar (which is one of the first Ambery Orientals, created in 1925). The use of all of these sweet notes, and their dosage, suggested a full-calorie dessert, making them feel deceivingly edible. And both are closely related to Hypnotic Poison (1998, also created by Annick Menardo, and smells like almond and vanilla with hints of caraway).

Gourmands' inherent comforting impact is what made this fragrance category dominate the women's fragrance market well into the new millennia, providing a rather extreme counterpoint to the scrubbed-down aquatic florals of the same era. But it was in the early new millennia that gourmands really reached traction. After 9-11, the gourmands provided to the traumatized masses exactly the kind of comfort they needed: something child-like, innocent, familiar, cozy, sweet, a little simplistic even. Like a mother handing her sobbing child a square of chocolate caramel, the perfume companies went overboard with this trend, and it bled onto the other genres - tainting anything from florals (countless celebrity scents come to mind) to chypres (Fruitchouli, anyone?) with a sugary sweet cotton candy note; or one novel fruit or another.

Savoury gourmands are less talked about, and provide an interesting and more sophisticated take on culinary inspiration. While the dessert-inspired gourmands we've discussed so far relied on novel molecules to emanate the strong association of sweetness, a different trend, which is now becoming more popular, is the new obsession with "salty". But before we digress into mineral notes - let's just mention some of the earlier "savoury" gourmands - those that were designed to smell like earlier courses in the meal.

Dinner by Bobo (2002) is the first example that springs to mind. This perfume played up the cumin presence to create a rather controversial effect at the time. While cumin is popular spice around the world, and has been used in best-selling perfumes in France (in Rochas Femme reformulation, for example). many people in North America associated cumin with "sweat" and find it unsavoury. Dinner by Bobo brings to mind a candle-lit dinner in a French-Moroccan restaurant, complete with red wine - but no dessert in sight. It plays like a complex tajin with dried apricots and prunes and warm spices - not that far in concept from the fruity Chypres of the mid-twentieth century.

Serge Lutens plays up the exotic spices in its souk-evoking perfume Arabie. The notes are a lot more realistic, but still remain in a very clear context of perfume, with the edible association perhaps more known to those familiar with the complex spices used in Arabic and North African cooking. in Santal de Mysore, a similar accord of Indian curry is used in contrast to East Indian sandalwood.

Later still, Jo Malone introduced a couple of fragrances that explored a more savoury aspect of food: the Mexican inspired Blue Agave & Cacao, bringing to the fore a dusty cacao note mingled with salt, lime and blue agave. Sweet Lime & Cedar was inspired by Thai cuisine, and at its core is kaffir lime leaf mingled with coconut water and cedarwood. Again - not a sweet interpretation (although coconut could have brought it easily all the way to the realm of celebrity scents, Malibu beach style). Last but not least: Anima Dulcis presents its cacao notes alongside cumin, cinnamon, vanilla, salted caramel and chili. It's not exactly sugar-free, but it balances all of the sweet and savoury elements so well, that it won my heart completely.

Here are some of the most famous if not influential Gourmand fragrances:
Angel (1992)
Lolita Lempicka (1997)
Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin (2000)
Wish (Chopard)
Rochas Man
Hanae Mori Butterfly
Pink Sugar (Aqualina)
Popi Moreni
Yohji Homme
Rahat Loukum (Serge Lutens)
Luctor et Emergo (The People of the Labyrinth)
Rahat Loukum (Serge Lutens)
Rosewater & Vanilla (Jo Malone)
Hypnotic Poison (Dior)
Réglisse Noire (1000Flowers)

Savoury Gourmands of Interest: 
Dinner by Bobo
Arabie (Serge Lutens)
Santal de Mysore (Serge Lutens)
Blue Agave & Cacao (Jo Malone)
Sweet Lime & Cedar (Jo Malone) 
Anima Dulcis (Arquiste)

Angel is turning 20!

Angel is turning 20!
Angel, the iconic yet divisive fragrance from Thiery Mugler is turning 20, and The Bay in downtown Vancouver is throwing a party! This week, you can marvel at 5 haute-couture gowns by the Parisian contemporary fashion designer whose fantasies inspired this peculiar scent that have turned from an obscure cult fragrance into one of the top 10 best sellers world-wide.

Spent my lunch today at The Bay learning about the fascinating world of Theirry Mugler and his obsession with stars, the colour blue, tall angular blondes and cotton candy. There was sushi, popcorn, marshmallows, mimosas, a giant blue cupcake - and blue macarons!

But, the best part for me was smelling the three "facets"* of Angel:
1st being the "celestial facet" - which smelled like pristine, clear, cut citrine stone. To be more specific - it smelled of crisp green apple, calone, helional and a lot of bergamot.
2nd is the "delicious facet" with notes of blueberries, blackberries, coumarin, cotton candy and a slightly mikly fig (which kicks in only hours later on the scent strip).
3rd and last is the "sensual facet" -  voluptuous notes of patchouli paired with musk galore.

In the picture above you can see one of the Limited Edition Angel Parfum flacons - from 2002 (same campaign as the ad featured in my SmellyBlog review). They brought a limited number of them to Canada to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Angel today and I tried some on my wrists - the Parfum is so much nicer and softer than the EDP and dabbing is a much welcome practice for such a powerhouse fragrance. And I could detect the merest hint of vetiver in the mix...

It was a rather enjoyable lunch affair (except that I would need more food to handle a mimosa that early in the day!) and the presentation quite delayed, and much prolonged with multiple sampling of ALL the various body products scented with Angel. According to the sale reps there - all the lotions, harisprays, shimmering powders, shower gels and exfolianting creams are scented with no less than 30-40% (!!!) of perfume. They must be mistaken. This can't possibly be a legal and safe level for use in a body product... But regardless it explains why Angel is always so overwhelming - for those who embalm their entire life with them, it's more than required for scent alone. It becomes more of an environmental-fragrancing that could take care of an entire mall. And I am not exaggerating. You could smell it across a building when someone wears it with the "layering"** method.

I had to dash off to my next meeting before the presentation was completely wrapped up, and will have to come back to snatch photos of the rest of the bottles and dresses. My only regret is, that all along - the nose of Angel - Olivier Cresp - was not mentioned AT ALL. What a shame to pretend as if Thierry Mugler is the nose/perfumer. This is not incidental. The booklet that came along with the presentation sites the same. Supposedly Thierry Mugler is a dancer, choreographer, photographer, fashion designer AND perfumer. I would have not doubted his many talents otherwise; but adding the perfumer title makes everything else look less reliable, somehow...

With that being said, it did not take away from my appreciation of the artistry behind the gowns themselves - each crystal is hand-sewn and arranged in a specific pattern. Each gown is completely impractical and if I had to choose between strutting down the street naked or wrapped in one of these, I would most likely pick the first. They are so impractical to wear that it would have been simply dangerous unless you have invisi-cables lifting your weight away from the ground and ensuring you're not being weighed down by all those rocks! Some of Thierry Mugler's SS13 ready to wear collection (which is actually wearable) has already arrived at The Bay. 

Even the bottle of Angel is a thing of marvel. A new technology had to be invented to carry out Mugler's vision: a device for rotating the mold while it's being filled with the liquid glass to ensure even distribution of the glass to the very uneven and angular shape of the bottle. This was a breakthrough in glass-making technology thanks to Mugler's very particular vision and his evident obsession with the shape of stars and the colour blue...

Thierry Mugler's Angel gowns

*FYI: By "facets" what they really are saying (without knowing it) is that Angel is linear, and this is one of the main accords or themes that are woven into its linear being. And of course it works nicely with the faceted, angular bottle shapes...

** Layering application of scents refers to using the same scent in various stages of one's body care: showering with it, applying it as a moisturizer, and than also adding the scent. 


I’ve been postponing for years reviewing Angel – because it is not only such a huge commercial hit and an icon with a huge cult following; but also because of its divisive nature. People either love it with a passion, or hate it with just an equal amount of gusto.

Reading through previous notes I made in attempts to describe it might shed some light on my own ambivalence towards it. But first – some background information about how I met Angel. It was introduced to me by a perfume-loving friend. She had blue streaks in her jet-black hair, and the sweet-tooth equivalent in perfume taste. It was at the time when I began going crazy for perfume myself, and I was mostly dousing myself with heavy Orientals: there was not a day without either Shalimar or Samsara, and I craved those perfumed sweets with an ongoing hunger. Angel should have fit right there with all that yumminess; except that it was – well; too much. And although I enjoyed the unsolicited compliments about how good I smelled (from people about 5 meters away from my vicinity) - Angel was one of those rare perfumes I had to return to the store because it did cause me headache at the time, not to mention would never leave my coat’s sleeves, forever clashing with the next day’s scent.

So here are some previoius thoughts on the subject of Angel:

“If you want to be possessed by an angel put some of Thierry Mugler's first fragrance on. It will occupy all the olfactory space around you and leave a visibly blue trail of synthetic chocolate scent behind you. Deliciously sweet chocolate, caramel and honey are strangely balanced by less appetizing notes of patchouli and watery, slightly musty helonial. Most recommended for those on extreme carb-free diet”.


“Angel is the proof that too much of a good thing can indeed be quite bad. Chocolate, honey and caramel – who would have thought that these could be worn as a deadly weapon?”


“This cutting edge, trend setting Gourmand should be praised for its originality, but not for subtlety or finesse. It’s easy to cross the line – it takes only a few misty droplets from the with a fraction of a spritz - between mouthwatering, naïve sweet tooth seduction to a repulsive blue chemical acid – reeking of patchouli in doses that can cause an eating disorder*.

*Patchouli is known for its effect on the appetite and is used in aromatherapy to control and regulate it. Over exposure to patchouli can cause nausea and pathological lack of appetite.

To try Angel anew after many years of feeling about it as the above feelings of “it’s too much” requires much open-mindedness, which apparently I’m not short of. And so the opportunity arose just a few days ago.

It was a warm evening at the beach, and a friend brought me a little sample to try (a token from a faux-admirer of hers, which is another story altogether…). I felt compelled to give it another try, and with the comfort of knowing I can always tone it down in saltwater I gave my right writs a spritz, and rubbed this on to my left one. To use any other word but “sweet” is impossible to describe the opening: a mixture of cotton candy, honey nougat and caramel is what I would have experienced for a while; with only slight floral hints of anisaldehyde, and spacious helional that imparts an ozone-like character. There is something oddly clean underneath it all though, which balances the sweetness in a quite surprising way, as well as a barely-there acid blackberry accord and a hit of bergamot. Crystalline amber accord, with a certain clean woody aspect to it. And there’s also the marzipan, buttery-powdery sweetness of coumarin to anchor that floralcy and spiciness from the anisaldehyde.

And then comes patchouli; which is the redeeming point of this otherwise overtly sugary-sweet concoction. Patchouli that you would smell on your skin for hours and hours – soft, musky, seductive. Real patchouli, thank goodness. So, ladies – and gentlemen – if you wish to try this scent, I recommend you use the lightest of hand (one dab will suffice to perfume your entire aura so do not go overboard!).

It is not till now that I can see references and suggestions towards non other than the grand Shalimar – as if this was a modern homage to this overt luxury: ethyl maltol takes vanillin’s place on the synthetics front; and patchouli creates a contrast and a balance similar to what the leather and castoreum note did in Shalimar, and tonka bean is replaced completely by synthetic coumarin. And it also does not feel nearly as linear as before (though it is still rather linear), with some notes (honey, anisaldehyde for instance) appearing in the beginning and quickly dissipating (mostly into pathcouli, coumarin and ethyl maltol). And in both, bergamot plays a big role balancing the sweetness of the base and core. Interestingly, although it is often touted as a “patchouli and chocolate perfume”, it is well-known industry “secret” that it’s mostly about ethyl maltol (aka Veltol) and patchouli, and although the chocolate impression was requested by Thierry Mugler in the brief, there is no actual cacao or chocolate accord in the formulae…

Love Angel or hate it – one thing is for certain: Since its conception in 1992 (by perfumers Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chiris), Angel has changed the modern world of perfume, and in particular the Gourmand genre more than any other perfume. There is no distinct floral note in Angel (unless you have a very well-trained nose to notice some of the floral nuances), and it relies heavily on food-like elements. After Angel came many sensational gourmand perfumes such as Lolita Lempicka and Yohji, as well as the masculine versions of all three. And less sensational fragrances that took the gourmand and patchouli into various direction – from the more adventurous – albeit sickening - aquatic & fruit patchouli mess (as in Coco Mademoiselle and many of her other copycats) to fruity and candy-like gourmands that are endorsed by every other celebrity on the planet.

You can also read more insights into Angel’s significance in Bois de Jasmin’s excellent article on the subject.
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