Alien orchid

When Alien initially came out  in 2005, I was disappointed. It seemed so tame in comparison to its predecessor Angel, and even when placed against the more subdued flankers of that one (Angel Innocent), it stroke me as a cacophony of nondescript synthetic florals.

Ten years have gone by, maybe my sample has improved with time, or maybe I'm just more able to appreciate some of the thinking behind this strange perfume. Now it smells like an upscale version of the sweet florals that celebrities are overeager to endorse, but also - it smells like it has a bit of the Angel DNA in it, and not in the form of cotton candy, patchouli or berries - but rather with the spacious, watery-ozonic Helional that matches to a T the hideous, dangerous-looking bottle that looks like it comes from Lady Gaga's stash of torture gadgets.

alien by thierry mugler 2

The opening has a peculiar camphor off-note, that makes it smell almost genderless or even a tad masculine. It's not quite green but there is also a hint of menthol as well. These two consecutively confusing impressions disappear within a few seconds, and there is a hit of jasmine sambac's gardenia-like quality, a hint of its grassy, oily greeness, the type you'd get in a disastrous Jasmine auriculatum absolute - but thankfully, that also is very short lived. Next up is a vaguely fruity, lactonic, sweet-floral phase. There isn't a particular fruit involved, but just an overall juicy luscious aroma of methyl anthranilate and perhaps undecalactone and peach lactone, and then it bounces off to camphor/menthol territory again. With all of this movement upfront, at least I it's not boring for the first few minutes.

While I can't say I'm enamoured with Alien, I can see something in it beyond the generic and notice hints of odd, off-beat nuances. It's not as striking as you'd expect by the washed-out face of the Tilda Swinton-esque model, who seems startled by the headlight of a passing spaceship. If you look past the yawn-inducing aspects of it that bring to mind Chanel's Allure, you'll notice a tiny bit of Lolita Lempicka in there, something yummy yet not quite chocolate-y, not quite licorices-like, but a subdued spicy-vanilla of sorts that makes it quite enjoyable overall, actually. Another surprise for me was, though, that a few hours in, it morphs into a fragrance very similar to Tocade - a powdery, vanillin ambreine floral, though unlike Tocade, there is nothing rosy about it, even though the jasmine is mostly gone by then. Just a similar balance between powdery, clean yet sweet amber and musk.

Top notes: Camphor, Menthol, Bergamot 
Heart notes: Jasmine sambac, Jasmine auriculatum, Methyl anthranilate, Helional
Base notes: Vanillin, Musk, Amber, Anisaldehyde 

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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