Saturday, November 8, 2014

Perfume of Contempt: Thierry Mugler Angel

Here is my review of Angel from 2010. There isn't much more to say about it. Like Aromatics, Angel's impact has been dulled by reformulation. I refilled my bottle a year ago and what I was given was about 6/10 the strength of what I had purchased the first time. The patchouli is greatly reduced, probably because market researchers look at reviews online and notice that idiots consistently complain about patchouli--Britney Spears Believe, formerly a budget favorite of mine, seems to have met a similar fate and had the patchouli completely removed.  Interestingly, however, Angel smells more unclean than ever, like the reorchestration has been done to emphasize its sticky, popsicle at the bottom of a trashcan, garlicky armpit qualities.  I'd recommend the body cream over the current EDP because its patchouli is green and vibrant and out of this world. 

It's summer, and you know what that means? I'll be wearing gigantic orientals, their sillage amplified by a quarter inch of sweat. It's considered gauche to wear loud fragrances in summer, but I completely disagree; all the big orientals--Youth-Dew, Opium, Angel--seem positively designed for this kind of sweltering provocation. A good layer of sweat really brings out their come hither, you big man qualities. Speaking of Angel, I think it might have surpassed Youth-Dew as my all-time favorite perfume. I got my star refilled at Nordstrom last week for the nice price of $45 and I've been wearing it continuously for the past week. It's just such an endlessly fascinating and disturbing fragrance, and it's impossible to categorize or understand.

It was released in '92, well into the onset of what Chandler Burr calls the "anorexic oceanics of the 1990s," yet it is a throbbing, room-filling fuck-off power-woman scent in the 80s Opium-Poison-Giorgio style. It straddles the line between male and female despite being intended for and worn mainly by women; an ultra-femme pink cotton candy note is strangled to death before your eyes by a virile, throaty patchouli. It is one of the most successful perfumes in history and is available at Wal-Mart but it does not in any way comply with the American imperative to smell "clean"--in fact, it smells positively raunchy, as though body odor and sweet musky shit-stained panties were layered with rotting fruit and topped off with a post-apocalyptic stripper pole. Its advertising is counter-intuitive and designed to distract potential customers from what it actually smells like; the packaging is light blue when the juice smells a sinister glittery brown. Sales associates will inform dimwitted women that it smells of chocolates and sweets when it actually smells of death and the infinite beyond. Ad copy refers to the "tender notes of Angel" and "memories of Thierry Mugler's childhood"; Angel wearers clearly lost their innocence long ago and now confront everyone they meet with the olfactory tenderness of snorting jagged shards of blue sugar glass.

Angel is worn equally by conservative women (allegedly it is the signature scent of both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton) and women of the night (numerous sources have told me of its popularity among erotic dancers). And it was a huge hit! More disturbing is the nicotine-like addiction that Angel induces in the wearer, necessitating the purchase of hundreds of bizarrely named ancillary products ("Celestial Showers Gel"? "Perfuming Hair Mist"?) in an effort to preserve the scent on skin for the rest of your lifetime. The addictive part of Angel, the really good part, is that first blast of body odor and rotten fruit that fades within a few minutes, so the wearer is forced to continually reapply to get that kick. The more you wear it, the more you become anosmic to it, so you keep putting on layer upon layer upon layer, achieving a Baby Jane-like flaking pancake makeup effect and making you smell truly filthy, truly like you have been living on the streets and selling your unclean body for weeks. As Anais Reboux says to Roxane Mesquida at the beginning of Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl, "You reek of loose morals."

They have soda fountain-style refill stations at all major department stores, for Christ's sake. I indulge in dreams of taking foot-tall Slurpee cups to Nordstrom and demanding that an effete, tittering male sales associate fill them to the brim, at gunpoint. How on earth did you get away with it, Mugler? Around the time of its release, sales associates were instructed to forcefully spray it on the arms of confused women, look directly in their trembling eyes, and tell them, mantra-like, "This is a fragrance for a unique woman.No one else will smell like this. A unique, uncompromising woman would wear this.It is unlike anything else." I'm not kidding, this is how it became a success. They still talk like that at the department stores, too, when they find out you're an Angel fan, in the thick, lascivious tone of a depraved Madame speaking to a whorehouse patron with particularly exotic, violent, and possibly illegal sexual tastes. They'll spray you with the latest seasonal version ("Angel Soleil au Fraiche Summer Fraicheur Energizing Oil Cream" or some such nonsense, available for a limited time only) and hold your arm with their lacquered dragon talons, hissing that there are lots of people out there who like Angel and you needn't feel guilty or immoral for it. And it was a huge hit!

One of my best friends who happens to be a mortician told me an amazing and frightening story. While preparing a corpse for its funeral, she was handed a bottle of Angel and instructed to spray it all in and around the coffin because it was the deceased's favorite scent. Angel, which already smells of death, follows its wearers to the grave.


  1. This is a great read. I don't really agree with you on your description of the smell, but I love your style. I do also think that Angel has been quietly reformulated. I didn't have it for about 5 years and now when I bought it I was shocked: no sweetness, no patchouli... I still get that famous top-notes blast, but after a while I'm left with nothing special and the staying power is greatly reduced, and if I'm in the public transport no one is wondering "what's smelling like ice-cream" anymore, which is really sad. Thank you for the read.

    1. It may have been reformulated, but you may also have tried the edt instead of the edp. The latter is far superior imo.

  2. I've always thought that the episode of Big Valley where Barbara Stanwyck shoots Colleen Dewhurst in the stomach to protect Linda Evans would make a great commercial for Angel.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Been wearing Angel since 1994 and I fucking love your description of it. My sister bought me an EDP for Xmas and I finally got around to opening it the other first I thought it was a fake, it was so anemic. By all indications it's a real bottle but it is NOT the same Angel I've been wearing all these years. Old Angel - BOOM followed by an endless stream of crazy random olfactory nonsense all day. Follows me everywhere. Stays on *everything*. New Angel - hmm maybe it is the same...then two hours later it's basically gone. Goddammit. What the fuck am I supposed to do when I run out of the old stuff?

    And since I'm here, when my friend and I first tried Angel as teenagers, the perfume transformed on my skin but smelled like pool chemicals on her. She gave up after the third try. It just did NOT work with her body chemistry.