Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Abusive caramel: Musings on Thierry Mugler Angel, and Angel Muse

It's taken me a while to psych myself up to writing this review, to whose imminence I alluded a few posts ago. This is because I was putting off the day when I would try Angel Muse again on skin, a preliminary step to even my own meandering and tenuously on-topic style of fragrance writing. I felt I needed to feel fairly robust before exposing myself to what I can best describe as 'abusive caramel'. This notion of 'toffee as terrorist', 'fudge as felon' etc is not as fanciful as you might imagine, for one of the only two occasions on which I remember my mother crying was when she was making caramel tarts. A tin of boiling condensed milk exploded on opening, splattering the entire kitchen with scalding streaks of toffee, and resulting in her being carted off to hospital with second degree burns to her face, neck and arms. I am a reluctant cook at the best of times, and have studiously avoided trying to replicate that particularly perilous recipe.

Fast forward to 1992, the year the original Angel came out. In a post from 2011 about my pre-perfumista perfume-wearing past, I included my purchase of Angel in the 'SA-driven impulse buys at airports' category, in this case Berlin Tegel in December of that year. I can remember the main thrust of the assistant's sales spiel, in which she set about reeling me in with talk of a novel chocolate note. Team that with a curious blue juice and sparkly festive star-shaped bottle, and in the homeward bound pre-Christmas hustle I must have been an easy sale.

Would you look at that list of notes? There is pretty much every flower, fruit and confectionery ingredient known to man in there, with the possible exception of Rice Crispies and nuts.

Top notes: melon, coconut, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, bergamot and cotton candy

Middle notes: honey, apricot, blackberry, plum, orchid, peach, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, red berries and rose

Base notes: tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, dark chocolate and caramel.

Now I don't intend to link every review I write of a perfume to memories of a past boyfriend(!), as I recently did in my account of Ruth Mastenbroek's Oxford and the medieval lutinist who forgot he actually was my boyfriend.  But I feel moved to mention that Angel is inextricably bound up in my mind with a tempestuous rollercoaster of a relationship in the early 90s. (Please excuse the 'r' word, but it really is most apt.) I felt intensely alive the entire time, but not always in a good way, and when a potted spider plant went flying across the room one morning, narrowly missing my head, I finally upped sticks and left. At one point I even developed an eating disorder, and recall episodes of binging on Thornton's toffees...and well, you can imagine the rest. But how odd that toffee should yet again show up in the context of 'abuse', however administered.

And years later, here I am trying the latest Angel flanker, and trying very hard to keep an open mind. I am grateful to Liz Moores of Papillon for the sample, which I was most eager to try, having heard that several of my fellow bloggers took an instant liking to it.

These are the notes I could find, which are decidedly sparse compared to original Angel!:

Grapefruit, pink peppercorn, hazelnut cream, vetiver, patchouli

Well, well, I wrote that comment about Angel only missing nuts before I found this list!

And despite having the most sensitive grapefruit radar of anyone I know, the opening salvo of Angel Muse is promptly drenched in a sickly nap of candy floss-cum-gooey Ferrero Rocher innards. It is syrupy, but in a hard, cruel way, like the confectionery equivalent of the lava tide that engulfed Pompeii. The vetiver, such as it is, is keeping its head down, but is horribly aware of its impending fate. There is no overtly chocolate note this time, though the patchouli vaguely hints at it. In this case, its purpose is to ground the goo and give it its malevolent heft.

As Angel Muse wears on, the brooding, discordant hostility lifts, and I am left with a wispy gourmand trail not unlike Dries Van Noten, but less nutty. It manages to be distinctive yet inoffensive, but I cannot bond with Angel Muse in its more benign phase, for the damage is done. So yes, Angel Muse 'speaks' to me, and it has indeed inspired this post, but the 'Angel' bit is if anything even more of a misnomer than it was in the case of the original.

Now with wings!

As a lover of most gourmand scents, I was frankly surprised at the capacity of Angel Muse to serve up such painful memories in this punch-packing poisoned patisserie of a perfume. As I was mulling over how much of these bad vibes to share with readers, I decided to take a quick scan of other reviews to see whether I was out on a limb with my more downbeat take on Angel Muse, and was heartened to read this assessment by Jtd of Scenthurdle, who also detected a jarring quality:

"Muse streamlines the flavors but not the dissonance. Forget Innocent, Angel EDT and the extrait. Muse is the true successor to Angel."

"Muse is different, creepier. It gives me the shapeless fear of sitting through a dogmatic, atonal modernist piano piece."

Yes to 'dogmatic'! The opening of Muse is arresting, in your face, provocative and intentionally annoying. I don't want to be badgered and bothered by my perfume, thank you very much, even if it does settle down later to something the right side of captivating.

Angel or Angel Muse? Better the devil you know? I think so, for the Angel I just met may be wanner than its gutsy gourmand antecedent, but is on balance worse.

And don't even get me started on that horrid shade of blue, an ill-assorted affront to the copper trim. So here instead is the Blue Copper butterfly, a much lovelier creation in the kingdom of winged things.

Source: bentler.us


  1. Ach, Vanessa.
    Like you I am a gourmant scent lover. And like you I felt slapped in the face by Muse, which I have just tried a few days ago. A real shame, as I had hoped to like it for its endearing price point. On the same day I tried Muse, I also discovered Les Indes Galantes from Perfumes MDCI. Now that is a splendid gourmand for the greedy and sugar toothed, and sadly about 4 times as expensive. :)

    1. Hi Sabine,

      Oh interesting that you have also recently caught up with Muse. I am not familiar with Les Indes Galantes, but as you say, MDCI is not exactly in our price range, sadly.

  2. You have saved me some trouble as I won't feel a compulsion to test the new Mugler flanker.

    My real trouble with Angel is all the ethyl maltol. Once you recognize it you smell it and well, what was your wonderful phrase here, "syrupy but in a hard, cruel way..." Yes, exactly. That is how too many of the Angel flankers were on my skin:-(

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      I didn't meant to put anyone off, as people's reactions to this one have been very varied.

      I have the same issue with the ethyl maltol, I reckon, and it is a brutal ingredient to my nose / mind. I feel the same way about the one that is meant to evoke violets in Creed's Love in Black, that ends up (at least initially) smelling like burning tyres.

  3. Hey Vanessa,
    I love how you wear personal history and scent.
    Muse had a slightly off milky note running through it the one time I sniffed it on my mate Michael. I haven't bothered to put it on my own skin.
    Portia xx

    1. Hi Portia,

      Glad you don't mind my (over-)sharing in that way, but it seems to be what inspires my reviews. An off milky note doesn't sound too appealing, so I understand your hesitation to try Angel Muse yourself. ;) x

  4. Wow, what a fascinating, if a little disturbing, review of this one, V. I thought you might be fine with it as you liked La Vie Est Belle.
    I know it's not for me but I want to experience cruel, creepy caramel now.
    Loved "this punch-packing poisoned patisserie of a perfume". Brilliant writing as always.

    1. Hi Tara,

      LOL at 'cruel, creepy caramel'. JTD and I are evidently as one on this scent. I didn't find it anywhere near as benign as La Vie est Belle, though the drydowns did have a bit in common now you mention it.

      Sorry about that alliteration, hehe - it was rather extreme even by my standards!

    2. I also noticed (and copied into the clipboard to cite) the same phrase. Just brilliant!

  5. Oh thank goodness I hate the stuff !!

  6. Your review had a strange effect on me: I felt an urge to wear Angel (the original one). I'll do it probably before the shower tomorrow :).
    I saw Angel Muse in the store and even smelled it on paper but somehow I didn't feel adventurous enough to try it on skin there - and they didn't have a sample for me to take home. I'll try it at some point but between the original Angel and Angel Taste of Fragrance, I think, I'm all "Angelled out" ;)
    Since boiling condensed milk in a can was very popular when I was growing up, I heard stories about exploding cans, and we always took various precautions - but I've never seen it actually happening. Nowadays you can buy pre-boiled cans (I haven't tried) to avoid health hazards.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Yes, if you tot them up, there are enough Angel variants to fill a choir. ;)

      Interesting that boiled condensed milk was also popular when you were growing up. I think I would rather like to try the pre-boiled cans actually, as I do love the stuff still.

      You are welcome to this sample if you get the urge to try it on skin sometime!

  7. Thanks for your review, Vanessa.
    There is no way that I would try any Angel scent; the original was way too much for me.
    It is wonderful and horrible how scent can immediately take us back to a place in time.
    It's transportive and unlike anything else.
    I hope that you are having a relaxing holiday season.

    1. Hi sunnlitt,

      I think you might be best off giving this a miss then, if you are not a fan of the original Angel, though the drydown really is fine. And yes, this was a particularly acute example of the transportative effects of perfume - not in a good way for once!

      Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you, if you are celebrating.

  8. Re: "The vetiver, such as it is, is keeping its head down, but is horribly aware of its impending fate."

    I love this sentence so very, very much.

    1. Hi Martha,

      Thanks, that means a lot to me, coming from such a writerly person as yourself.