from Chanel n°5 to Thierry Mugler’s Angel

Perfume lovers who learned this week of the passing of hyper-creative French fashion designer Thierry Mugler might well remember wearing not his clothes but his perfume. Mugler’s Angel was something else. Unexpected and fun – like its clothes – the perfume was an olfactory shock when it was launched in 1992. And 30 years later, it is still a global bestseller.

While Mugler’s clothes were prohibitively expensive, just about anyone could afford to buy Angel, and there was a time, in the mid-1990s, when it was olfactorily clear that almost everyone was doing. But it was initially a slow burner, introduced when the overpowering scents of 1980s perfumes had given way to clean, fresh, and simple fragrances.

The creators of Angel, perfumers Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chiris, were inspired by Mugler’s childhood memories of carnival nights. Notes of praline, bergamot and vanilla danced on a massive bed of 30% woody patchouli. Those who lived in New York in the 1990s, like me, might remember dodging the manically bustling Angel sprays in the fragrance aisles of Bloomingdale’s. Many people recoiled on the first inhalation.

But there was – there is – something truly enchanting about this scent. Angel was intriguing: complex, lively, sweet but somehow not cloying, girly but in due course a favorite with many boys too. Circa 1995, you could barely visit a restaurant or cafe in New York City and not notice someone following the weirdly addictive angel.

Document by Thierry Mugler, Angel Eau Sucrce Limited Edition 2015. Courtesy: Thierry Mugler.  NOTE: Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane - June 2015 - Eid fragrance *** Local Caption *** Thierry Mugler_Angel Eau Sucrce Limited Edition 2015 (2).jpg

And the bottle, still one of the most distinctive on the market, must have helped sales: a blue, star-shaped glass. In his twenties, Mugler, then a ballet dancer turned fledgling designer, was apparently told by a fortune teller that the distinctive star on his palm not only signified success, but was a shape he should incorporate into all his hard work to ensure continued good luck. .

Angel heralded a new era of creativity. Despite the pandemic pauses, there are more independent perfumers and “noses” at work today than ever. When asked, many cite Angel as a key olfactory memory. For the best or for the worst.

The future of perfumery therefore looks bright. Paco Rabanne has just teamed up with Maximum Games to produce “the world’s first connected perfume” with an in-game character representing its new launch, Phantom. Japan and Korea are innovating with perfumes in the form of powders, gels and roll-ons. Millennials and Gen Z would be looking for gender-neutral fragrances, personalization, recyclable packaging, refillable bottles, removable pumps for easy recycling, vegan ingredients, transparent sourcing, and artisanal makers. .

Although organic is a magic buzzword, fragrances are an area where it is generally accepted that it is better to use the synthetic versions of traditional natural ingredients, whether they are ingredients from animal origin such as deer musk, beaver castoreum and sperm whale ambergris, or vulnerable plant species such as Indian sandalwood.

But as the French perfumer Guy Delforge commented a few years ago: “Perfumes have been around for 5,000 years and the scents haven’t changed much. Roses, jasmine and bergamot were used in ancient Egypt and are still the most popular ingredients used today.

So, in memory of Mugler, here are five more groundbreaking scents that have stood the test of time.

Jicky by Aimé Guerlain, 1889

You can date the beginning of the modern perfume industry to the 1890s, when two French chemists, Jean-Baptiste Dumas and Eugène-Melchior Péligot, isolated the main aromatic compound in cinnamon oil, the molecule cinammaldehyde.

This momentous breakthrough heralded the arrival of synthetics or chemical copies of natural ingredients, and was quickly followed by the isolation of key molecules from hyacinth, vanilla, bergamot, lavender, mint , jasmine and rose, allowing chemists and perfumers to recreate their fragrances. at will.

Until then, throughout history, perfume was derived from the real and often rare thing, be it flowers, leaves, barks or oils. Whether this is the earliest record we have of the burning of fragrant incense, in China in 4500 BC, the Kyphi used for temple offerings in ancient Egypt in 3000 BC (the recipe you can still be seen today, in hieroglyphics on the wall of the temple of Edfu) or the delicate perfume of rose, created in the 10th century by the Arab physician Avicenna, inventor of steam distillation, perfumes were rare, precious, expensive and reserved for the wealthy.

The most gifted of the chemist-perfumers in using synthetics was Aime Guerlain, who used vanilla, lemon, bergamot, lavender, mint, verbena and sweet marjoram, with civet oil as a fixative, to evoke the “sublime, sensual” Jicky. He followed this in due time with the steaming and still adored Shalimar.

Perfumes of Rosina by Paul Poiret, 1911

It was the first designer fragrance, produced by flamboyant Parisian couturier Paul Poiret, whose love of opulence and Arabian legends such as Thousand and one Night had him nicknamed “The Magnificent” after Suleiman the Magnificent.

Nuits de Chine and L’Etrange Fleur became immensely popular during his lifetime, their rich intricacy complementing his sensuous, flowing garments – light, delicate, chiffon and silk kimonos, harem pants and turbans that were light years away from women. stiff corseted. forced to dress for the last 50 years. The elegant little perfumery still exists, a stone’s throw from the Louvre on the Palais Royal.

Chanel No. 5, Gabrielle Chanel, 1921

A bottle of Chanel No 5 perfume, originally created by perfumer Ernest Beaux for Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel.  Reuters

While vacationing in the south of France near Grasse, where rose, lavender and jasmine were grown for the nascent perfume industry, Gabrielle Chanel met Ernest Beaux, once perfumer to the Russian Tsar, and realized that this was the man to create a perfume for her. “for the modern woman” who wore her clothes striking and casually elegant.

Of the 10 samples he produced, Chanel’s favorite was number 5. Jasmine, rose, vanilla and sandalwood were the main ingredients, along with aldehydes – 10 times what Beaux had expected, apparently, thanks to a mixing error by an assistant. As an online site The perfume company says, it’s the aldehydes that “almost knock the perfume out of the bottle”.

Opium, YSL, 1977

The first and most famous of the great flamboyant perfumes whose wearers wore big shoulder pads made their way in the 1980s. Sultry, sultry, spicy and lingering, Opium blossoms with notes of mandarin, plum, c clove, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, cedar, musk and patchouli. In New York, the perfume launch party took place on a tall ship, The Beijing, leased to the South Street Seaport Museum and decorated with white orchids and red and gold banners to echo the perfume packaging, with writer Truman Capote holding court at the bow. Chinese-Americans demanded that Yves Saint Laurent apologize for the name and for its “insensitivity to Chinese history” and the ensuing controversy helped raise awareness of the fragrance and accelerate it to status as a star.

Sauvage, Dior, 2015

A photo by Sauvage (Courtesy of Christian Dior Parfums) *** Local Caption *** lm10se-blackbook-dior.jpg

Created by Dior perfumer François Demachy, who was inspired by the desert at dusk, the men’s fragrance is a woody, smoky and subtle creation that has managed to survive the publicity around the court case involving his “face”, Johnny Depp.

This week, Dior announced that Sauvage was not only a best-seller, but the best-selling fragrance in the world. One would have guessed that this accolade would have been given to Chanel No. 5 – and it’s an intriguing demonstration of the male adoption of the perfume habit. As sustainability becomes a driving force in fragrance, Dior is following current trends by having its distinctive bottles now 100% refillable.

Updated: January 29, 2022, 7:29 a.m.

Sarah C. Figueiredo