Entertaining Angels


01st December, 2014

I always wanted to make a perfume which would have the same resonance for everyone, something like tenderness or childhood, and I wanted there to be such a sensual contact with this perfume that you almost felt like devouring the person you love.

(Thierry Mugler)

 

This was the quote adorning my napkin ring - just one of the decorative touches on a table filled with sweet treats, put together for ‘an intimate tea party with the new Face of Angel, Georgia May Jagger and Olivier Cresp, the perfumer behind one of the most provocative and polarising scents in the world; Angel.’

I was sat at the head, or at least, one end of a very long Waltons-like table, being fed fruit juice, a cup of earl grey and vodka cocktails containing edible flowers, simultaneously, by eager waiters. In front of me were tiered cake stands filled with small cakes, éclairs, mousse-filled chocolate cups with chocolate spoons, and toffee apples (although as it turned out no one was brave enough to have a go at these). Circus-themed crockery (the circus being a favourite of Thierry Mugler) was set out for each guest and my place setting was an Angel bottle on a stand, engraved with my name. Observing the room from my useful vantage point, I could see the other guests being formally introduced at the far end of the table.

I had eagerly accepted the offer of a car to take me to The Sanderson from an event earlier that afternoon. Let’s face it, it’s not every day that a girl gets picked up from Claridges to be chauffeur-driven across London - so it seemed a smart move, not least because I have a talent for getting lost and I really didn’t want to be late. Ironically, I ended up being the first guest to arrive, due to a flat refusal to use the - actually rather glamorous-looking - lift (claustrophobia). Apparently no one else in the world does this, and so in order not to contravene fire regulations, I had to be escorted up seven floors to ‘The Apartment’ via the fire escape, accompanied by a very patient member of staff (armed with two water bottles for when the going got tough). I discovered en route that the building (which looks deadly dull from the outside but is completely surreal once you step inside) was originally the offices of Sanderson Wallpapers. By the time we’d done seven floors worth of stairs, I felt as though we’d known each other for years and we were busy sharing childhood memories of ‘The Wizard of Oz'.

Arriving on the seventh floor, I was directed down a corridor to the door at the end, and in I walked - fifteen minutes early and through the fire door, straight into a formal interview and photo session with Georgia May Jagger. Everyone was terribly nice about it, if perhaps a little startled. Interview over, I was introduced to the new Face of Angel, who shook my hand: ‘You came through the fire exit?! How funny!’


Georgia May Jagger, via Instagram; note the fire exit on the left. The Candy Perfume Boy gets his very own Face of Angel moment.

Georgia May Jagger is quite striking in person - fabulous bone structure (Capricorn) and absolutely tiny - and yes, I’m aware that it’s the rule that on meeting any female celebrity (see Kylie; the Queen) the first thing anyone says is: ‘but they are so tiny in real life!’ - however, in this case at least, she really is. Combine the looks with the rock ‘n’ roll/supermodel heritage and it would have been surprising if she hadn’t made a career from modelling.

Once everyone was settled, we were treated to archive footage of memorable Thierry Mugler fashion shows, and the contrast between his designs and the prevailing style of the early 90s (grunge, minimalism) was clear to see. Full of drama and spectacle, it was obvious in retrospect that the first Mugler fragrance was never going to be a shrinking violet. We were also given a special preview of the brand new ‘Beware of Angels’ advertisement - now showing at a cinema near you - which everyone agreed looked fantastic.


Persolaise interviews Olivier Cresp.

Then it was time for Olivier Cresp, seated halfway down the table - a quietly-spoken man and perhaps the last person you’d imagine to be responsible for a fragrance like Angel - to take us through the process of how it came about. Informally named ‘Patchou’, and originally a scent he was creating for himself using patchouli and a ‘special crop’ of vanilla, this proto-Angel went through quite a few variations, Cresp finally arriving at version number 50 or maybe 55, which he understatedly described as ‘quite nice’.

Yves de Chiris, Quest marketing manager (where Olivier was based at the time), liked it and together they presented it to Vera Strubi at Thierry Mugler to be considered as a possible debut fragrance for the brand. She promptly fell in love with it. Patchou went through many more variations, becoming increasingly floral with notes of rose and peony as they approached number 120. A change of tack was needed and so Cresp met with Mugler to discuss the way forward.

Cresp describes these chats with Mugler as ‘rich conversations’ wherein he got to play ‘psychologue’, delving into Mugler’s past to find what images, scents and sensations were important to him. Mugler mentioned his love of stars and of the colour blue, memories of his grandmother in Alsace, and of dipping pastry into chocolate. All were grist to Cresp’s mill.

Over the course of two years, Angel went through approximately 630 permutations, which took in praline accords, honey accords and fruits. Cresp’s wife, acting as fragrance guinea pig (although not a huge fan), found that she was frequently stopped in the street by passersby wanting to know what she was wearing.

The glamazon which was finally unleashed upon the world in 1992 turned out to be a game changer; something completely new. For one thing, it was bright blue - but, as Olivier put it, the colour suggests something ‘fresh’ or ‘ozonic’; a much gentler scent than the one which emerges from the bottle, which seems to bear no relation to the chocolate, caramel and vanilla facets of Angel (instead it picks up on the ‘icy brightness’, as described by Tania Sanchez in her review in ‘The Guide’, which overlays the sweet elements of the fragrance). Cresp explained that ‘contrast was one of the keywords when I was creating the perfume with Thierry Mugler and Vera Strubi’; the final combination was, according to him, both ‘sexy’ and ‘sensual’. Along with the new fragrance, a new fragrance family was also born, still a source of pride to Cresp: the ‘gourmand’. The world’s oldest and most famous (or notorious) gourmand still sells (appropriately) like hot cakes.

We were each given four blotters to sniff, breaking down the now-familiar scent into four main accords: vanilla, patchouli, praline and dewberry; half a day later, after lying together in my bag, they all smelt of Angel.


Jerry Hall was the face of the fragrance in the nineties

 

Next it was Georgia’s turn to speak. She told us that it was ‘a huge honour’ to be chosen as the new Face of Angel, and talked in detail of the memories it triggered. Her mother, Jerry Hall, was of course a Mugler muse and the Face of Angel in the mid 90’s, and featured in the footage we’d seen, Georgia at this point looking slightly amused to see film of her mum being interviewed twenty years earlier. Georgia said that ‘as a very small child... I remember it being a thing of fantasy’, and so never imagined that she would eventually become the ‘new Mugler girl’. Sadly, she had to leave quite early for her next appointment, as busy supermodels are wont to do, so I never had the opportunity to bother her with a barrage of not terribly clever questions hastily thought up on the train, such as: ‘Do you buy perfume for your dog?’ and ‘Have you ever bought your dad a bottle of Old Spice?’

I did, however, get to chat to Olivier, albeit briefly. I mentioned how it took me a while to get used to Angel before I realised I had to have a bottle, and asked if it bothers him that as many people loathe it as love it, ‘or do you enjoy the notoriety?’ He replied that Vera Strubi once commented that if only 2% of people like Angel - and those people love it, and love it that much, then notoriety is fine. According to Olivier, you need to get to know Angel, experience her ‘twice, three times’ to understand her: ‘it’s like a song’.

(Apparently, his wife still isn’t keen.)

 

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About the author: Judith Brockless

As well as working tirelessly behind the scenes at Basenotes, Judith Brockless is a Jasmine Award shortlisted writer.

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Comments

    • ION-ONE | 1st December 2014 13:18

      Excellent write-up. It seems that so many fragrances just magically appear out of thin air. Always interesting to learn about the process and story behind a fragrance.

    • Primrose | 3rd December 2014 07:39

      I think it's nice to note that both mother and daughter are models for Angel.

      A wonderful scent.

    • Cook.bot | 12th January 2019 19:30

      I somehow missed this piece when first published. The thought that remained with me most strongly after reading it was that Judith Brockless should write more articles for Basenotes.