The Scented Letter: Issue 22 ‘Let them wear cake’

Today we revisit an article from issue 22 of The Scented Letter published in 2017. The trend for gourmand fragrances continues with more recent releases such as Malin + Goetz Strawberry (2021), Akro Bake (2023), and Experimental Perfume Club Pistachio Haiku launched yesterday, making this piece still relevant today.

Let them wear cake

 

In 1992, Thierry Mugler’s Angel made olfactory shockwaves – and created a whole newfragrance family, the ‘gourmand’. In celebration of its 25th year, Senior Writer Suzy Nightingaleinvestigates a perfumed recipe for success. Photography: Jo Fairley

Dessert-like perfumes that tickle the tastebuds as well as the nose are now spread before us like a perfumed picnic. Their omnipresence – and perhaps omnipotence – might lead us to feel they’ve been around forever, but in reality, the perfumista’s sweet tooth has only truly been satisfied for two and a half decades. Shocking the world of fragrance with its wildly futuristic composition of candy floss, caramel and a specially devised accord of red berries and patchouli (which was two years in development, alone), Mugler’s Angel went on to revolutionise the fragrance industry and redefine the long-held classic categories by giving birth to a whole new genre: the ‘gourmand’. 

It essentially translates from the French as ‘greedy’ – someone who just can’t say no to temptation. These perfumes remind us of self-indulgent delights: a banquet of rich dishes slathered with chocolate, drizzled in honey, frosted with sugar and wafting forth delicious aromas of roasting nuts, cookies still warm from the oven and sweetie-speckled ice creams delectably dripping down their caramel cones. Love or loathe the original fragrance, it cannot be denied that Angel heralded a whole new era of fragrant epicureanism – perhaps tapping into the dawning zeitgeist of youthful exuberance that swept the UK and America in the 90s, with an explosion of new music and daring, body-conscious fashion almost painted onto the won’t-get-out-of-bed-for-les-than-$10,000 supermodels who still owned the catwalk, at the time. But was anyone really ready for this room-rocking ‘scent bomb’? Not our Editor, Jo Fairley, who was at the launch – presided over by the MuglerParfums’ padded-shouldered, power-suited then-president Véra Strubi, in an all-black, plushly-carpeted room on Bond Street. ‘I remember being given the just-sprayed spill of Angel to smell – and the PR must have seen the look on my face because she asked me: “Jo, are you OK?” It’s one of only two occasions – the other was Dior Poison – when I’ve experienced what the phrase “olfactory shock” really means. It was like nothing I’d ever smelled before, and I literally felt stunned. “Just getting my nostrils round it,” I replied – and although it took some time, I’ve come to appreciate Angel as a masterpiece. While also acknowledging: this perfume will never be for everyone…’

Gourmand essentially translates as ‘greedy’ from the French – someone who just can’t say ‘no’ to temptation

It turns out that the team behind this unique composition had a strong hunch it was going to rock the olfactory world on its axis, all along. Created by master perfumer Olivier Cresp and talented fellow nose, Quest International’s Yves de Chiris (the scented heir to the French de Chiris perfume dynasty), those involved included Ms. Strubi – with plenty of direct creative direction from Mugler himself.

As Olivier Cresp recalled in an interview with Michael Edwards for his book Perfume Legends, ‘I can still remember Thierry’s words when he described the sensation of the aromas he recalled: the caramel scent of sugared apples, the sugary notes of candy floss and the smell of the funfair.’ As Cresp recounted, Angel began its journey as an accord of chocolate, honey and vanilla. ‘I think that Yves’ idea of adding patchouli was a stroke of genius,’ the perfumer noted.

As De Chiris explained to Michael Edwards: ‘The scent of a funfair is largely the aroma of fresh sawdust and the bittersweet fragrance of the wooden stalls. To me, it was reminiscent of the warm, woody and bittersweet scent of patchouli. The words bitter and sweet were the key: everything had to be a little bitter to balance and contrast the sugary scents of chocolate and toffee apple.’ Thereafter, Angel went through infinite stages of transition, with patchouli as the satellite ingredient – to the point the perfume was actually code-named ‘Patchou’, with the first 60 versions mere variations on a theme of patchouli and vanilla. But it took the combined foodie childhood reminiscence of Cresp and Mugler – talking for three hours on Cresp’s sofa about memories of dipping bread in chocolate and visiting fairgrounds – to provide the ultimate guiding star of the scent’s direction.

Explaining that his previous work in the flavours industry in America proved key to his combining food and fragrance, Cresp describes the gastronomic trials. ‘I used some chocolate, some praline, some cocoa… It was a very strange combination. On some days, it was overdosed with cocoa, or with chocolate, or with honey and so on. But then after two years, I found the right balance.’ That balance was ultimately achieved via a whacking great dollop of ethyl maltol (synthesised smell of cotton candy and caramel). paired with red fruits, the sweetness juxtaposed by a monumental 30% dose of camphorous natural patchouli.

Yet it’s interesting to note what happened when Angel finally descended. ‘The industry couldn’t believe someone had the guts to launch something so “out there,”’ comments Sophie Bensamou, Vice President at the North America Fine Fragrances Division of Symrise. ‘It was described as addictive,’ says Cresp. But many were describing it as just plain odd, and it took a while for the world to wake up to this new trend…

In an interview with blogger Persolaise, Cresp reflected on the reasons why Angel became such a blockbuster. ‘Because it was weird, it was completely different… I knew deeply, in my blood, that it would be a success. I knew it could be number 1.’ (And indeed, in some markets around the world, Angel would overtake Chanel No.5.)

Since then, hundreds of gourmand fragrances have fed our hunger for scented sweeties – and it’s one of the strongest trends we’re seeing in fragrance, as we enter 2017. Interestingly, Angel launched at a time of global uncertainty, in the midst of an economic downturn. 25 years on, the world – as our Twitter feeds and our TV screens update us, constantly – feels equally unsettling. Are gourmand fragrances are the olfactory equivalent of comfort eating? The no-calorie biscuit tin?

Certainly, with an ever-expanding offering of dessert-inspired scents for sweet-toothed perfume-lovers of both sexes, we say: long may we have our cake and wear it, too.

FROM SHALIMAR TO LA PETIT ROBE NOIRE

How gourmand really began with Guerlain

 

From a technical perspective, today’s gourmands are a sub-category of Oriental fragrances. But for the true ancestry of the gourmand family, we must look way back to the voluptuously alluring Guerlain Shalimar, which shimmied its way into the hearts of fragrance-lovers, ushering in a brand new era of temptingly sweet siblings.

In 1925, it was Jacques Guerlain’s daring use of ethylvanillin (a completely new synthetic gourmand molecule), blended with the already-popular Jicky accord, which set the table for sweet treats to follow. Vanilla is also an essential element of the famous signature ‘Guerlinade’ base – alongside rose, orris, tonka bean, orange blossom, jasmine, sandalwood and bergamot – which features in so many Guerlain creations.

‘At Guerlain, vanilla is one of the perfumer’s favourite raw materials,’ the legendary fragrance house explains. What’s more, Guerlain add, ‘it has transcended the eras, becoming surprising in Jicky, delicious in Shalimar and swirling in La Petite Robe Noire…’ Among later good-enough-to-eat treats in Guerlain’s portfolio, the 2002 release of Spiritueuse Double Vanille tempted us with what is basically a wearable vanilla/rum liqueur – a scent that regularly features on the must-have shopping lists of gourmand perfume lovers. Intriguingly, Guerlain explain, just like dropping a little vanilla essence into a cake mix or adding a sprinkle of spices to whatever you’re cooking, Spiriteuse ‘can be added to all other Guerlain fragrances for a very personal touch.’

By 2012 Guerlain were introducing a flirty fruitiness to that vanilla-rich Guerlinade accord, with La Petite Robe Noire adding handfuls of black cherries and the smokiness of black tea to the menu. In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser went on to offer a more overtly gourmand take on the original Shalimar with the mouthwatering lemon tart-like Shalimar Souffle de Parfum in 2014, with the more recent La Petite Robe Noire Intense throwing in blueberries and deepening the sweetness still further. The pudding course, it is clear, is still very much on the menu.

Hundreds of gourmand fragrances have now fed our hunger for scented sweeties

 

Sweet somethings 

 

While Angel wasn’t the first fragrance to tempt us with the sensorial sweetness of vanilla (see our history of Guerlain’s love affair with the ingredient mentioned above), or even an overdose of ethyl maltol (we can reference L’Artisan Parfumeur’s 1978 Vanilia for that), it became the perfume to shape and define the genre because of its sheer unexpectedness. Released against a backdrop of easy, breezy aquatics and ultra-clean scents like L’Eau d’Issey, the explosion of candy-floss and ‘fruitchouli’ in Angel was like the punk of the perfume world turning up to a nouvelle cuisine dinner party and pelting the astonished guests with pastries. 

Had you mentioned chocolate, cupcakes, spun sugar and marzipan as briefs to perfumers working a couple of generations before, they would have raised an eyebrow and perhaps suggested you satiate your cravings by tucking into an éclair. But these decadent treats were no mere novelties, and since Angel’s debut, foodie notes have been steadily creeping into the recipes of countless blockbuster scents. 

Hanae Mori’s Butterfly (1996) fused sugared strawberries with almonds. That same year Lolita Lempicka for women (today known as Lolita Lempicka Le Premier Parfum) tempted with licorice and praline. Dior’s Hypnotic Poison (1998) paired bitter almonds with creamy musks, while Addict (2002) ramped up the irresistible nature of vanilla. 

Calvin Klein’s Euphoria (2005) balanced persimmon, pomegranate and cream. That same year, Paco Rabanne’s Black XS Cologne – interestingly, a male gourmand-esque scent released a full two years before its female counterpart – infused lemons with sage, praline and cardamom. Perhaps one of the biggest unashamedly toothsome blockbusters of modern times has been Viktor & Rolf’s Bonbon (2014); presented in a glass bow of a bottle, the juice sumptuously drenched in layers of caramel, it flagrantly celebrates the sweetness within. 

Fragrances such as the caramel coffee of A*Men by Mugler (1996), the spiced cocoa of Guerlain’s L’Instant Pour Homme (2004), Valentino’s coffee-and-hazelnut Uomo (2014) and Zadig & Voltaire’s sublime, salty vanilla in This Is Him! (2016) follow a similar – if slower – trajectory for the chap. Many men, however, have been delighting in dousing themselves with women’s gourmands for years. And trust us: on a man’s skin, these confections can be beyond delicious… 

VERY VANILLA

● GUERLAIN SHALIMAR SOUFFLE DE PARFUM Goddess eats lemon meringue

SERGES LUTENS UN BOIS DE VANILLE Toasted marshmallows, campfire cosiness 

JERABOAM INSULO Sexy custard, sinfully slathered 

CARAMELICIOUS

● THIERRY MUGLER ANGEL Wagner does dessert course 

VIKTOR & ROLF BONBON Naughty – but very, very nice 

SHAY & BLUE SALT CARAMEL Liquidly luscious, comfortingly cocooning 

HEAVENLY HONEYS

● ARMANI CODE Sophisticated garlands delicately drizzled

MARC JACOBS HONEY Fresh pears sumptuously soaked 

EVODY ONDE 7 Floral amber soothingly smoked 

FEELING FRUITY 

● PACO RABANNE BLACK XS FOR HER Chocolate cherries beckon beguilingly 

LIBRARY OF FRAGRANCE STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM Summer-perfect combo that can’t be licked 

JUICY COUTURE VIVA LA JUICY EXTRAIT DE PARFUM Forest fruits get glammed 

 

 

Purchase issue 22 here

ARgENTUM: Full Moon Playlist

Having experienced the third full moon of the year – and the first of true spring – this is traditionally a time to reflect on what has passed and is no longer useful to dwell on; and look to the future with hopefulness and a renewed sense of optimism in our hearts. One brand which so brilliantly connects these soulful moments with their beautiful scents is ARgENTUM, and this year, theyve even created a Full Moon Playlist to enhance this period of self-reflection.

 

 

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  ARgENTUM elucidates: This earthy Full Moon is asking us to connect with reality and take stock of what needs to stay and what needs to go. Nothing is linear though, what’s meant to be will always circle back and return, so go with the flow.’

 The fragrant mysticism even carries through to the way they match you to a scent in their collection. Twelve archetypecards act as an initial way to guide you towards a fragrance to try, but founder Joy Isaacs explains that this first match isnt set in stone – its used merely as a starting point to finding your scent (or several – none of us are linear, and our mood that day may differ from the type of perfume we need to harness on another). Joy told us: Our ARCHETYPE cards invite you to uncover symbolic imagery that reflect inherent energies – patterns that are common to us all.

 

IMG_2526.pngThe best way to begin narrowing down your scented selection, after that matchedperfume personality, which you can find on their on their website. Then, suggest trying all of the fragrances on your own skin. We recommend indulging your senses by trying ARgENTUMs Les Parfums Infinis Discovery Kit here while listening to their Full Moon Playlist. And we think the songs and fragrances coalesce particularly well in the ARgENTUM Earth Collection Kit here

 

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However you choose to experience the fragrances, we hope you can take the time to breathe deeply, relax a moment, and contemplate the even lighter, brighter days ahead. Happy Spring!

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale