Which will be the next great perfume house? The house that will define early 21st century tastes in scent? Good question, isn’t it? You can go on speculating about which house will define the tastes of the 20s and 30s, but to my mind one house has already dominated the turn of the century and the oughties: Mugler.
Now if you read about perfume, if you’re in the habit of checking out perfume forums, you will note that Angel, Mugler’s flagship fragrance, is widely reviewed. There are 204 reviews of it on Basenotes alone, and it is controversial- more than a quarter of those reviews are bad.
Nevertheless, the smell remains popular with a minority of the public, who keep on buying the bottles no matter what anyone else says. In other words, Angel is the signature scent of a large number of people.
Angel clearly built the house of Mugler and did so in much the same way that Chanel No5 built Chanel, and with a similar business strategy. Chanel’s corporate partner was Bourjois, and in a comparable manner, Clarins produces the Mugler perfumes in association with Mugler.
The major difference is, that Mugler’s perfume house is not associated with a great designer. Thierry Mugler back in the eighties, was a typical designer, creating clothes with wide shoulders and wasp waists. His style was recognizable, topically appealing, and in questionable taste, which, if you think about it, are also the qualities that characterize Angel.
But there was one big difference between the clothing that Mugler created and the scent he chose: originality. Angel did not smell like anything else. The blue coloring was also something of a shocker. You did have dyed perfumes in the nineties, but for the most part perfumes ran clear to amber, and juices that were obviously tinted, simply didn’t show up all that often. Angel was original then, not only in smell, but also looks. Then there was that star shaped bottle. It was in blue and silver, favored shades of the Mugler design house, and the bottle paraded them, and reinforced the brand until Angel that olfactory monster, and its enormous sales, swallowed up the design house entirely.
Here is the central point of the Mugler empire, for it is an empire now, it grew largely on flankers. Mugler or his art directors, were shrewd enough to know that the public were not going to follow along in the wake of each Mugler fragrance. Major releases did not come in a jumble as they do now among niche houses, seven, ten new fragrances at a stroke. No. Instead, a serious new perfume would emerge every few years and then the minor releases were all flankers.
The important point about each of these major fragrances (as far as I can smell) was that they were all innovative. Angel is- notoriously- the first of the gourmand perfumes, and most of the Mugler repertoire is gourmand, but not everything. The cologne is a proper, fresh, slightly synthetic smelling cologne, almost as good these days as Guerlain’s old du Coq or Eau Imperiale.
In other words, the business plan didn’t involve waiting for the competition to produce something new, wait for its numbers and then imitate it if those numbers were good, the go to plan for many other perfume companies. Muglers were different. Consider the innovation of Angel: patchouli and caramel, then A-Men: caramel and cedar over coffee, then Alien which performs an autopsy on jasmine, and finally Womanity, with its peculiar caviar note. If anything, it was the flankers, like Angel Rose, Angel Peony etc. which were more predictable, returning to the mean of perfume, not the major releases.
And this strategy has paid off. Today when you look at Fragrantica you’ll see 70 Mugler perfume releases since 1992. Chanel, in all, accounts for only 53. In terms of the number of perfumes released, the young house of Mugler has already superseded Chanel.
As to the fragrances themselves, they are disparate. Created by different perfumers, Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chiris for Angel, Christine Nagel for Womanity, the Muglers are not cohesive in their composition, but they are in their packaging. Every one has a bottle that might otherwise turn up as a prop in a Star Trek movie. Say what you like about them, delight in them or deplore them, the Muglers are immediately recognizable at any perfume counter.
They are also popular. I can attest to the fact that in Jersey, no trip to the mall(s) is ever complete without my catching Alien somewhere on the air, and this too, is not only a sign of its success, but also a form of advertising. People wear what other people wear, and Jersey girls love Alien. Their mothers probably love Angel.
As to No 5, I don’t know when I last smelled that on a woman.