"When you have a masterpiece, how do you redo it?" This how Joel Palix, president of Clarins Fragrance Group, sums up the unique challenge of recreating one of the most successful perfumes of all time.
The fragrance in question is Thierry Mugler's Angel, and I can almost guarantee you've smelled it – and feel very strongly about it, one way or another.
The scent is akin to a grenade of sexy sweetness: chocolate layered atop patchouli in such a specific way that it makes an entrance before the person wearing it does.
To say Angel is not for everyone is an understatement.
Which perhaps explains why, nearly 20 years after it made its debut in 1992, Clarins – parent to the Mugler brand – decided it was time to introduce an Angel eau de toilette.
Traditionally, EDTs are simply less concentrated versions of eaux de parfum. Given that the big bosses at Mugler had resisted an EDT for so long, they opted to create an entirely new fragrance that simultaneously paid respect to the original.
Clinique faced a similar conundrum with Aromatics Elixir, the much beloved fragrance that's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Like Angel, this is no wallflower scent; it uses floral notes of tuberose, carnation and jasmine to balance zesty sage and verbena while softening the pungent patchouli and oak moss.
But instead of going lighter, the brand known for its pared-back marketing philosophy recently launched a limited-edition Aromatics Elixier Perfumer's Reserve, which builds on the classic thanks to orange flower, peach, myrrh and a more modern version of patchouli.
Palix and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec both insist these new arrivals are not to be confused with flankers, industry parlance for spin-offs (i.e. how Beyoncé's Heat was followed by Heat Rush).
Rather, they are standalone scents that happen to riff on olfactory legends. "You have to stay close but stay different," explains Le Guernec, who conceived the Perfumer's Reserve from Bernard Chant's original.
This can be risky, of course. And Le Guernec acknowledges as much. "I put pressure on myself; [matching]an icon in perfume is like [matching]Michael Jackson or the Beatles. You can be crucified."
"You need to be careful that your fragrance is not getting old," Palix concedes. "We were still seeing very faithful clientele to Angel but maybe were not recruiting as [many]young people."
He says the EDT took three years to produce. "We took our time," he maintains, commending perfumer Amandine Maret. "The original fragrance is so assertive, so strong; many women don't want to be that powerful and so I think we found the answer by proposing something a little subtler."
Whereas Aromatics Elixir has traditionally shunned flashy campaigns and continues to do so; the Angel EDT features a new spokeswoman, actress Eva Mendes, styled as a sultry otherworldly goddess. Perfumer's Reserve feels like a precious collectible with its limited-edition supply and embossed bottle; the new Angel, meanwhile, is positioned for maximum reach (the comet-inspired bottle is refillable).
At this point, I caution that they warrant a headache advisory; even the new editions (both available at The Bay) remain exceedingly potent. Still, these are winning examples of masterpieces, remastered. They shine without stealing the spotlight from the original.