Angelique Noire from Guerlain is unusual. It takes the classic Guerlain signature, up-ends it, and then sticks it in a house of mirrors. You see constant reflections of past Guerlain perfumes beckoning to you through a long hallway, but the reflections are changed, faintly distorted, sweetened, and modernized.
It’s not only that Angelique Noire takes a gourmand approach to past classics, but also the fact that the famous Guerlain signature at the base end of the fragrance — the Guerlainade — has been brought out at the very start of the fragrance. Furthermore, it has been twisted around. It’s been made more concentrated, more herbal, bitter and green. It’s as though Guerlain decided to play with its usual pyramid of notes with a bit of a wink and a tongue-in-cheek grin. That cheeky sense of humour also extends to the name since Angelique Noire is the furthest thing possible from a “noir” perfume! (If anything, it evokes creamy vanilla and beige, with dashes of green and brown.) At all times, however, it is an extremely rich, elevated take on the modern fad for gourmand scents.
Angelique Noire is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also:
a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners. Three famous noses were invited to work on the perfumes using the highest quality materials. The perfumes were launched in 2005.
Angélique Noire is the third fragrance of the series, created by Daniela Andrièr. It was an attempt to reproduce the famous compositions of the house. Sweet and strong beginning with spices and piquant freshness of bergamot is mixing with milky bitterness of almond and vanilla notes. Unusual harmony of the fresh bergamot and sweet vanilla is a trademark of classical compositions of Guerlain. Spicy harshness of the beginning is contrasting creamy and sweet base which includes mildly spicy and sugary notes of angelica.
On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as follows:
A DISCONCERTING HARMONY WITH A BEWITCHING VOLUPTUOUSNESS
Notwithstanding the humble appearance of its clusters of small flowers, angelica is thought to be an elixir promoting longevity. Guerlain elevates this understated raw material to noble rank. In Angélique Noire, the sincerity and freshness of the angelica find a luminous echo in the bergamot, before coming to fruition in the smooth, feminine sweetness of the vanilla. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.
The notes for the perfume are as follows:
Top : Angelica seeds, pink berries, pear. Heart : jasmine sambac, caraway. Base : vanilla, angelica roots, cedar.
To understand the perfume, you have to understand angelica itself. It’s a green plant with big white or yellow flowers, and is cultivated for its sweetly scented edible stems and roots. I’ve read that angelica is also known as “Wild Celery” because it shares a similar aroma to the vegetable. But other accounts describe no such thing. Some call its aroma sweetly spiced and honeyed, while others describe it as bitter and green. Wikipedia says that angelica has “a pervading aromatic odour” that differs from the rest of its cousins in the same plant family (fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil). “One old writer compares it to musk, others liken it to juniper.” In short, it’s pungent, green, brown, spicy, sweet, bitter and a whole host of contradictory things that make it extremely hard to describe to someone who hasn’t smelled it!
Angelica is the key to Angelique Noire because its different aspects run throughout every stage of the perfume. At times, it can be positively dizzying and overwhelming. In its opening seconds, I smell pear, bitter green, powdered vanilla, some sort of root-y woody note and then pink-peppered florals. The florals are hard to pinpoint at this stage and they are very subtle, as is the hint of cedar dancing around the edges. And then, the angelica arrives on the scene. The note is huge, monstrously big, bitter, green and yet, faintly earthy and woody brown at the same time. It well-nigh blows my head off and I keep my arm at a distance. Waves of angelica pulsate out at me, along with that famous Guerlain signature, the Guerlainade, that underlies all their fragrances at the very base and final hours. Only here, it’s Guerlainade on steroids and amped up a thousand degrees.
I recoil faintly from the combined intensity of the super-saturated powdered vanilla and the bitter, pungent, almost medicinal herb-y green of the angelica. It’s an incredibly odd twist to make the Guerlainade front and center, not to mention the added element of the angelica. I have an impression of an English meadow in Spring — all white (vanilla and angelica blossoms) and green (sweet, ripe Anjou pears and fruits). But, looming in the corner, its shadow getting larger and larger, is the dark green of bitter angelica stems and the brown of the more earthy root.
As the minutes progress, the scent becomes more powdery and sweet. And, to my disbelief, the angelica seems become even stronger! The combination as a whole feels like King Kong on the Empire State Building, swiping away planes in the sky as if they were gnats. As someone on Fragrantica noted, it “comes at you like a knife blade.” The whole thing is one enormous dichotomy and I will be frank, it was a bloody difficult thirty minutes the very first time I tried it! The second and third time, however, I was prepared for the brutal onslaught — and I think that made all the difference. I could appreciate the unusual, original twist on both the Guerlainade and on vanilla itself. I could smell the layers and the complexity, and I found them somewhat intriguing.
It’s an opening which seems to result in very split opinions: many adore it and its uniqueness, lamenting when it fades into something more manageable; others feel utterly blown away by it (and not in a good way). But one thing is certain: it’s unusual, different, creative and a bit provocative. You merely have to brace yourself for that very initial exposure, and give it more than one shot!
Once you’re over that initial hurdle, Angelique Noire mellows into a very different fragrance. The angelica recedes, and is no longer bitter or bullying but, instead, almost candied. The vanilla note starts to become much more prominent, as does that of sweet, ripe Anjou pears. But it is the vanilla which is interesting. At times in the first 90 minutes, it almost replicates a herbed vanilla cupcake! For the most part, however, it’s much creamier than any cupcake. It’s more like a smooth, rich vanilla custard, or like sweetened Carnation condensed milk.
Then, the truly lovely part begins. Angelique Noire takes on notes of bergamot (as in Early Grey tea) and almonds. I love almond scents, and find them endlessly comforting and soothing. Here, it is rich, not faint or milky — but it’s not strong or constant enough for my liking. It waltzes with the much stronger Earl Grey, sometimes apparent, sometimes flickering just out of sight. It’s a bit frustrating for one who adores both notes, and I wish they were stronger to alleviate the increasing sweetness of the perfume.
Soon, Jasmine Sambac joins the party. It is a muskier, richer, almost earthier version of the flower. The combination of the jasmine sambac, the musk undertones, and the very honeyed, custard-like vanilla now emanating from Angelique Noire strongly evokes the base of Guerlain’s L’Instant. I have a bottle of the eau de parfum from 2006, and the similarities are striking at times. But, like a long hall of mirrors, the evocation of other Guerlain perfumes does not stop there. Shalimar Eau Légère is another perfume that people think it resembles, though Angelique Noire is richer, in my opinion. And, then, there are those who wonder if Angelique Noire will become the new Shalimar, or a Shalimar for the modern era with its leanings towards greater sweetness and simplicity. I think that goes too far! (Nothing so gourmand can, or should, ever overtake a great, complex classic like Shalimar.)
In its final hours, Angelique Noire turns into spiced sugar, bergamot and vanilla. There really isn’t a lot to say beyond that. It’s not powdery like the usual Guerlainade accord, probably because all the powder was loaded upfront. There are traces of the angelica in a candied form in the sugar, but they are subtle. There are also minute traces of the musk that continue to linger on the skin.
All in all, Angelique Noire lasted just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On Fragrantica, many report it lasting the entire day. The sillage was enormous in the first hour — at times, a too enormous for my liking, given that opening. Afterwards, it had heavy to good projection, becoming close to the skin only about four hours in.
I was lucky to obtain my sample from a lovely, very generous friend who went to the Guerlain boutique, sniffed everything, became mesmerized by Angelique Noire, and couldn’t help buying a bottle right there and then! Given that it costs $250, that is real love indeed. But, ultimately, Angelique Noire is not for me. For one thing, I’m starting to wonder if angelica may be one of my no-no ingredients. For another, I am not generally drawn to gourmand perfumes. When I fall for a very sweet scent, it comes with so much spice and dryness that it isn’t a true dessert fragrance. For me, Angelique Noire is far too sweet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its well-blended, high quality, unusual aspects.
Others appreciate it, too. The “seductive” scent is much-loved on Fragrantica and elsewhere. If you’re tempted, but also a bit alarmed by my descriptions of the angelica, then you may want to pay heed to the comments of “Alfiecronin” who wrote on Fragrantica:
Give this fragrance a second (or third) chance! It is worth it. The first whiff brings a blast of angelica flower–very strong. Admittedly, this is not the best part of the composition. Wait 20 minutes and you will discover a delicious vanilla, delicately mixed with floral notes that lasts and lasts. Many times I have watched others spray, whiff, jump back and declare, “I don’t like this!” And then come back an hour later and say that this is just wonderful, what is it called? In my opinion, one of only 2 in the L ‘Art et la Matière collection worth buying for a woman, the other being Cruel Gardenia.
There is no doubt that Angelique Noire is a very sophisticated interpretation of vanilla. It is infinitely wearable, rich, very unisex, and a very creative entry in the highly saturated gourmand field. If you like sweet vanilla scents, you may want to give Angelique Noire a try. Or two. Or three….