Friday, September 29, 2006

Givenchy Ange our Demon: Repossessed? Fragrance Review

There are some deeply seated feelings and memories in all of us and smell has an uncanny way of unlocking them. The launch of Givenchy’s Ange ou Démon (meaning angel or demon and marketed under "Ange ou Etrange" in Muslim counties) has been such a case recently.
Promising a dichotomy that was much anticipated –nay… longed for- in an era that overindulges its gluttony streak that runs through the ever-dieting masses, everyone was expecting the duality of a light/dark scent.
The advertorial in the LVMH on-line mag enticed us with this: “The new feminine fragrance […] is an invitation to succumb to that most powerful charm, an enigmatic scent created from shadow and light.
With elegance, inspiration, playful spirit and exceptional quality, Ange ou Démon is a concentrate of Givenchy’s values. A highly sophisticated structure, precious and rare ingredients and the generous emotions unleashed, all combine to make this a scent in a class of its own.
The truly splendid olfactory universe of Ange ou Démon unfolds around the purest lily and the deepest oak wood.”

Created by Firmenich’s Olivier Cresp and Jean-Pierre Bethouart, the new floriental was aimed at creatures that were not targeted by their Very Irrésistible offering with the lovely and angelic Liv Tyler to front it. It wanted to play up the dark card, the forbidden.
Images and insinuations to the forbidden have been tied to perfume advertising from time immemorial. Psychologist Joachim Mensing has this to offer: “Wearing a sinful scent is a way of living out your alter ego’s ideal existence without the risks of acting it out in real life”. Especially women, I think, trapped in the Madonna/whore exigencies of male fantasy.
Therefore, an avalanche of sinful scents including such gems as My sin, Deviltry, Tabu, Magie Noire, Bandit and lots of others has been tumbling over us for the past century or so. Witchcraft, possession,Hecate worship and demonic names have had their fair share in this. It will never end as people are simultaneously lured and appalled by such notions. Ange ou Démon looked to be in this illustrious line. Sadly it did not deliver, at least for me.

The modeling face is Marie Steiss, née Marie de Villepin, the daughter of former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. She changed her name to Steiss to pursue a career in modeling and acting. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that her father is so unpopular now despite being quite dashing. (certainly in the league of politicians of Pierre Trudeau or J.F. Kennedy good looks). The girl isn’t bad looking, but certainly not evocative of angelic/demonic nuances. The dark roots under the “big” blonde which alludes to Debbie Harry are not much help, I’m afraid. However the next rumoured Givenchy scent, probably called Bourgeois, might be grist to her mills.

The design of the bottle is meant to resemble a crystal from a costly chandelier, in the shape of a spear or a sinner’s tear (your choice) with a colouring degradé from light to dark, evoking the duality of the name and the scent. Although it was not to my exact taste, it does look luxurious and sturdy, I have to admit, unlike many others on the market from equally prestige brands.

The scent itself is built thus (info from Escentual):

TOP NOTES - Crystalline Femininity: white thyme essence, mandarin from Calabria and saffron essence. HEART NOTES - Radiant Nobleness: noble lily, ylang-ylang, orchid maxillaria. BASE NOTES - Mysterious Addiction: tonka bean, vanilla, palissander wood and oak wood essence.

Upon initial spraying a very cleaning-fluid-like note emerges, cool and with herbal elements that I am sorry to report do not remind anyone of the culinary thyme. There is no trace of the tartness I associate with mandarin either. The lush florals come to the fore with their intense headiness; lily is particularly evident, and has a penetrating smell combined with ylang ylang which smells true enough. There is a very candied aroma to the floral, which surprised me, because although lots of florals are sweet by nature, they do have a different nuance to them, more piercing than flat saccharine. This is vaguely reminiscent of the syrupy sweetness of Hypnôse by Lancôme or Armani Code, two scents suffice to say, I am not particularly attracted to. Those two do share common elements among them, enough even to label them “olfactory cousins”. [Many others in the market tout their orientalised woody sweetness too, from Boucheron Trouble to Le Baiser du dragon by Cartier. The latter two however do not bear a resemblance to Ange ou Démon, but merely illustrate tendencies in the industry.]

Orchids from a hothouse do not have the scent they are naturally supposed to have and therefore I am not the best judge of this particular note. I did search about what maxillaria orchid is, though and the result was this. Seems like the coconut emission of the blossom does contribute to the sweetness, although I cannot be conclusive on such aspects.
However the swirl of silky saffron does make an emphatic appearance and softens the top and heart notes that supposedly smell of “crystalline femininity” and “radiant nobleness”. A slight peppery smell is evident too.
A good thing, since vanilla and tonka bean would divert this into confectionary avenues I am best far away from. In another mix, of sour or bitter tendencies, these two notes would provide the much necessary plush, but not here.
Oak wood in the base, along with pallisander, promised a more chypré/woody quality and the culmination of the drydown is imbued in rich woody essences, with a little bit of powder. Perhaps oak wood is an attempt to bypass the IFRA restrictions on the use of oakmoss in fragrances, although the two are not identical in smell obviously. This is just a guess on my part.
The lasting impression is not that of a deep orientalised fragrance. It lacks that certain roundness coupled with some kick which fragrances of that category possess, despite the vanillic/oak drydown. And although overall candied, it has a weird smell of faint underlying mustiness that doesn’t mix well with the top elements. The transition is not seamless.
The lasting power is good, which of course might be a Damocles’ sword.

Actually the top and heart was so disturbing to my subconsious that it immediately got me on the thinking track hinted by the pic I chose for today. Linda Blair as Regan Teresa MacNeil from The Exorcist is not an image we are going for. At least I hope not.
Not even the handsome Max von Sydow can save me from the ghostly memories.

This 1973 cinematic classic by master director William Friedkin is in fact so terrifying in a deep-rooted, subconscious way that it has never ceased haunting me since I first watched it in my teens. And yes, I did watch it again as an adult, more than once. No more splatter than lots of other films out there, no more credible in its storyline either; yet, its power lies in the fact that it makes one believe that evil does exist and it spares no one, not even innocent little children and this is a deeply disturbing thought… Let’s hope they don't get repossessed chez Givenchy!

The eau de parfum comes in 50ml and 100ml. Spray bottles at 65 euros and 95 euros respectively and I am told that the scent flew off the shelves in the first days of its launch in the UK and in the States. The creation of a bath/body line simultaneously with the launch of the scent hints at them knowing something I do not. Perfectly plausible, I'll give you that.


  1. Hello,
    "Actually the top and heart was so disturbing to my subconsious that it immediately got me on the thinking track"

    i am extremely intrigued; i never really thought of this aspect, i mean the collective unconscious in scents. my first impressions when i saw the name of Givenchy's new creation " oh they slide on the DA VINCI wave". It is another dimension of the parfum universe wich pleases me very much.
    thanx for the review. - V

  2. Hello V and you're welcome!

    The collective subconscious is something I am very interested in: see, you're providing a glimpse of that too! I hadn't thought of the Da Vinci Code (and Angels and Demons) in relation to Givenchy's Ange ou Demon and now every time I see it I will have this at the back of my mind. ;-) I believe the original fragrance was issued first, the movie (but not the book) second. Therefore my own impression is they're not exploiting a popularity stake, but rather using the dual appeal of perfume since time immemorial, the pretty and the dangerous, but then what do I know??
    It's quite interesting to see how such concepts play out for people around the world though, I bet every culture has their own interpretations of such things and their own associations. Tag me intrigued!

    Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you often!


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