Perfumers Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Nejla Barbir
Perfumery has ‘evolved’ slowly, charting a plodding course over the years. Chypres and fougères hung on for decades with only minor variations the contemporary gourmand and oud trends show little loss of momentum. But evolution only appears gradual in hindsight. If we were to use the term properly, we’d look for the abrupt changes, the timely mutations that make their way into the gene pool in a generation—in the blink of an evolutionary eye. Angel, which blew minds when it sprung fully formed from the heads of Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chiris in 1992, is the perfect example. It was not only new, it was unforeseen. Who could have predicted in 1990 that by 1995 50% of the perfume market would be imitating a perfume that had yet to be imagined?
Looking closely, though, Angel has a predecessor if not ancestor: Dior’s Dune. Ignore the the cozy description Dior’s marketing tries to sell you. Dune is fucking spooky. It has an edible/inedible complex at its heart that is conceptually similar to Angel but less apparent. Angel’s push/pull tendencies are frenzied, played at volume 11. Dune creates a subliminal state where you are aware yet succumb without intending to, like humming along with elevator muzak.
Not that Dune is a quiet perfume. In fact there’s something actually quite loud about it even in drydown. Angel comes at you with claws bared. Dune is more the nightmare where everything appears perfectly normal, yet feels disconcerting. Angel is deranged. Dune is unnerving. Since Dune relies on form rather than intensity to make its point I find it the eerier perfume.
Dune came at the cusp of the ’80s-’90s and keeps a foot in each decade. It has some of the volume of the volume and in-your-faceness of the big-80s florals, but also an incipient sheerness that would come to define the perfumes of the early ’90s. It is both and neither. From the perspective of the ’80s, it might have seemed dull and beige. From the ’90s it lacked the out-and-out radiant transparency that would come to convey sophistication.
The current version is glassier and less opaque than the original, a concession to modern sensibilities, but it holds up very well. Perhaps because it escaped categorization, Dune reads as remarkably contemporary 25 years after its launch.