(Image, NBC News)
They hit the scene at different times and suited their decades slightly differently. Cool Water fit the oversized, go-go 1980s. Popular culture was loud and crass and aspiration trumped consideration every time. Reflection was considered a character flaw. It was a miserable time for introverts. It was the perfect time for Cool Water.
Angel landed 4 years later into a different world. The enormous effort it took to maintain the mania of the ’80s had worn thin. The styles of the styles of the go-go ’80s were starting to look unsophisticated from the perspective of the minimalist ’90s. ’80s optimistic expressions like fierce, rad, tubular and fly were replaced by expressions of world-weariness. In the ’90s, things were tired and we were over them. Don’t go there.
The enormous influence these perfumes had on the perfume industry was made possible by the ascendancy of two aromachemicals. Cool Water’s metallic/woody dihydromyrcenol tied it to the “new” aromatic fougère style that had started with Paco Rabanne pour Homme and continued through Azzaro pour Homme and Grey Flannel to Drakkar Noir. Angel’s ethylmaltol, the cotton-candy aromachemical that scarred the 1990s, had previously been used only in miniscule proprtion to accentuate jasmine notes (Except in the early spun sugar fantasy of l’Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia, which was built around an overdosage of cotton candy.)
Each perfume overdosed an aromachemical, but they did so in very different ways. Cool Water built on the framework of the fougères that preceded it, each of which had used a heavier hand with the dihydromyrcenol. Cool Water stepped over the line and found a new plateau. It transcended the fougère and declared itself “aquatic.” It replaced the herbal touch of earlier fougères with a synthy, Jolly Ranchers-style fruit note and a metallic tinge. It provided a durable chill that fit the perfume’s name and became an instant success. To be fair, Cool Water is really just a version of Creed Green Irish Tweed, created earlier by Pierre Bourdon.
Angel used ethylmaltol toward less harmonious ends. Implicit in the linear perfume is the premise that beyond maintaining a set of sustained notes, a perfume might allow a perpetual state of mind in the wearer. Angel induced an indefinite state of dissonance. Ethylmaltol and patchouli combine to create a cold, chocolate hologram that always tempts but never satisfies. Cross frenzy with unsatisfied gluttony and you wind up with a perfume that consumes and never looks back, the darling Angel.
By the time Angel Launched, the aquatic trend that Cool Water ushered in was transitioning to the strained composure that Issey Miyake and the other Calone Proselytes would mine for a few years too many. Angel was the kicking, screaming cry against the gloomy minimalism and restraint that the ’90s promised. It howled a raging fuck-you to the new-agey voices that were telling us that the fun was over. Where Cool Water succeded by riding out the momentum of its predecessors, Angel was the Cassandra warning us not to believe the false promise of serentity of the ’90s.
Both Cool Water and Angel reflected the hyper-gendered styles of their decades. They relied on stereotypes from the fixed, far end of the spectrum and didn’t have much room for ambiguity. The 1980s were filled with images of macho-man/adoring-woman couples. He was unaware of anything around him, including his flaws. She was melodramatic and unstable. Their common ground was a profound lack of empathy. The cusp of the ’80s-90s felt like liberation to some, and defeat to others, including many a 2nd wave feminist.
Cool Water and Angel were ahead of the perfume pack and they altered the status quo. Each spawned an explosion of imitators, effectively creating new genres, the aquatic and the poisoned cupcake. Nearly 20 and 30 years later examples of each genre are still in the lines of the majority of perfume producers. In spite of the decades of entries into these two geres Cool Water and Angel are still the ideals and epitomes of their genres.