The Miroir Collection was a new blueprint for Mugler in 2008. At the time, the rest of the line was based on a seemingly exponential quantity of flankers of Angel, Cologne, Alien. (Womanity was released in 2010.) The five-piece collection was sold as a fairytale fantasy mirror. Three are woody florals (A Travers le Miroir, Miroir des Secrets, Miroir des Vanités) and two are gourmand-florals (Dis Moi Miroir, Miroir des Envies).
A Travers le Miroir (Perfumer, Alexis Dadier)
Through the looking glass you find a distorted, exaggerated flower. A Travers le Miroir smells like liniment, absinthe and herbal toothpaste with a bit of tuberose and jasmine. The herbs give the bitterness of a tonic or a digestif
A Travers is an interesting spin on the tuberose and doesn’t smell anything like most tuberose perfumes. Big balm, little flower. Sillage is moderate after a swirling opening, but the fragrance has unexpected endurance. The floral beard falls away by the heartnotes but the herbs remain bitter all the way through the woody base. I can take A Travers like a museum piece: approach, contemplate, appreciate, move on. I urge people to wear odd or daring perfume, and A Travers certainly fits the bill, but I can’t wear it for long. It beats me up and I eventually cry uncle and wash it off.
Miroir des Vanites (Perfumer Alexis Dadier)
If you think of Miroir des Vanités as a variation of Eau de Cologne, it comes into focus nicely. It starts bright and shiny like the first minute of a cologne but grows woody and cool fairly quickly. It matches a mouth-puckering grapefruity citrus to a cool licorice note. The middle ground of the two is wood and Vanités lands not a million miles from Guerlain Vetiver’s cool, glassy woodiness.
My first thought is to compare Vanités to Mugler Cologne, but Cologne’s signature hissy musk is missing. Unlike both Cologne and the remainder of the Miroir series, Vanités lack a blatantly synthetic tone. Not to say that it has more botanical materials—who knows?—but it resembles citrus, woods, spice. It starts on a parallel path to an eau de cologne, even following the pattern of shedding 90% of the citrus topnotes within 10 minutes. In a traditional edc, the citrus falls away, the musk and wood come forward and the scent grows warm and skin-like. It quiets and widens as if broadening its stance for a soft landing. Here is where Vanités diverges from the edc. As Vanités sheds the topnotes it gets get even cooler and takes the pitch up a notch. It pares down to a subset of the topnotes and finds a woody center that balances the the prominent licorice-coolness with the a touch of tartness, the remnant of the grapefruit of the opening.
It is the least ‘Mugler-like’ of the Mirror series. Oddly for Mugler, the most traditional one in the series is in many ways the most successful. There is not a shred of flamboyance in Vanités and it is quite easy to wear day after day. Mugler’s modus operandi has been to follow the strategy of Angel, which used outrageousness to slingshot to unprecedented fame/infamy. The rest of the Miroir series isn’t as shocking as Angel either, but they share Angel’s tendency to seek attention. It’s a premise of the brand that nothing chic was ever found in the middle of the road.
Miroir des Secrets (Perfumer Domitille Bertier)
There are some strong historical precedents in the aldehydic-floral category: Chanel 22, Je Reviens, Calandre. The secret in this mirror, though, is Estée Lauder White Linen. White Linen is the po’ kin to Chanel 22 and 5. It is Chanel done cheap, taking the classic ‘soapy’ descriptor right up to the edge of laundry detergent. The pairing of aldehydes and musk is a hand-in-glove affair. They complement each other and raise floral perfumes to heights they’d never find otherwise. Miroir des Secrets takes the corrosive nose feel of powdered laundry detergent and runs with it. Imagine the perfume version of a Project Runway “unconventional materials challenge” where the perfumer was given some perfumer’s alcohol and a box of Tide.
In a similar way to Mugler Angel throwing the first gauntlet in the cotton-candy wars, Secrets dares us to smell just like laundry soap. If it seems like I’m laying into Secrets, let me be clear. I’m not. It is sensational, but like a J-Pop song or an action movie sequel, it must be considered in light of its implicit goals. This ain’t Mitsouko, nor does it try to be. It belongs to the genre of perfumes that mimic functional products. From this perspective, it is genius. Argue amongst yourselves whether this genre of perfume is the state of the art or the death of perfume, but Miroir des Secrets is at the head of the pack.
Miroir des Envies (Perfumers Christine Nagel and Louise Turner)
Miroir des Envies is a nutty, sweet jasmine. It emphasizes balance and harmony at the expense of engagement. It uses a saccharine floral (think of Alien) to gloss over the potentially rich sweet/salty two-step and reads as olfactory beige noise. It defaults to blend and blur in a way that…
Dis Moi Miroir refuses to. Dis Moi (Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin) uses a set of olfactory values similar to those found in Miroir des Envies but takes a more interesting approach. Focusing on lily as a central note, Envies stretches the sweet-savory juxtaposition beyond the strictly gourmand. A hint of Miroir des Secrets’ laundry soap brings Dis Moi into Angel’s genre, the inedible gourmand. Like the others in the collection, Dis Moi performs well on skin but is particularly legible on the scent-strip.
Lily is a flower that balances creamy, soapy-fresh tones with an acrid smokiness to the point that a lily bouquet smells equally like cupcakes, a mountain stream and a pan of bacon. Rather than sand over the edges as Miroir des Envies does, Dis Moi is gourmand in the way that a fluffer-nutter with bacon would be. Ungainly from one angle, guilty-pleasurey from another. A bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a gourmand, Dis Mois has an appealing ‘what you see is what you get’ sensibility. The seems are fraying, the slip is showing, the socks don’t match—pick your analogy. Dis Moi left the house without looking in the mirror to check if the lipstick was smudged and has a refreshingly messy quality.
The Mugler perfumes occupy a seemingly grey area in the commercial world. Being designer but kooky makes them ‘nichy’ to many, but as a subsidiary of Groupe Clarins they are definitively commercial/designer despite the brand’s pose of provocativeness.
The proof isn’t so much in the pudding as the perfumers, and for the Miroir perfumes, the Mugler brand commissioned perfumers from some of the largest fragrance conglomerates: Frabrice Pellegrin and Alexis Dadier of Mane. Domitille Bertier of International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF). Christine Nagel and Louise Turner of Givaudan. Nagel, Pellegrin, Turner had a longer track record than Bertier and Dadier, but all were trained in executing briefs perfumery for designer houses. The brand might imply that it is ‘punky’ but it knows not to gamble when aiming for market success.
A Travers le Miroir and Dis Moi Miroir have specific references, namely, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The remainder play with a mish-mash of vaguely deadly sins and melodrama (conceit, desire, secrets.) Three others were added to the Miroir Miroir Collection between 2010 and 2103. The “Mirror”concept is easily marketed and is spring-loaded for tie-in to the visuals of the Mugler line. The reflected image is a fashion-mag trope and recognizable platitudes like desire and conceit were easily evoked with pouty models and shiny surfaces. The marketing might be schlocky, but the collection as a whole is nicely edited and the perfumes are compelling. Miroir des Vanités and Dis Moi Miroir, the most traditional and most challenging, respectively, are the standouts of the line, but the entire line is worth a sniff if you have the chance.
Image, Hot Pants by John Currin from the Broad Museum.