When I wrote with eagerness in October 2006 on this blog that "I can't wait to try Aura", it was then a different Mugler project everyone expected, linked to the novel by Patrick Süskind and the film by Tom Tykwer. But if semiotics count - and they do count in perfume folklore - the fact that the word "aura" is reused today in 2017 by the brand shows a continuity in the tought process of the label managers and of Thierry Mugler himself, who confesses that he's always wanted to create a fragrance called "aura." All of the brand's main pillar perfumes have names which start with "A": Angel, Alien, A*Men and now Aura (but not Womanity). For the French fashion designer reputed for his creativity, there's a specific meaning he ascribes to what an aura is. He explains,...
"The woman who chooses this perfume will communicate her aura to it. In exchange, the perfume will materialize that aura. It is the incarnation of the meeting point between her and the world which surrounds her." [Our translation]
An "aura" applied to perfumery implictly means the extent to which a perfume can add to the personality of its wearer and how much of an impression a fragranced individual can make on others. There is something difficult to define in an aura, but you do feel its effect. The center of an aura can be a phosphorescent stone, an atmospheric place or a person. It is what stimulates the imagination and lets you capture a form of energy.
The whiff of scent escaping the emerald-green nozzle of the new Aura by Mugler suggests a subtle kinship with Alien. You will however enter an altogether different landscape of sensations first.
On releasing the genie, or rather unleashing it, intense as it is, the perfume which comes out of the talisman-like, green, heart-shaped bottle smells of pink Bazooka bubble gum stuck to a glass window jutting out of a concrete structure inviting you to look into a thick jungle. An insistent olfactive note, both mineral-like and spicy finally yields a name in translation: cinnamon - not mentioned in the list of notes - but as if taken on a roller-coaster ride. It smells both intense and fast. This note mingles with vegetaly, aqueous, dark green notes, mint, camphor, a floral nuance, a creamy one. The cinnamon keeps its bite and edge. It's beating its path in the midst of a confusing green vegetal world. A constant counterpoint to the tricky ravels of wild lianas is a high-pitched, tart and fresh note evoking rhubarb and peony with a suggestion of hot Dentyne chewing-gum. Mugler mentions rhubarb leaf. The "tawny liana" accord (liane fauve) is presented as a groundbreaking borrowing from Chinese pharmacopeia, which the perfumers managed to replicate after much research. It smells also a bit of Coca-Cola, Root-Beer - and again Camphor wood. Personally, I need to hang on to the Root-Beer hook to find the scent likeable rather than just strange.
The perfume composition was officially co-signed by four perfumers from Firmenich: Daphné Bugey, Christophe Raynaud, Marie Salamagne, and Amandine Clerc-Marie. I think you need to add Dominique Ropion to the credits as the woody base with the orange blossom owes much to his composition, Alien. Then, Sandrine Groslier the president of Mugler is credited too, as well as the olfactive director, Pierre Aulas. Groslier compares the team effort as one made by a theater troupe. This is laudable as not many brands let you assess the complexity of their creative process. We're far removed from the industrial length of credits at the end of movies that some watch till the end.
According to Aulas, the main creative idea was to reconcile the vegetal and animalic worlds. This is interesting as I never once thought of the animalistic aspect of the scent when smelling it spontaneously. He does stress the fact that it is not about old-school animalistic notes but a new style of those which they have baptized "Woolfwood". It never strikes your nose as downright beastly and immodest or zooey. Thierry Mugler likes to evoke "divine bestiality", which seems stuck in a Judeo-Christian dichotomy while overriding it at the same time. The only times the fragrance comes across as animalic is when I do the visual test of checking the aura it creates around the person. Then and there, you can feel a layer of beast skin has been added to your own.
Pierre Aulas explained,
"Aura" was imagined like an olfactive experiment and an exploration of self. The fragrance hinges around not one heart but three inseparable hearts. The tawny liana (the instinctual heart) echoes the rhubarb leaf and the orange blossom (the vegetal heart), but also the Bourbon vanilla bean and Wolfwood (the animalistic heart)." [Our translation]
There are nuances in the vanillic heart of heliotrope and Play-Doh, but also of olive wood and even Argan oil, which has a marked olive peat nuance. The warm, furry nuance smells like shrill ambergris. Nothing in Aura feels natural. It's all man-made and even post-man-made as in the remnants of a salvaged world.
Aura eau de parfum is a very strange and even weird composition in which a set of improbable accords meet on the same post-apocalyptic planet earth. Those feel like debris of a once harmonious, coherent world. They are the remains of ancient codes of perfumery. They make you think of DNA sequences cut up, missing, re-ordering themselves. You could also think of fragments of ancient languages, which are all put together to form a new language made up of salvaged, recycled parts by savvy survivors.
If the house is known for issuing perfumes which "are an acquired taste", Aura is probably the most like that. It's not easy to love or even like. It might grow on you, but it does not feel like the smell of instant gratification. There is an element of olfactive shock to the composition. It is a bit disorienting and helter-skelter. But past that walk into a jungle, dizzying and strange, there is no sense of deep originality, except in the structure. It lacks, however, psychological depth. Part of the problem is that the base is much too reminiscent of Alien. It is disappointing to go back to a copy of another scent when you are supposed to have left the shores of the mundane. Part of the problem also might be that in spite of all the talent concentrated in the jus by no less that four distinguished perfumers, five if you count the spiritual ghost of Ropion, it lacks personality due to this committe-style design.
When you step back from the crazy jungle, retreat behind that window built in a wall of gray concrete, you land back safely on very familiar pillows displayed on the ground. It's comfortable to a fault. Nothing has changed. Is this TV-jungle rather than a real one? Is that the curse of the horrid Koh-Lanta at play making you feel like you know anything about that world? At any rate, once the show is over, there is little substance left or meat - even lab meat - to chew on. It's for attraction-park lovers. If Angel by Mugler is originally a Christmas fair in Strasburg, Alsace, it manages to escape the impression of shallowness linked with some of the most superficial spectacles one can experience in life. It's made of the dreams of childhood and we believe, of the influence of the Cathedral of Strasburg, a place with incredible aura. Aura by Mugler might grow on you, but it's mostly a ride to the fun fair and to a spectacle rather than the recreation of a world unto itself.