One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fraternal Twins: Thierry Mugler A*Men and B*Men


I feel fairly certain that the perfumer's brief for Thierry Mugler's B*Men read in full, "You remember A*Men? We want the same, only different."

A*Men is the men's version of Angel, and it's actually a better scent. Angel is extraordinarily potent: it calls to mind all those huge outsized 1980s scents that cleared elevators and led to fragrance bans in some public buildings. It slams you in the face. A*Men is still pretty strong, but it's been toned down somewhat.

A*Men starts with a bright melange of bergamot, lavender, and helional, a grassy-floral synthetic with a brilliant edge. (There is supposedly a peppermint note which I don't detect.) Almost immediately, though, a burgeoning sweetness overwhelms the brightness, and it makes for a strange, clangy opening. Angel's signature patchouli note is still there, and it's identical in A*Men, but now it's supplemented with dry cedar and a distinct sweet-coffee note. It's this sweetness which dominates the remainder of the scent as sugary styrax and vanillic tonka bean well up from the base notes. It lasts forever, so you'd better be sure you like it before you spray it on.

The official list of notes for B*Men has nothing in common with A*Men, so it's a real surprise that they seem so similar. They don't smell the same, but they feel similar; there's no question that they're members of the same family. B*Men starts brightly, of course, but it's an astringent brightness provided by rhubarb and citrus notes. The opening salvo isn't as jarring as in A*Men, but the freshness of the rhubarb soon takes on a cooked quality, like rhubarb pie, as the core sweetness begins to develop. Instead of coffee and cedar in the middle notes, we have sugared spices and sequoia, and the blaring quality of A*Men is absent because there isn't any of that dramatic patchouli. The sweet end notes have a touch of vanilla, I think, and a dose of ambergris.

I used to own a bottle of A*Men, but halfway through it I just couldn't take that concentrated sweetness any more. It's a well-made and fascinating scent, but my tastes changed, as they seem to do repeatedly, and I couldn't wear it any longer. I gave it to a female friend who'd already been wearing Angel for a couple of years, and she took to A*Men just as readily. (Both scents, in truth, are pretty unisex.)

The A*Men bottle is clearly based on the bottle for Angel, but where that was all sharp angles, this is a big sinuous curve of shiny chrome with a star-shaped cutout exposing the signature blue Angel juice. (An identical bottle clad in black rubber is also available.)

The B*Men bottle is the same shape, but the rubber is khaki this time and the cutout is a brazen red.

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