A poem records emotions and moods that lie beyond normal language, that can only be patched together and hinted at metaphorically.
Love is the great unpredictable, the original X factor: almost everyone admits that love is a necessity for our survival, yet no one agrees on just what exactly it is. Even the concept itself is an enigma: scholars manage to trace the idea back to the Sanskrit word lubhyati, meaning “desire”; yet its root disintegrates thereafter. The word we now use actually is of German origin and not set until Middle English:
From Old English lufu (“love, affection, desire”), from Proto-Germanic *lubō (“love”), from Proto-Indo-European *lewbʰ-, *leubʰ- (“love, care, desire”). Cognate with Old Frisian luve (“love”), Old High German luba (“love”). Related to Old English lēof (“dear, beloved”), līefan (“to allow, approve of”), Latin libet, lubō (“to please”).*
Perhaps all this confusion is a direct reflection on the often chaotic nature of the heart, how it governs its affairs? Comes with the territory is the gamut of expressions: Guerlain Chamade is surely a memorable grace note in the mankind’s on-going paen.
Jean-Paul Guerlain was certainly amorously inspired when creating Chamade: “I won’t tell you the name of the lady for whom I created Chamade, but she was very beautiful. For me, Chamade was Guerlain’s first modern perfume after Shalimar and Mitsouko. I am still in love with it” (Edwards, 148).
The influence of Chamade on French perfumery is subtle yet fascinating upon a closer second look. Its combination of hedione and blackcurrent, pairing with white florals, was reprised almost a decade later when Jean Claude Ellena created First (1976) for Van Cleef & Arpels, the master perfumer’s initial success. Its green floral motif would even resurface arguably in Chanel No. 19 (1971), which Henri Robert was busy developing with Mademoiselle Chanel when Chamade came out, though the soft vanilla base was no doubt stripped away in lieu of a more assertive chypre base.
On a personal note I really wish the structure of Guerlain Chamade played a more prominent role in the recent modernization of the house, for the scent’s stunning bone structure leads to many possibilities: the opening verdancy could easily be morphed into milky greens such as Glycolierral, the ivy oxime that provides so much glow in the opening of J’Adore (1999) by Christian Dior. The fruits could be softened with more transparent floral notes such as fresh sambac jasmine, and woods more ethereal. Yet I’m not sure this is the current emphasis of Guerlain, nor am I certain if Thierry Wasser, the current in-house nose, would want to partake in that direction. Neither am I certain that people are courageous enough to take the time to get it nowadays when everything is going at a breakneck pace.
Chamade is not for everyone, nor is that the underlying idea. The development is complex, the embedded cultural depth required for its appreciation is advanced. Yet those who take the time really appreciate how the fragrance manages to get things right. For this post I’m going to leave the last word to Luca Turin, who calls Chamade a miracle in the original Parfums: le guide―
A smooth green top note introduces a miracle that develops over a few hours, indeed a few days. As the initial breath fades, a powerful white note slowly evolves, polished and seamless, powdery and sculptured, developing with no hint of becoming simpler or thinner. Typically Guerlain in its flattering and tender character, Chamade is an arrogant perfume, pure and far removed from the chic audacity of Jicky and Shalimar. Its tenacity is amazing. One might even think it was composed to be smelt after two days, so put it on at least two house before you ask it to be effective. [Chamade is] a masterpiece of elegance and poetry, one of the greatest perfumes of all time (Edwards, 150).