Friday, March 16, 2012

Guerlain Chamade (1969) Fragrance Review Series Part 5: Epilogue

A poem records emotions and moods that lie beyond normal language, that can only be patched together and hinted at metaphorically.
―Diane Ackerman

~by guest writer AlbertCAN

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).

Photo: Original photography from designer and friend Ms. Danielle Jarvis. All rights reserved by the artist.

Edwards, Michael. Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances. Crescent House Pub, 1999. ISBN: 0646277944

Turin , Luca. Parfums: le guide, Editions Hermè ( Paris , 1992), p. 37, 38



  1. Fiordiligi15:23

    A fifth part, no less! Here I am today, wearing my vintage Chamade extrait, and savouring the words of Dr Turin. It is indeed "one of the greatest perfumes of all time." Thank you so much for this beautiful series of articles!

  2. Anonymous16:32

    Thanks, E, for giving us this great series about one of my favourite perfumes. I have worn it since 1969, when I was 17, and spent some of my student grant on buying it! I don't think it smells the same now (and I am pretty sure it's not just my nose getting old), but it is still a wonderful thing to wear. It's been so interesting reading about it in such depth.

  3. D,

    and there's a 6th part 2 being published, recounting how it all began ;-)

    The credit should go to Albert, he's toiled over the whole thing.

  4. Jillie,

    thank you, I shouldn't have left the chance to publish something of this magnitude go away. It's indeed the most exhaustive series on any perfume. And what a perfume!!
    How romantic that you spent part of your student's grant to get it; isn't that the stuff of dreams?

  5. Dear AlbertCAN - Thank you for this, such a thoughtful series on the perfume that began my long-term love affair with "all things Guerlain."

    I know that for many, it is Chamade's heart and drydown that they most adore but for me, it was the initial encounter with that brilliant and glorious opening that caused me to open my wallet and make my initial purchase. Chamade taught me a lot about a perfume's storytelling abilities, and I learned to appreciate its development - yet it's that grand (and for me - "classic") opening that I crave.

    I'm glad you mentioned the link with First and No 19, and I can think of a number of other fragrances I love that all share some or all of the opening notes of galbanum/ hyacinth/ cassis/ jasmin/ rose opening. I became a fan of First in '77 and Chamade nearly 20 years after, and I believe it was that affinity and sense of familiarity with the former that drew me to Chamade.

    Thank you again for this labor of love.

  6. Anonymous03:02

    Dear OperaFan! You're most welcome and yes, that green-hyacinth-cassis-jasmine-rose opening could have been modified so beautifully into a modern Guerlain creation: and it scratches my head for years as to why it's now largely ignored by the LVMH ownership. Three words: so many possibilities! And by the way, your beautiful profile photo featuring Met Chandelier by Hans Harald Rath--one of my all time favorite chandelier designs, actually--is duly noted. :-)

  7. Oh, I very much agree on the possibilities of that combination!

    And if you love the chandelier, then I hope you have seen or will be able to come and see them in person. They are glorious when lit at night. And to sit in one of the upper level seats and watch them raised up as the orchestra tunes is the kind of magical experience I never tire of.

    Also wantto tell you that I loved reading your Samsara analysis and have revisited many times over the years.


  8. Anonymous03:56

    Alas, going to a live performance of a met opera production has always been a dream of mine, but no luck so far. I have seen/heard many live broadcasts but obviously it's not the same without the chandeliers!

    So glad you enjoy my humble post on Samsara! The funny thing is that I should have written a few more fragrance reviews for Perfume Shrine, since I've also promised Elena a few more. Let's see: initially I was going to review "Chant d'Arômes" but Elena was eventually inspired to write one. (And thank goodness she did, for I still don't have the time.) Oh well, maybe some more down the road :-)

  9. Anonymous19:59

    Trying to post this again:

    Chamade is one of my favorites, though I hadn't reached for it in a while, when I reached for Hiris, and got the idea to layer them. It was surprisingly good! Karin


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