Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guerlain Chamade (1969) Fragrance Review Series Part 6: Afterward & Thoughts on Fragrance Criticism

~by guest writer AlbertCAN

Tout entière

Le Démon, dans ma chambre haute,
Ce matin est venu me voir,
Et, tâchant à me prendre en faute,
Me dit: «Je voudrais bien savoir,

Parmi toutes les belles choses
Dont est fait son enchantement,
Parmi les objets noirs ou roses
Qui composent son corps charmant,

Quel est le plus doux.» - O mon âme!
Tu répondis à l'Abhorré:
«Puisqu'en Elle tout est dictame,
Rien ne peut être préféré.

Lorsque tout me ravit, j'ignore
Si quelque chose me séduit.
Elle éblouit comme l'Aurore
Et console comme la Nuit;

Et l'harmonie est trop exquise,
Qui gouverne tout son beau corps,
Pour que l'impuissante analyse
En note les nombreux accords.

O métamorphose mystique
De tous mes sens fondus en un!
Son haleine fait la musique,
Comme sa voix fait le parfum!»
—Charles Baudelaire

All Together

This morning in my attic high
The Demon came to visit me,
And seeking faults in my reply,
He said: "I would inquire of thee,

"Of all the beauties which compose
Her charming body's potent spell,
Of all the objects black and rose
Which make the thing you love so well,

"Which is the sweetest?" O my soul!
Thou didst rejoin: "How tell of parts,
When all I know is that the whole
Works magic in my heart of hearts?

"Where all is fair, how should I say
What single grace is my delight?
She shines on me like break of day
And she consoles me as the night.

"There flows through all her perfect frame
A harmony too exquisite
That weak analysis should name
The numberless accords of it.

"O mystic metamorphosis!
My separate senses all are blent;
Within her breath soft music is,
And in her voice a subtle scent!"
—Charles Baudelaire, translation from

Let me tell you when I first promised our Elena to review Guerlain Chamade for this blog: December 11, 2008. In fact I still have a copy of my request:

"Just wondering if I may review Chamade and/or Samsara. I've been accumulating material for those two and they are going to be interesting. (You would be surprised by how the Buddhist definition of samsara, considered the root of pain and suffering, is worlds away from what Guerlain is trying to portray.) As for Chamade I may even upload the actual drum beat! (Plus the pivotal moment of the movie.)"

Well, writing a review for Samsara was not that labour intensive. Yet as all of you could tell it took me more than three years to get this review done, and never would I imagine turning the piece into a multi-part marathon.

Why? As some of you might have noticed I have chosen to blog less and less over the last couple of years. Started out as a mild lethargy and gradually morphed into a full-blown hiatus at one point. Have I been busy? Yes and no: I’ve always managed to find time to blog before, even a miniature piece or two.

So what happened? I started to see a huge chasm between the artisanal and the commercial in this business, the art really not lining up with the money. Don’t get me wrong: as a business graduate I know very well that perfumery houses are here for its survival. Yet the interesting side effects of the 2008 financial meltdown are still unfolding among perfumery brands: all major players, for one, are more lean and determined to get a piece of the action. Translation: the bottom line now really counts, more than ever.

To be perfectly honest I’m all for marketing research, and pushing a product nobody wants to buy, at least to me, is the greatest sin on earth; with this being said I can only stand mindless renditions of Marc Jacobs Daisy for so long.

Kindly allow me to reiterate: I’m not against commercial viability; I’m just against mindless plagiarism. I’m not against approachability; I just don’t like philistines all that much. I don’t even mind cutting costs on material and development; I just won’t stand thoughtless slash across the board because nobody was “supposed” to know when materials are downgraded.

I prefer, in all my sincerity, modernization—but I want to do it with standards. If it comes at the costs of cutting excessive corners than, well, what good are brand managers, let alone executives?

Of course, I know there are still passionate, conscientious people working in this industry, working very hard to make a difference. And my thoughts are not in any shape or form trying to disparage the true artists. (Please don’t ask me to name names of this or that—because I simply won’t.) But I decided to listen more since then. And to really start thinking about what makes the legends of the past so great in the first place: after all, those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat the failures.

That’s my ultimate purpose for reviewing Chamade, articulating what made it great in the first place. Perhaps the ideas could be transported and lifted for generations to come, even though the exact ideas might not be in vogue any more.

To me the ultimate reason behind the success of Chamade is quite simple. People cared. Say what you will about French perfumery, its politics: people took the time to think about the genuine dialogue between the product and the culture, how the time affects its culture before coming up with a genuine proposal. Making genuine products with perfectly valid constructs. Again, I know not every perfumer can be Ernest Beaux, nor all fragrance account managers have the immaculate tastes of Coco Chanel, but if the latest release is a very simple xerox of the latest marketing reports (bottled, of course) with zero imagination attached then, again, what good are people arming diplomas from top-notch MBA programs?

Thus by the same token I am still stand behind my favourable review of Hermes Hermessence Iris Ukiyoe (2010). Or Chanel No. 5 Eau Première (2008). And honestly I am even that tough of a fragrance critic—but showing one’s work is a pre-requisite in my book. Kindly allow me to repeat: showing one’s work is a pre-requisite.

Still, back to my story: I started writing this series on Tuesday, March 6—

It's going to be the longest review I've ever written! I'm at the bottom of third page and haven't fully covered the cultural background.

That’s when Elena’s common sense kicked in: otherwise all of you would have to read this series in one, extra-lengthy post. Five parts in one sitting.

(At this point I have to give credit where credit is due: without Elena’s tireless patience in the first place not a single word of this series would come to life, let alone her often thankless edits of my unruly writing. She’s really a trooper.)

The series, once get going, proved to be a quick waltz. Part 1 through 4 was submitted within one day. Part 5 came a day later because I couldn’t find the right artwork: luckily Ms. Danielle Jarvis showed me her piece; otherwise the readers would have to stare at nothing but words upon reading the blooming epilogue.

Before I go I want to share with all of you one more thing about my thoughts on Chamade. I’ve always deduced that Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, its third movement Adagio, is a musical approximation of its ideas, the romantic mad aches. Try testing the fragrance while listening to the performance below: there’s nothing on earth quite like the pairing.

Thank you all for listening. It’s been a joy from the heart.

To read the whole Guerlain Chamade Series, visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 clicking on the links. 

Photo: Guerlain Chamade advertisement, via Google


  1. As you said, only Love is the X factore & you, clearly love perfume. thank you so much for your generosity.
    Cordially, Violaine

  2. Anonymous04:17

    Thanks Violaine, hope all is well.

  3. Anonymous06:35

    Thank you - with all my heart! - for such an excellent study of one of my favourite perfumes. You - like Chamade - are a treasure.


  4. Anonymous02:50

    Jillie, in my youth I've left a trail of broken hearts out of sheer stupidity so I probably shouldn't be considered a treasure to mankind. But I appreciate the thoughts and your kindness very much. Thanks and have a great day.


  5. Portia03:36

    Awesome!! You write like you expect your perfume to be produced. Thanks.
    Portia xx

  6. Anonymous05:08

    Portia, you are welcome. By the way, I would like to think fragrance critics, in various degrees of course, all secretly want to have scents made to their specifications. After all, quoting Karl Lagerfeld: Spinoza once said that every decision is a final refusal ;-)

  7. Anonymous05:21

    PS. I might have pushed the 'post' button in haste and left my last sentence more enigmatic than it appears. Just to clarify: having standards is a pre-requisite among fragrance critics, and I, for one, do have the 'if only' moment from time to time! (More often lately than before: but that's another story.)


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