Not quite as legendary as some other Guerlains, Chamade nonetheless has its passionate devotees. Luca Turin gave it five stars in the original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”, though it’s not clear whether he was reviewing parfum or eau de toilette. The most recent version I have is the eau de toilette in the “bee bottle”; it has recently been reissued by Guerlain as part of its 2021 “Patrimoine Collection”, for which six of its most famous fragrances have been bottled in the design of the original Mitsouko bottle with its hollowed heart stopper. (The list of notes for the reissued Chamade, by the way, is much shorter than that for the original, and puts some of them in a different order).
Originally created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1969, Chamade seems to have been an attempt to bridge earlier generations of Guerlain fragrances to a new generation of fragrance that would appeal to the ascendant youth culture, catering to the Baby Boomers who entered their 20s during the 1960s. Chamade is by no means an avant-garde or hippie scent, though. It reminds me of the most senior girls at the Belgian convent school I attended for a couple of years as a young child — young ladies from good families, many of them minor aristocrats, who were picked up after school on Fridays by dashing, slightly older boyfriends driving small sports cars. The senior girls were also allowed to change out of their school uniforms on Friday afternoons, and I have a dim memory of admiring their bright A-line dresses: ladylike, expensive, but youthful. That is how Chamade strikes me: like the kind of fragrance a chic European mother or grandmother would have given then to an 18 year-old as her “first Guerlain.”
I find Chamade a bit confusing, mostly because of the many descriptions of it that differ significantly from how I experience it. People describe it as a green floral with a strong hyacinth top note, and that just isn’t what I smell! To my nose, the opening is dominated by greenish aldehydes, and I don’t smell hyacinth at all. A few comments I’ve read say that it is so well-blended that each note doesn’t really stand out as a separate, identifiable scent, and that is closer to my experience. I was actually relieved, when I revisited Turin’s review, to see that he described it as a “powdery floral”, because that’s what I smell. I look forward to trying the 2021 version, as it seems to have dispensed with the aldehydes and moved galbanum up to the opening.
Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes are Hyacinth, Aldehydes, Rose, Jasmine and Bergamot; middle notes are Galbanum, Rose, Lilac, Jasmine, Cloves and Lily-of-the-Valley; base notes are Tolu Balsam, Benzoin, Peru Balsam, Amber, Vetiver, Vanilla and Sandalwood. When I first spray Chamade, I get a blast of aldehydes with a greenish tint, then the rose and jasmine notes come skipping in, holding hands. Have I mentioned that I smell no hyacinth at all? Yes, I’m slightly stuck on that point, because I love the smell of hyacinths and have spent a fair amount of time seeking out fragrances that actually smell like them (for the record, the best one I’ve found is Jo Malone’s Blue Hyacinth).
As the top notes fade, the rose and jasmine are joined by spring flowers, lilac and lily of the valley, but very faintly. The notes list says this stage includes cloves, but to me it smells more like carnation. The galbanum is there, but in the background, unlike some of the galbanum-heavy green scents I love. It is more like the green backdrop to the flowers, as a green groundcover in a flower bed sets off the more colorful, vivid blooms. The middle stage of Chamade is very pretty; it also smells more youthful to me than the opening, probably because of how dominant the aldehydes are at the start. I was interested to read on Fragrantica that many commenters dislike the first ten minutes of Chamade, though they cite different reasons. Some experience it as sour, or sharp. Most who commented, though, also say that they enjoy Chamade very much after that opening. The middle phase is also where I start smelling what my nose perceives as “powdery.” I really can’t say why — it’s possible there is a violet note blended in there but not listed.
As it starts to dry down, Chamade becomes noticeably warmer, and it’s quite lovely. This is the stage that earned it five stars from Luca Turin. He calls it “a strange, moist, powdery yellow narcissus accord that had the oily feel of pollen rubbed between finger and thumb.” Powdery yellow pollen — yes, but to my nose less like narcissus and more like ylang-ylang. There is also a slight spiciness that combines beautifully with the balsams, resin, and vanilla in the base notes. This is the stage worth waiting for, really. It makes Chamade a warm floral without any heaviness, light as a summer breeze on a sunny day.
Featured image from http://www.stopdropandvogue.com.