I can’t quite make up my mind about Guerlain’s Chamade. For a perfume released at the tail end of the swinging sixties, it has an oddly heavy, formal quality to it. Inspired by a Francoise Sagan novel, La Chamade, the name itself means both the drumbeat of defeat in battle and also the beating of a heart of someone deeply in love. This might suggest that the perfume itself is an expression of heady passion or turmoil – but actually, neither the story of La Chamade or the perfume bear that out.
In La Chamade, the novel, a young woman, Lucille, is the lover of an older, wealthy gentleman and falls in love with a penniless young man. In the end, Lucille turns her back on her feelings and returns to her older lover and her luxurious, paid-up lifestyle. What starts out as a pounding of the heart (passion for the young man) ends up as the drumbeat of retreat as she battens down her feelings in order to return to a man she does not love. It is a depressing message for a perfume, no?
Like the meaning of the word “Chamade” itself, the perfume is also a game of two contrasting parts, specifically a spicy, intensely green floral first half and a vanillic, resinous oriental second half. It is like the story of La Chamade in reverse – first, a repression of feelings painted in the silvery-green sharpness of hyacinth and throat-catching galbanum, before finally sliding into a more relaxed, loved-up base of vanilla, fruit blackcurrant buds, rose and jasmine. The perfume is both cold and warm.
There are two things that I don’t really like about Chamade, namely the hissy, aggressively green start (which reminds me uncomfortably of Chanel No. 19) and a certain oily feel to the galbanum and blackcurrant buds in the heart and dry down. But as with everything Guerlain, it is worth persevering with different concentrations and vintages of the scent, to see if one will “click” for you. I have found that Chamade in pure perfume form (and especially vintage) to have the most astoundingly beautiful vanilla, sandalwood, and blackcurrant base, giving off the pleasing impression of a piece of bread smothered in blackcurrant jam – it’s simply divine. The modern EDP is a vast improvement on the current EDT, which I find harsh and oily in the extreme. The modern EDP focuses on the soft, rosy heart of the fragrance and manages to draw it out enough to act as a true bridge between the powdery green floral top notes and the creamy base.
In brief, I suffer through the first half of Chamade and find myself wishing I could fast forward to the “good” part. In fairness, when Chamade is good, it’s brilliant.
So, I am constantly in two minds about whether I want to wear it or not. Sometimes, the urge comes upon me and I spray it on, and mostly spend the day regretting my choice. But once in a blue moon, I spray it on and it is absolutely the right thing. The only thing, in fact.
I guess my bottle of Chamade stays (for now).