Family: floral, oriental
Notes: bergamot, hyacinth, galbanum, blackcurrant bud, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, orris, sandalwood, tonka bean, vanilla
Period: The love years
"She is booted to the thighs, and it's like a chalice for her beauty. She wears nothing but a little Guerlain essence in the hair." Thus chanted a lustful Serge Gainsbourg about his idol Brigitte Bardot in 1968, almost begging for Chamade to come out. Which it did the following year, 69 année erotique. Generally regarded as Jean-Paul Guerlain's most ravishing feminine creation, a floral oriental, Chamade carried on the new free-spirited inspiration from Habit Rouge, with hyacinth in the leading role, heavy and intoxicating, and a bit of galbanum to amplify this flower's fresh, green aspect. He also employed hedione, a natural jasmine isolate whose airy, moist and citrus-glittering impact Dior's Eau Sauvage had popularized three years earlier. But the defining feature of Chamade was the use of blackcurrant bud, probably for the first time in perfumery. Blackcurrant bud smells concurrently fruity and leafy, and it served as an intermediate between Chamade's fresh top and the vanillic amber below.
Chamade introduced a whole new Guerlain femininity, much more floral and luminous than anything else in the catalogue. It also represented Jean-Paul Guerlain's exploration of fruity notes in florals, which he later perfected in Nahéma. If today's myriad fruity-florals feel trite, it's like a revelation to let your nose be back to square one. "Jean-Paul Guerlain designed a work entitled Chamade with the synthetic p-Mentha-8-thiol-3-one, which smells like a neon fruit salad of sulfury mango and guava powered by the nuclear radiation of the Fukushima reactor," says perfume critic Chandler Burr. p-Mentha-8-thiol-3-one, more commonly known as Sulfox, was discovered in 1969 and carries a fierce acidulous-fruity-green scent which in low concentrations resembles blackcurrant. "It is a shocking material," Burr continues, "and it let Guerlain create a work that presented these natural olfactory aspects not as natural but as hyper-natural."
Straight from the bottle, Chamade had a psychedelically vibrant and tickling sensation of pollen on a blistering, hot summer's day, as if bright particles and petals were blowing in gusts. The subsequent development was a phenomenally long and slow meltdown into sandalwood, vanilla, and the sunny, generous banana-ripeness of ylang-ylang, a stately largo which to appreciate in depth required patience from the wearer. It was literally two distinct fragrances, one crisp and floral, the other a suave aphrodisiac. "One might even think that it was composed to be smelled after two days," remarks perfume critic Luca Turin who calls Chamade "a miracle". According to former UK spokesman for Guerlain, Roja Dove, trainee perfumers still study Chamade because its evaporation curve is considered so exceptional. "Perfume is made mainly so that one remembers the woman who wears it. I like to call it the elevator effect," Jean-Paul Guerlain explained when Chamade was released. "This is the man who goes to meet his lover — whether it be his fiancée, his wife, or his mistress — who has entered a building before him. She is wearing perfume, and he smells it. Suddenly his heart beats faster and the blood rushes to his head."
The idea for the perfume came from Françoise Sagan's 1965 novel "La Chamade", a story typical of the sixties just before the Parisian youth rebellion, about a woman's search for happiness. In the time of Napoléon, chamade signified a fast drumbeat that called the troops of war to retreat. The novel proposed this word as a metaphor, both for the surrendering heartbeat of a person in love, and, less idyllically, for free love's final defeat. "At the end of the sixties, we all had to beat la chamade," says Philippe Guerlain. "It was a beautiful time, intellectually and artistically." Chamade is archived evidence.
Bottle. The Chamade bottle, Raymond Guerlain's last project before he died, has the shape of a seashell reminiscent of Botticelli's painting "The Birth of Venus". (So, if one perceives the perfume's lush drydown as erotic, it gets confirmed by remembering that in classical antiquity, the seashell was a metaphor for a woman's vulva.) It has also been noted that the bottle looks like a heart turned upside down and pierced by the arrow-shaped stopper, a symbol of emotional surrender, but "Raymond would have hated the idea of a heart," argued Robert Granai who participated in the design process: "In his Shalimar bottle he wanted to capture the sensuality of women, whereas Chamade expresses the liberation of women and the sexual revolution."
Parfum, EdT, EdP. If Chamade is a throbbing heart, then the difference between the three versions is a question of how intensely and slowy it beats, how inebriating the ylang-ylang. The Parfum smoulders like a deep, wet kiss prolonged for hours, until it turns into a balsamic cream as flawless and enduring as white marble, polished and immaculate. In the EdT, the galbanum and hyacinth are greener and fresher, the ylang-ylang is less carnal, and the long-awaited drydown comes much sooner. The EdP smells like the EdT wound up, but compared to the Parfum it has a less lustrous finish, and a development less of a canyon. As of 2016, Guerlain has discontinued the EdP version of Chamade.
Reformulation. Compared to the 1969 edition, the current one seems a bit less bouncy and more lacteal up top, and not as botanically rich in the middle.
We love: the Parfum version
When you have a whole day and night to follow this love-potion to the very end
By yourself, wanting to remember when passion felt easy and right
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com
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