Sunday, October 25, 2015

Guerlain Chamade-Review

I don't know what the hell is going on with Chamade. I've owned bottles of it over the years, got sick of it, gave it away, and then simply had to have it again. It isn't even a love/hate relationship-I just like smelling it now and then. I can look at the note pyramid and acknowledge the great stuff in it, but overall? I'm conflicted on this one. Perhaps not one of Guerlain's greats, but it does evoke its era (launched in 1969) rather well.

I have a rocky relationship with hyacinths. My next door neighbour has them in his front garden, and each spring they are first through the earth before the daffodils and tulips. Sitting outside on a warm spring evening, the fragrance is...gag inducing. There, I said it. The sun warms that side of the house all day and late afternoon in effect heating the petals like a scented oil diffuser. The pink and purple hyacinths float on each breeze landing smack dab at my front door. They smell like retro bathroom cleaner. Perhaps the only flower whose smell I dislike more is the paperwhite. That's not to say there haven't been hyacinth perfumes I like (The Vera Wang one is quite nice)-but the real thing, growing in the ground? Oh god no. I don't care how pretty they are. I should note that Acqua di Gio is loaded with hyacinth and I can't be in the same room with it. Danny calls it the winner of the "Reek-O Lifetime Achievement Award". Don't you wish such an award really existed? Anyway, if you have issues with hyacinths, be warned.

I recently wore Chamade for a week straight to see if I could get a better understanding of what it is trying to communicate. Essentially, Chamade's message is, "I'm trying to kill you, but I brought you flowers." This is the perfumer's version of chemical warfare-the suffocating aldehyde bomb.

Have you ever smelled something in nature that smelled so artificial you couldn't reconcile your nose and brain's reactions? Hyacinths do that to me every time, but to a lesser degree, lilacs do as well. My aunt and uncle had a beautiful, overgrown lilac that would go mad each spring with clusters of flowers hanging over the patio behind the house. For a couple weeks each spring, their backyard would smell like a cross between a funeral parlour and a laboratory. Once, on an unseasonably warm spring day my auntie set up an inflatable pool for me to splash about in, directly beneath the demonic overgrown bush. Then, they left me there, alone with it, ghastly purple tentacles reaching out to devour me. They went to have tea or something. Anyway, by the time they got back I was still sitting there frozen with fear and the odour of  what I imagined every bad B movie I'd ever watched on a Saturday afternoon in my then young life would smell like in person. Then, to my dismay, my auntie cut arms full to send my mother home with, as they were her favourite flower. I got to smell them filling the kitchen for the following week, mingling with cheap coffee and boiled meat.

The first fifteen minutes of Chamade are intensely unpleasant. I'm not going to lie-the urge to scrub it is so strong it takes determination to get past the hyacinths, aldehydes, and bergamot. You might wonder if it has started to turn, as the sting of a lanolin-based nail varnish remover makes itself known. That's just Chamade's way of saying, "Hi! I'm Chamade and I'm here to kill you. I brought you some galbanum to asphyxiate you first."

Galbanum-done right it can be so beautifully green and bright. Done less carefully, and you'll think you just ate a bowl of raw sorrel leaves and barfed them out so hard a few went out your nose. Chamade's galbanum is somewhere in-between, and it changes as the scent moves through the hours, and other notes. It isn't the worst thing in Chamade by a long-shot, but it is definitely there, and trying to projectile vomit out your nose.

Chamade is sort of a Jack of all Trades...and a master of none. There's so much innovative perfumery happening that it gets disorienting. By the time Chamade gets to the beautiful base notes of amber, vetiver, sandalwood and incense, my nose is being severely challenged. I encourage you to stick with Chamade because once you do get there, the middle notes and base are absolutely gorgeous. There's a bit of rose trying to get through, but I really had to make an effort to catch it, and it is quite fleeting. Vanilla and tolu balsam give it all depth and warmth and when you're sure it is just a disorganised mess that won't work, something happens and Chamade shocks you with the most beautiful, modern sort of perfume composition. Unfortunately, it takes a good hour to get there and you have to live through the aldehydes, hyacinths, and lilacs first. Chamade is one fragrance where Id be happy if my sample got old, and lost the top notes,  it would be a better perfume without them.

Notes: Hyacinth, galbanum, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, tolu balsam, benzoin, cloves, lilac, lily of the valley, peru balsam, vanilla, bergamot, vetiver, amber, and sandalwood.

I'm certain this won't be my last encounter with Chamade as I tend to have a short memory and distrust of my nose. So long as I can get hold of decants I will keep trying it from time to time, unable to accept my dislike of a fragrance so adored by others, but I won't be convinced. I'll be reminded, give it a rest, and try again hoping that something will click in my brain and make Chamade shine for me.

My decant is the modern formulation which smells to my nose the same as it always did. At least it isn't a reformulation horror story, which will be appreciated by the people who adore Chamade. I'm just not one of them.


Bibi Maizoon said...

"Chamade is sort of a Jack of all Trades...and a master of none."
Perhaps Guerlain should have named it Charade?
Narcissus, jonquils, hyacinths, daffodils, paperwhites- make me nauseous.

Beth Waltz said...

I lack the proper perfume vocabulary to participate in this conversation, but I do sorta comprehend the aldehyde complaint re: hyacinths, paperwhite and other spring bulbs. They lure my winter-dried-out-by-central-heating nose for a good sniff, then hit my sinuses with a blast of */* that makes me sneeze and blink.

That lavender bush you recall might indeed have marked a scary situation, Goody. When we Hoosier kiddies went exploring old farmsteads, we reminded each other to watch for old privy pits. The outhouses would decay and disappear, but the lavenders planted to screen (and perfume) them lingered on. We would given a giant old specimen a very wide berth!

Mim said...

Ha, I adore all the flowers you've named. Though I'm wary of bringing lilacs into the house; it's said that bringing lilacs indoors brings in death. (I don't believe it myself, though the little superstitious part of me will stare at them suspiciously and wonder...)

Your description of the lilac bush is ideal for Halloween :-)

Goody said...

I LOVE it! From now on, I will call it Charade.

@Beth Waltz
That explains the scraggly lilac bush on the farm that grew in a disused area in back of the house. It was probably the outhouse at one time. We were forever finding sunken foundations from old outbuildings, but I never put it together.

I've never paid much mind to superstitions either-like not wearing opals unless it is your birthstone because it brings bad luck. Who comes up with such nonsense?

You might really like Chamade, if those are your kinds of flowers.