Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Chamade: An Appreciation
Chamade was virtually the first thing I ever smelled at the Guerlain counter, though not the first thing I saw. It's possible to find Guerlain's greatest hits here at the mall, but don't expect anyone to pull them out and show you without being asked. When you do ask, the saleswomen do a double take, either because they've never noticed them before or have but can't believe someone's looking for them. Pink and purple, L'Instant and (My) Insolence sit right up front, bracketing Hilary Swank's toothsome smile. Samsara and Shalimar are stored below, behind glass, very old fashioned in their staid red and blue rows. Chamade is behind the counter. Its gold box nearly disappears into the wall, alongside Mitsouko, Jardins de Bagatelle, and sometimes, if you're lucky, Jicky, all similarly packaged. You can forget Nahema, and the masculines don't even rate an appearance. Where Champs-Elysees is placed depends on the whim of whoever happens to be bored on the clock that day, and how old she is. Its pink and gold markings straddle the fence of old and new. Of all the Guerlain names, Chamade was the most intriguing to me.
I've since purchased L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Nahema, Coriolan, Vetiver, Shalimar, Habit Rouge, and Samsara, in no particular order, but only finally picked up Chamade this afternoon. Why I saved the best for last is something of a mystery to me. Something about Chamade convinced me I wouldn't be able to pull it off; whether the heady impression of narcissus or the overall potency of the fragrance, I don't know. At the time I first smelled Chamade it did seem overwhelmingly, inarguably feminine to me, of no particular age but of very definitively gendered. What gave? Mitsouko is arguably masculine by conventional standards, but L'Heure Bleue? Samsara isn't exactly butch either. I think my tastes keep expanding, and my nerve keeps building. I might not have worn Chanel No. 19 a year, or even a month, ago. I might have said, like my friend when he smelled Cannabis Rose on me, "Hmm, too girly."
Something's changed; probably, mostly my mind. Outlook is everything. The Perfume Guide helped. The idea of a Best Feminines for Men list, like everything else Turin does, isn't simply about itself, about the idea of better and best. It's about expanding your view. Once you've allowed that Mitsouko might be worn by a man, you inevitably question why you ever thought it shouldn't have been. What exactly about Mitsouko, and, by extension, any other fragrance, makes it masculine or feminine? Very little, it gradually seemed to me. That the Perfume Guide was written by a male/female duo who happened to be romantically partnered makes that process of re-evaluation even more interesting.
What I noticed right off the bat this time, picking up Chamade, is that, yes, there are florals. But once you process that, and move on, you smell everything else. Chamade is slightly oily, as Turin praised and others have complained. Inside that, or beyond it, you smell all kinds of things. Exactly what I'll leave to your own discovery. It's a favorite of mine and I enjoy the hard won right not to defend the position with detailed analysis. I love it more than anything because it waited patiently for me and, once I came around, held nothing back. It's as complicated as it ever was, and I'm a little less simple-minded.