Funny, I look at this data set so often - whenever I choose Chamade Homme as my scent of the day. But it never occurred to me that I still have not written an English review about my favourite and most worn perfume. I truly consider Chamade Homme one of the best (if not the best) gent's colognes that we have today.
Jean-Paul Guerlain who we know as the creator of Chamade Homme has made a considerable number of fragrances during his life: many ladies' perfumes but a lot of remarkable gent's colognes as well. If we look at this perfumer's life, there is an arc of increasing perfectionism and true craftsmanship: from his brilliant take on Vetiver that outperformed any other, and that maybe only a courageous young man was able to compose, to Habit Rouge's soft and refined yet masculine interpretation of red, then digging deep into the world of chypres and fougères, beginning cautiously with Eau de Guerlain, a humble start in the family tradition of Eaux that could not be more respectable. Then, much more confident, continuing with Derby, an almost rough green leather chypre, very distinctive. The nineties brought Heritage as one of Guerlain's bread and butter colognes, and then – Coriolan, later renamed L'Âme d'un Héros: a light and complex fragrance with a tart herbaceous character that maybe came out ten years too late. Had J.-P. Guerlain passed his zenith as a perfumer with that release?
Apparently there was the monetary freedom that a well-run business could provide: the freedom of taking all time necessary when developing a new gents' cologne. Yet, Coriolan may have been an exception. While being well composed it now occurs to me as a concept that had not been investigated to the very end. Its herbaceous side was maybe too prominent, too much emphasized – it appears to me exerted rather than relaxed and cool.
But some time later, in 1999, Chamade Homme came out – as far as I know only available in a gift set together with the ladies' Chamade at first - and thus, obviously not aimed at being Guerlain's cash cow. Chamade Homme has been blamed for not being that much different from Coriolan. I have read quite a few reviews where it was put aside since it admittedly does not have that distinct statement of a precisely defined direction that its herbaceous predecessor has. Yet, it appears to me as the goal that was finally achieved after Coriolan's maybe too eager launch.
To conclude his arc of productivity so far, J.-P. Guerlain once more set an exclamation mark with the splendid dark violet chypre Arsène Lupin in 2010. However, Chamade Homme's well-thought-out concept of refining scents with the means of a cologne could not be topped. For me, it marks the peak level.
I should be explaining now how it smells but whenever we look at the best of perfumes, any mentioning of fragrance notes or even perfume classifications must mislead the reader. We all have our inane concepts when we read words like leather, chypre, jasmine and so on. If we read them we inevitably try to figure out how the perfume is supposed to smell. However, if a perfume is truly unique, complex and perfectly balanced – our imagination will not even come near to the real fragrance sensation.
Of course, such is the case with Chamade Homme. What does it really say if I state that the complex top notes have also an herbaceous appeal but not as distinct as Coriolan? And yes, some Jasmine may also be included, or anything else that adds a slightly indolic touch to the heart with its most discreet florals. That the base note could very vaguely be described as a soft and noble leather dissimulates the fact that no leather can smell that much refined. A very faint and elegant version of Guerlinade may play an essential role as well: honeyed, resinous but somehow shaded and nevertheless masculine.
Much more important than the actual fragrance notes is the way that Chamade Homme is composed. It is a true Eau de Parfum with a classic development of head, heart and base notes and a longevity of well over 12 hours.
Generally spoken, fragrances are best detectable when freshly applied – soon the notes fade, one by one more or less quickly. Many perfumers are able to compose fragrances that are simply amazing at first sniff. But they cannot overcome the law of nature. The loudness will soon fade, and an enthusiastically composed top may soon give way to a much more quiet and very often also bland base: big bangs drying down to insignificance.
Chamade Homme begins the other way round. The top is complex up to the point that it is difficult to find a certain statement in it. The notes seem to even have difficulties to interact with each other. It may come as a somewhat uninspired blend of nothing special – just a gents' perfume, too much of everything and quite outdated compared to today's puristic approach by Ellena and others. Chamade Homme presumably can never be love at first sight, and those perfume lovers who are usually determined by their first impression may be done with it at this early stage.
Soon however, the slightly chaotic top notes start to settle and to get soothed by that highly refined kind of Leather-Guerlinade. Although also this fragrance calms down in a way it nevertheless becomes all the more attractive with every minute. This is the chypre effect for me: somewhat arbitrary top notes must be stridden before the more attractive heart and the final peak comes in sight.
A perfect Chamade Homme day ends with a grand evening. Being applied in the morning, it may look as if the fragrance is gone by late afternoon – but only to pull itself together towards the end of the day. Occasional whiffs, faint but powerful, tickle ones attention every now and then. They are then fully blended together with one's own bodily odour, transferring it into something exquisite and sophisticated. Excuse me for saying so but it makes one want to defer the usual after work shower, and not to change one's shirt!
Maybe one should not consider a rather high-priced Guerlain exclusive an everyday fragrance, but that's what Chamade Homme really is, in the best meaning of the word. Wearing it over a long period of time will make one grow into that fragrance, and to detect all the not so quite obvious beauty in it. It may not be as grand and sophisticated as the later Arsène Lupin which therefore is the better choice for a night out. But it has the ability to become one's signature scent – and it has become mine. It is elegant yet discreet - far away from today's mass marked musks or woody purisms. And there is absolutely no ingredient in it that could by any means get on one's nerves. I cannot imagine ever getting enough of it.
Chamade Homme was distributed in different flacons over the years. I still own mine in a bee bottle, with a pump balloon sprayer! This packaging was maybe not so popular with the male audience, and eventually the bee bottle was replaced by the wooden square flacon. I have never heard that this went along with a reformulation, and so I can recommend Chamade Homme without any reservation. As one of Guerlain's exclusives it is only available at the Maison Guerlains. Fortunately, Guerlain has ceased its hard-to-get policy recently as more and more Maison Guerlain boutiques are being placed in department stores and perfume chain stores. Look out!