It's been eons since I watched La Chamade (Heartbeat), the 1968 movie based on a 1966 Françoise Sagan novel, and I only remember two things: 1) It was sad in that French film way and 2) Catherine Deneuve was gorgeous in that sad French film way.
It was the kind of movie that makes you think about love and Paris of the 1960s, wonder if either are real and ask yourself which man (and life) would you choose. Would you be the older and wealthy man's mistress or take the daily grind with the broke artist for the sake of true love? Love vs. money and a Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe. Why can't we have both?
Chamade, the Guerlain perfume, was launched in 1969 with La Chamade as its inspiration. It has that heartbreakingly romantic quality, an aloof beauty that slowly reveals itself on skin and shows you what lies under the crisply tailored coat. It's the hyacinth. The flowers looks a bit prim and innocent, at least in the version you often see in our gardens. But when it comes to perfume, something happens to it and it becomes a most alluring thing.
The opening, at least in the vintage versions I have of Chamade (parfum and parfum de toilette, none of them from the last decade), is green and edgy. The pairing of hyacinth and galbanum is bitter and cool, an ice queen kind of first impression, calculated, beautiful and untouchable. But things are never what they seemed on the surface. Soon, Chamade opens up to reveal a somewhat powdery warmth, iris and hay, a summer day away from the city, a bouquet of yellow flowers in a makeshift vase near the window.
And then there's sweetness. Not foody, but still a delicate, irresistible balsamic vanilla. Chamade's drydown is surprisingly tender. It doesn't hit you on the head and sends you to the nearest bakery to satisfy a craving. Instead, you just want to bury your nose in this Guerlain masterpiece, inhale deeply and dream of Paris.
Chamade, like all Guerlain's classics (as well as anything else under the sun) has been reformulated (and probably more than once). The last time I've sniffed a current tester was over a year ago and things might have deteriorated even further, but at least at that point Chamade was still very nice. The vintage parfum is superior, of course, and I also adore the old parfum de toilette which I can spray all over myself and pretend I'm a heroine of a torrid love story.