(I know, I know, I keep promising a throwdown between Ysatis and Divine edp… to be honest, I haven’t settled that one to my satisfaction, and to be further honest, I haven’t worn either in recent days since I’ve been craving green scents. The issue is tabled1 for now, to be revisited in the future when my interest in those two fragrances returns.)
Due to a rather-too-literal reading of Perfumes: The Guide, and a cursory examination of the notes, I had it in my head that these two fragrances were similar. I even posted a query once on fragrantica.com as to how similar they were, having smelled Chamade from a decant obtained via eBay (vintage pdt, if you care) but not having smelled Le Temps d’une Fete2.
Here’s the passage, from the Luca Turin’s P:TG review of Le Temps d’une Fete:
***** green narcissus … Le Temps d’une Fete is irresistibly lovely. Futhermore, it fills a gap in my heart I didn’t know existed. I have always been impressed by the structure of Lancome’s Poeme but dismayed by its cheap, angular execution. Conversely, I have always loved Guerlain’s Chamade but deplored a slight lack of bone structure, particularly in the latest version. Le Temps d’une Fete marries the two and achieves something close to perfection, rich, radiant, solid, with the unique complexity of expensive narcissus absolute braced by olfactory bookends of green-floral notes and woods. Very classical, and truly wonderful.
Somehow I seemed to have entirely skipped over Poeme there (I have never smelled that one, either) and glommed onto the Chamade:LTdF comparison. I checked out the lists of notes and thought, “Hey, those are similar. I should try some Parfums de Nicolai stuff.”
Notes for Chamade: aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, hyacinth, lilac, jasmine, rose, muguet, cloves, narcissus, sandalwood, amber, benzoin, vetiver, vanilla, tolu balsam, peru balsam.
Notes for Le Temps d’une Fete: galbanum, hyacinth, narcissus, sandalwood, opoponax, patchouli, cedarwood.
Was I crazy? Probably. I look at the lists of notes now and notice that the only ones in common are galbanum, hyacinth, narcissus and sandalwood, and while those are distinctive notes, they’re buttressed by very different accents. I’m months more sophisticated now than I was back then (HA!), and if I was looking at the two scents now I wouldn’t make assumptions that they were similar. However, because I keep seeing questions from people who were misled, as I was, by the P:TG comments, here’s my take on these two beautiful, dissimilar green florals.
Because I smelled Chamade first, I’ll review it first. I swapped for a decant of vintage parfum de toilette with Queen Enabler Daisy, who’d bought it and then found it old-fashioned and a bit stuffy. (I think since then she’s acknowledged this step a mistake, and hosted a humongous split of vintage Chamade edt; more jewels in her crown…) Chamade was released in 1969, named for the French novel of that name (La Chamade, by Francoise Sagan), which was made into a film starring, of course, Catherine Deneuve. The title refers to the drumbeat which was used in the French army to signal Retreat; it also refers to the quick beating of the heart in the throes of romantic surrender. The bottle, too, is interestingly-shaped and beautiful, hinting at a heart turned upside down by love.
Upon first smelling Chamade pdt, I was ready to dismiss the idea of romance in connection with it: it was full of aldehydes and galbanum, two notes that can go very powdery and which make up a lot of the current idea of Old Lady Perfume. Even experienced perfumistas can have difficulty with one or the other of those notes. Up top, Chamade is cold and dry; the aldehyde-galbanum combo is fairly bitter and unpromising, even to me, and I like both of those notes. After the aldehydes burn off, however, the galbanum relaxes a little but lingers on my skin for nearly an hour – the longest opening of any galbanum scent I’ve tried (there have been plenty).
Only gradually does the galbanum capitulate, rolling through a hyacinth note that is floral but lacks the typical spiciness of that element, and then ushering in a golden, classical rose-jasmine heart. There is a freshness to the middle portion, thanks to a breath of lilac and muguet, but it’s primarily rose and jasmine, a shimmering elixir that really does seem like liquid gold, with the lovely accent of haylike narcissus. Two and a half to three hours after application, the golden heart begins to soften and melt into a beautiful, smooth, carefree drydown that is somehow both rich and light. Look at all the materials in the base: vetiver, vanilla, benzoin, sandalwood, and amber, plus the balsams that I typically dread. They never bother me here – either the proportion is small, or I’m so captivated by this drydown that I never notice the balsams. Chamade’s base is as much texture as it is actual smell, smooth and creamy and gliding. Luca Turin’s review in P:TG says, “… a strange, moist, powdery yellow narcissus accord that had the oily feel of pollen rubbed between finger and thumb.” There’s enough vanilla that you’d peg it as a Guerlain, but it is in no way foody or sweet. Nor is it slightly-naughty in the fashion of many of the classic Guerlains, with their common rich Guerlinade base; in fact, it smells clean even well into the rich creamy base.
Chamade gradually progresses from that stiff, prim, almost unfriendly opening, to that relaxed, caressing, helplessly-in-love base, and I’ve come to feel that it’s a very romantic scent. It blossoms so completely that it’s hard not to find it suggestive of fully-opened petals and sensual delight. I think of it in terms of green and gold, and it is beautiful.
A brief word on concentrations, with the caveat that I am most familiar with Chamade that was described as vintage: the 1980’s pdt is probably the powderiest version. One edt I tested was probably 1990’s, and so was the tiny bottle of parfum. The parfum is very creamy and morphs from galbanum to floral slightly faster than the pdt, but not as quickly as the more-sparkling edt, which has the least powder and a drydown slightly less deep than the pdt or parfum. I haven’t smelled a version I haven’t liked, but I do hear from longtime lovers of Chamade that it’s a bit less rich in the base these days, post-reformulation, while still smelling largely like itself and therefore still worth buying in the current version. Edit: I’ve now tried modern Chamade edt, and it is very close to the ’90’s sample I have, albeit a teeny-tiny bit thinner in the base.
(Other reviews of Chamade: Bois de Jasmin, Angela at Now Smell This, Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am, The Non-Blonde, Sweet Diva, Yesterday’s Perfume.)
Le Temps d’une Fete, on the other hand, was released in 2007 by Parfums de Nicolai. The (silly) name had been used before by PdN for a different scent, which was revamped and rereleased. Unlike Chamade, there is no interesting ad campaign, no connection with a beautiful French actress, no lovely bottle shaped like an upside-down heart. In fact, the bottle is downright ugly, in my opinion.
Luckily, LTdF doesn’t need any extras. It is simply wonderful on its own, overcoming its puerile name and ungainly bottle. Like Chamade, it starts out with galbanum and rolls through hyacinth into a heart composed primarily of narcissus. I don’t know how much narcissus is in there, but I think it must be a high percentage, because it’s so clear and to the forefront that after becoming familiar with this scent, it’s very easy for me to pick narcissus out of most compositions. The drydown is a deepening of the heart notes, as the woody basenotes come up under the gradually-fading narcissus. The woods are well-blended with a lightweight, grassy patchouli that never bothers me, as patch can frequently do, and with the smooth deep resiny presence of the opoponax. I continue to smell narcissus plus the base for a long time, and although some reviewers have found it to be rather dirty and earthy, I don’t perceive it that way at all. I find it graceful, confident, and optimistic.
It is only an edt, but two sprays will last about 6-7 hours on me with light sillage. I can usually smell my arm without bringing it to my nose, but you won’t smell me coming around the corner. This is my preferred distance to waft fragrance.
I have read complaints from a few perfume fans that LTdF smells too much like the standard PdN base to be really spectacular, and since more than one of them is saying it, I think this has to be taken into consideration. I’ll also point out that I’ve tested twelve PdN fragrances, and I didn’t notice a “PdN base” as consistent and identifiable as such, the way that most Estee Lauder scents seem to share DNA. Perhaps this shared base, if there is one, is really only noticeable if there is something in the base that a tester finds objectionable. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a common PdN base, but I didn’t perceive it myself. Of the twelve PdNs I tested, I adored two (this one and Vanille Tonka), and liked four others very much (Odalisque, Maharanih, Balkis and Juste une Reve). The others did not impress me.
It’s very difficult for me to review Le Temps d’une Fete, as I find myself unwilling to pick apart the components of its smell because it is such magic to me. I perceive it as a happy scent, as peaceful as sunlight dappling the surface of a small pond in a green glen. It is one of the few mood-brightening scents I’ve encountered, and I treasure it for that.
(Other reviews for LTdF: Pere de Pierre, Patty at Perfume Posse – brief, The Scented Salamander, Nathan Branch, and I’d swear that I read someone’s review that called this scent “witchy” but I can’t find it now.)
So. Chamade and Le Temps d’une Fete, head to head? The two share similar notes in their respective openings. Chamade is mutable, developing into full-blown rich vanillic florals; Le Temps, while not linear, has a far narrower range of development, with narcissus dominating its character. Chamade is romantic; Le Temps is magic. Chamade is complex and possibly demonstrates a higher level of mastery of the art of perfumery; Le Temps has simpler aims but manages to be both beautiful and distinctive.
(Do I have to choose? Can’t I have both? Actually, I do own two decants of Chamade pdt, a tiny bottle of Chamade parfum, and two small bottles of Le Temps d’une Fete, one of which I bought myself and one I swapped some L’Arte di Gucci to get.)
I’ll take the opportunity to observe that in this era when some fragrance fans call $100 a bottle “the new free,” both of these scents are relatively reasonably priced. An ounce of LTdF edt runs $42; the big 100ml bottle is $120. 100ml of Chamade in edt will set you back about $100. Kudos, again, to PdN for making their scents available in small bottles, and also for making those small bottles comparable in per-ml price to their large bottles. Then, too, since Chamade’s been around for awhile, it’s often available more inexpensively on ebay or at online discounters.
You say I have to choose? Well, then, purely on happiness points, I pick Le Temps d’une Fete for myself. But I don’t think you could go wrong with either one of them. Judging on this one is strictly subjective.
Top image is from Wikimedia Commons. Perfume images are from fragrantica.com.
1That is, “tabled” in the American sense: the matter is set aside for further discussion at a later date. I understand that in the British sense, “tabled” means the issue is brought up for debate at the present time, which usage actually makes more sense to me.