Fragrance Throwdown: Guerlain Chamade versus Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete

 (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.

2Please excuse the lack of diacritical marks. This drives me nuts, actually, that I have to go look for the correct spelling complete with mark, then look up and insert the special character. Consistently. I tend to be a nitpicky person, but the truth is that I don’t know my proverbial elbow from my proverbial derriere, at least in French (although I think derriere should have an accent mark over the first e… but which way does it angle?) and I simply can’t be bothered. If it ain’t on my keyboard, I’m probably not gonna type it. So sue me. And I apologize for the snarkiness. There are a couple of commenters on NST that get their knickers in a twist over lack of diacritical marks, but THEIR keyboards probably have the darn things readily available…

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19 thoughts on “Fragrance Throwdown: Guerlain Chamade versus Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete”

  1. Leave it to you to make me want to (re)try both!
    I’ve never actually tested chamade on skin, and I am not a fan of the PDN line… But you made me too curious, and since a couple of weeks, I got on a green kick too!
    Yesterday I sampled OJ tiaré for the first time, and found it quite green and lovely (and a true misnomer!)

    1. Oh, do retry Chamade on skin, Z! It takes sooo lonnng to bloom that I think a paper test is worthless in this particular case.

      Do you find that PdNs have a base you dislike? Just curious.

      I still haven’t smelled the OJ Tiare – I think someone was describing it as being really a floral chypre rather than a tropical-white-flowers thing, and I wasn’t really sure I’d like it. But perhaps I should dig up a sample somewhere.

  2. Hmm, I smelled several PdN scents and I never thought they share a base. But I managed to skip LTdF and it has both hyacinth and narcissus – I know where I have to go to try it, but I’m scared. I always end up coming out with a bottle of something even when I say this time I’m not going to do it. 🙂

    1. Ines, Ines, Ines… you incorrigible shopper…

      Kidding! I might have more trouble keeping my spending down if I had access to a perfume store. As it is, I buy nearly everything online.

      I think it’s worth trying, at least, although I doubt that everyone loves it the way I do.

  3. Oh you are right: the OJ is not tropical, and it does not have a white flower feel: the name and the ad copy are really deceptive. It should have been called “green daydream”, or something like that 😉
    I find that Tiaré is lush, in a green way reminiscent of green chypres of yore, but without the loud voice and the sharp/strict edges: this may be a + or not. I tried it on skin only once, at the beginning I thought it pleasant but not very original, but as it developed I realised it was really “round” and elegant and I quite enjoyed the ride! You are much more expert than me on green fragrances (and many other frag families!), so maybe I am biased by liking the “green elegant and lush” effect very much, and not knowing how it is usually rendered or if it is *that*original.

    (in the PDNs, I don’t detect a common base, but most of the perfumes I tried reminded me of other compositios, and not ones I particularly loved, and they ususally use to much fruits for my tastes – so I must be one of the very few not appreciative of the line! 🙁 )

    1. Ah, now *I* have trouble with green chypres.

      I don’t notice a PdN base, but I think the house is very hit-or-miss. There are quite a few that I smelled and immediately said, Naaaah. And then there are those two that I just love. I don’t understand that, either…

  4. I have both Chamade EDP and LTduF – never really thought they were smellalikes, but they’re definitely in that same “spring” fragrance category. I prefer Chamade. Mentioned this on another blog – to me LTduF has a sort of Pure White Linen vibe – more of a fresh floral scent, whereas Chamade (to me) seems more complex and seductive – has a warmth and richness to it. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love PdN fragrances. And I like LTduF more than PWL. Just don’t love it.

    1. I think you said that on NST, because I was totally scratching my head over it… (makes confused face) I hate the Lauder base, but even that aside, I don’t “get” the connection at all between PWL and LTdF.

      Chamade is really rich, once the galbanum thins a bit.

  5. Hey Mals! Wouldn’t say that PWL smells like LTdF…just that I classify them similarly. Perhaps it’s an emotional reaction rather than a list of notes. PWL and LTdF both read fresh and “safe” to me. Office scents. Ack. What does that mean exactly? Horrible at describing this stuff. Perhaps because it IS an emotional thing rather than cerebral!?

    1. Ahhh. So you get “safe” and I get “happy.” That’s not so terribly far distant. It’s not as if you called, say, Insolence a “nice, safe office scent,” when to me Insolence is “shrieking miasma of insanity.” 🙂

  6. Hey, doll!

    Will you people STOP with the Chamade? I cannot remember anything about it (I quit wearing Guerlains for a very long time, with the exception of Mitsouko, after I got bit by Jardins d B). But everybody is so in love with it that I am simply going to have to retry – and if I end up lusting for a buncho vintages….(where is the finger-drumming emoticon)

    L Td’uF. Try as I might, I cannae fall in love with this one. Everyone expected me to and I very nearly did – but there’s something that sort of puts me off. Don’t get me wrong – it’s lovely – just not swoony.

    And could that bottle be any uglier? And the label? I think PdN is a real talent (I love Maharanih) and like you, I love that she makes smaller bottles affordable. But her packaging is scary!

    Cut it out with the diacriticals! LOL! I nearly spit out my ginger ale! If you ever find the umlaut on our American keyboard(s) please let this alien know, okay?

    xoA

    1. Hi, M! I WANT an umlaut on my keyboard… wonder where I can pick up a keyboard with all the cool stuff… srsly, there’s at least one commenter who frequently complains on NST about missing diacriticals. I thought *I* was picky – but life is Just Too Short for that nonsense. This is a blog, for heaven’s sake, not the OED.

      (And what kind of ginger ale was it? Good stuff? I recently tried Vernor’s and thought it was terrific, lots of real gingery flavor in there.)

      Re: LTdF – oh, well, more for me. I do like the small PdN bottles. They feel so nice in the hands. I don’t think I could manage to actually wear Maharanih anywhere because it got so photorealistic-boyparts in the drydown, but I really liked it up until then. Okay, I admit it was fascinating, but I can’t see wearing Eau de Cojones to work…

      Chamade is really great – and I don’t think it’s been ruined by reformulation, either, so I wouldn’t panic and hover over auctions of the vintage stuff. In some ways it’s very old school in that you have to waaaaaaait for it to relax and get all swoony. But as I said, I think that’s romantic.

  7. Well, I love Chamade (the regular-whatever-is-weakest- and-cheapest-version being probably what I have!) – it is powdery, sherbety gorgeousness, and the galbanum note, which is not a favourite of mine, doesn’t trouble me the way it does in Private Collection.

    LTd’UF I have tried and tried to like, as the reviews and descriptions sounded great, but the narcissus goes sour and indolic on me, like a number of popular perfumes – Amoureuse and various jasmine behemoths – to name but a few.

    1. FS, I hear that Chamade in its current version is generally thought to be still very good; I don’t think it’s one of those where the vintage is stunning and the modern a shell of itself. And isn’t that a good thing these days?!

      It seems that narcissus is difficult for a lot of people… whoda thunk that I’d fall for it? I tried some Narcisse Noir recently, not realized that the life *had* been reformulated out of that one, and it was pretty much all orange blossom with nary a whiff of narcissus. It’s odd that I love narcissus but have difficulties with OB (frequently it seems too soapy, or too indolic, or too, um, boring to me)! I was so disappointed – but I decided that I just would NOT go chasing vtg NN on ebay… especially when LTdF is still being produced, and so reasonably priced.

      I really liked Amoureuse but I didn’t feel like I needed to buy it, and don’t know why.

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