Suzanne's Perfume Journal

It’s hard to believe it today, with the winter sky gone dull again, but my week started off as shiny as a copper penny. I awoke on Monday to the bluest sky imaginable and the first stirrings of Spring: vivacious bird song and a warm current of air that seemed to float atop the colder current and take away its bite. My horoscope said I was going to have a great day, and whether on account of weather or necessity, I believed it. I was in the final stages of completing a job I wanted to get paid for—some booklets I’d been assembling —and finishing it in a timely manner required a visit to a certain print shop, one with a folding-and-stapling machine capable of saving me countless hours of time and aggravation—if the machine was working. Past experience had taught me that this wasn’t something to be counted on; nor could I count on finding a parking space in the print shop’s tiny parking lot. Knowing I might have to park downtown and schlep a heavy cardboard box to-and-fro for several blocks, perhaps with nothing to show for it in the end, I put on my high-heel boots anyway; I felt that good. Apparently I had reason to, because when I pulled off the main drag and into the shop’s miniscule lot, there wasn’t a single car there. And by some other miracle, the fickle machine of which I spoke was coaxed into working by two employees who tinkered with it for fifteen breathless minutes before it began spitting out perfect sets of practice sheets.

“If this keeps up, these will be ready in an hour,” the manager said. Since that was precisely what I was hoping for, I accepted her invitation to leave my car there while I strolled downtown to press my luck at another establishment— a café I don’t visit often, as it, too, is a cramped and popular place. Most days, the college students occupy it to the point of standing-room only, so I was astonished yet again to sail in close to lunchtime and find it, if not exactly vacant, then sparsely filled. I wondered if what I’d been attributing to good fortune might actually be the result of favorable timing—perhaps it was Spring Break? The barista assured me it wasn’t, and not long after she made my latte, the students began drifting in with their laptops, casual banter and sense of ease. They were what made the place, really—something I’d forgotten in my excitement at being able to claim a table.

For an hour I basked in the café’s coziness, unintentionally eavesdropping on conversations and watching the comings and goings of the town. Across the street, next to a beautiful old stone church, the Tumble Bus pulled in—a renovated school bus equipped like a gymnasium and rented out for kids’ birthday parties—soon boarded by an energetic group of toddlers who filed out of the church’s basement. On the sidewalk, gray-haired professors and students passed by, most of them walking two by two, engrossed in deep conversation. At one point, a musician came in and asked if he could place a flyer in the café’s window for a performance he was giving in another part of town. Stout, shaggy-haired and looking to be somewhere in his mid-thirties, he had the appearance of a seasoned troubadour, but when the barista gave him her consent, he gushed his thanks in a way that made me wonder if the gig he was advertising was his first gig ever.

Something about his reaction, something about the day itself, got me to thinking about fresh starts—an idea that in the past never sounded all that appealing to me. In fact, it sounded a lot like “starting over,” which implied that an attempt had already been made, and any gains that had also been made were now lost.  The fresh start always seemed to me an exercise that would first require digging through a lot of stale entropy.

But on Monday, with a taste of Spring and good fortune in the air, it occurred to me that entropy might be the fossil fuel on which fresh starts revolve. Sitting in this coffeehouse watching the workaday world go by, the same wheels spinning that have spun through this town decade after decade—bread trucks and school vans and pizza delivery cars; silver-haired professors in loafers, students in sneakers, and shop keepers in sensible heels—I realized that their continuum could only be borne on an infinite number of fresh starts.  And in the same way that the retired school bus becomes the Tumble Bus, or the old church connects with the community in a new way when it takes on a daycare program, maybe I could have more of everything—fresh starts, old comforts, fortunate coincidences—if I stopped thinking in terms of having to reinvent the wheel (which was never my strong suit anyway) and simply made it a point to be the wheel. Constantly moving, always exploring new routes, even when those routes are through familiar territory.

If I were looking for a perfume reminder to keep on moving, it would be the perfume I wore on Monday: Guerlain Chamade extrait. Chamade couples the vibrant smell of Spring—of yellow daffodils and brilliant greens—with a base accord that is the very hallmark of what one expects of classical perfumes: a richly cosmetic scent that conveys a feeling of grandness and sophistication.  If I were going to paint a picture to describe the smell of Chamade, it would be of a dense cluster of daffodils bursting into bloom in a stately marble planter, as this perfume really seems to suggest that there is something excitingly new and sunny issuing forth from a classic antiquity. And when I use the word “bursting” to describe the smell, I do so for a reason, because this perfume doesn’t unfold so much on the skin as it vibrates. It has a green galbanum start that is attended by the champagne sparkle of aldehydes and the floral brilliancy of hyacinth, ensuring that the galbanum never smells bitter; indeed, it seems to shimmer.

And before it can stop shimmering, the perfume’s most defining floral notes comes into play—narcissus and jasmine—and together they create a smell that reminds me of the rich, golden pollen of daffodils. It’s so spot-on as to be almost sneeze-inducing, and the way it collides with Chamade’s galbanum accord makes me want to describe it as a fuzzy green scent, simply because it has so much olfactory texture. But that would make it sound trite when this perfume is anything but trite. Chamade’s distinctive Guerlain base, with its oriental blend of powder and sandalwood creaminess, anchors everything that I described previously in a way that never lets you forget that this is a perfume for the Sophisticate.

Which is not quite who I am, but on a good day, it’s who I strive to be.


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Guerlain Chamade extrait has notes of aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, hyacinth, lilac, jasmine, rose, muguet, cloves, narcissus, sandalwood, amber, benzoin, vanilla and vetiver. It can be purchased at Guerlain boutique and from Bergdorfgoodman.com, where a 30-ml bottle is $327. (My review is based on a decant I received as a gift from my perfume bogging friend, Undina, to whom I am exceedingly grateful!)

Image of Guerlain Chamade extrait bottle is from Bergdorgoodman.com, where it can be purchased.


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March 2, 2013:

Watching the Wheels Go Round with Guerlain Chamade