In a faded corridor of my mind, a quote buzzes around. It is activated from dormancy every time I wear Chant d’Aromes. The quote is: “It ain’t easy being married to a saint.” It was said in a film or television show a long time ago, hurled by a husband at his beloved wife. She is beautiful, compassionate, and inherently modest. In fact she’s so genuinely soft and kind that you can’t help but love her, and any envy you have over her natural beauty quickly dissipates in the face of her own obliviousness to it. She might be considered a bit boring if she wasn’t so beautiful and didn’t radiate such integrity. To me, Chant d’Aromes is like her. There’s no dark side lurking beneath the surface, she is what she is and nothing more, and what she is is lovely and pure.
Chant d’Aromes is a chypre perfume that was released by Guerlain in 1962, just as the old order of 1950s conservativism was crumbling away at the feet of a new era marked by social upheaval and Beatlemania. The perfume is perched on the brink of this divide, and in my mind has her feet firmly planted in what came before: a holdover to that somewhat more glamorous era that was swiftly losing ground before the unstoppable tide of sex, drugs, rock & roll. Only two years later in 1964, Shiseido would release their Zen perfume, highlighting the siren song that Eastern religious motifs and concepts would begin to have over many Western sensibilities.
I have a small sample of the vintage parfum which I’ve been cherishing for several years now. I only apply a small bit at a time, after which my nose is glued to my wrist trying to smell the stuff. The fragrance is distinguished by its interplay between classical floral and sweet fruity notes, as well as by its conspicuous softness. The softness that is so apparent in Chant d’Aromes betrays the whisper and caress of another era. It’s hushed tones bespeak of a muffling of sorts, like silk gloves over fidgety hands on a formal occasion; its quietude, the relationship of an older couple where words are no longer needed. Chant d’Aromes’ original notes are apparently lost to time, and in searching for them I opened several web pages, all of which listed different schemata of notes. Is it plum, peach, or mandarin that is the sweet fruity note? Is it vanilla or benzoin in the basenotes? Who knows…
Right off the bat, I am wowed by a stunning burst of crystalline bergamot and aldehydes, paired with warm, fatty gardenia – similar to the gardenia note of old Ma Griffe and Miss Dior. I inhale my wrist, begging this lush accord to linger, but she exits gracefully with the sincerest of apologies. As she turns to go, she holds the door open for sweet plum, who peaks his head in before stepping over the threshold and entering the ballroom of olfactory perception in earnest. Within minutes plum has taken over and is the star of the show: smooth, sweet, and oh so present. But Mr. Plum is a Gemini charmer, and he gets bored easily. He wants to go, which is fine…because he’s just been upstaged. Jasmine, rose, and orris just entered and all noses turned in their direction. As seconds turn to minutes, and minutes turn to increments of the hour, the florals in the room – er, in the FRAGRANCE – are underscored by an enticing whisper of clove, well hidden within the folds of the ball gown, but perceptible nevertheless. And still, vestiges of sweet plum remain. There are other ingredients yet to be mentioned: honeysuckle is often listed in the notes, and basenotes such as cedar, vanilla, and olibanum (frankincense). But the composition is so soft and well blended that it’s hard to distinguish any of those. The party winds down and the guests disperse. Our sweet plum finally gets up and takes his leave, exposing a deep drydown of powerful sandalwood, oakmoss, and iris. (and I detect zero vanilla, for what it’s worth).
Chant d’Aromes parfum has a way of making latch-key kids out of its admirers, so soft is its aroma and so quickly does it come and go (though in this regard it’s not nearly as bad as “Y” de YSL, a similarly soft chypre fragrance released just two years later ). It leaves me somewhat unsatisfied, but that’s part of its magnetism. I am always left wanting more – if it were stronger and its contested notes more clearly articulated and longer lasting, it would probably lose some of its allure. As it is, Chant d’Aromes is a handed-down cameo whose charm is as gentle and warm as a new mother. At the same time, her formality and reserve lifted from another era can, like the clove note in its subtlety, seem as veiled and unfathomable as a cipher.