The High Price of Bohemia

Every once in a while, the perfume world gets enthused about an exotic  natural material. This doesn’t happen very often, since really the jackpot is in synthetics, not naturals, but when it does, a rash of perfumes come out, all variations on whatever new kind of soliflore is in the spotlight.  The industry darling a few years ago was  Michelia Champaca (aka Joy Perfume Tree), a flowering tree native to Southeast Asia.  Suddenly, the race was on to put that smell into perfume. I know of three examples, Champaca, done by Ormonde Jayne, Champaca Absolute by Tom Ford, and Luxe Champaca from Comme des Garcons.

They all make considerable use of the flower and that flower is strongly perfumed, distinctly indolic with something green and louche going on in the background, like a nightclub for amphibians or something.

To smell, the Joy Perfume Tree flower is a cross between jasmine and ylang-ylang,  but more strongly affiliated with the jasmine than with the ylang. This makes it hard to clean up, and of these three perfumes, probably the Ormonde Jayne does the best job of reclaiming Champaca from the jungle and sending it to finishing school. By the time this British perfume is done, the odor is respectable, manicured, teeth straightened, and all tats lazered off. The OJ Champaca must have been successful, because there is a more down market EDT variation sold by Space NK also called Champaca, and not bad, if far more synthetic than one might like.

The Tom Ford combines the flower with a woody base. In fact this combines the champaca with such a woody base that it makes the scent effectively unisex and not feminine at all. Also I find the die hard synthetic nature of the sillage and dry-down a trial for the sinuses.

My favorite of the lot is definitely the Luxe Champaca. (“It would be, wouldn’t it?” says my husband.)  Luxe is much more flowery than the Ford and is delicate as well which is a welcome result with something as potentially heavy as Champaca. Done by Nathalie Feisthauer who also did Gardenia Petale for Van Cleef and Arpels, Luxe Champaca is proof that she has a way with flowers.

The scent puts me in mind of Charlotte Gainsbourg, actually. I know, I know, she’s the face of two Balenciaga fragrances . Luxe Champaca, however, with its quiet innate chic, its naturalness, and yet its curious edge all remind me of Ms. Gainsbourg product of British bohemia and the ultimate French womanizer. Ah, the women, the booze, the regrets at three a.m., the UTIs….  Oh, to be Serge Gainsbourg!

As this is another post in the expensive series, I am obliged to disclose that Luxe is fully $265.00 for 45 mls. You do get a choice of bottle a cube (in black) or a deflated ziggurat (in black). Well, this is Comme des Garcons, you weren’t expecting Baccarat by any chance, were you, for a lousy $265.00? Anyway, as any haute bohemian knows, Baccarat would ruin your street cred, but then, come to think of it, so would a Birkin bag.

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