Champaca absolute is one of the most complex natural essences, and despite its immense beauty, not an easy one to work with. Especially this is the case when the flower is intended as the star of the show. It’s density and potency sometimes get in the way of revealing its beauty. It also poses two additional challenges – from a commercial point of view: it is neither affordable nor particularly understood or favoured by the Western world. Champaca is a note that is much prized in its country of origian – India – but only recently has begun to cross the East/West border and be featured in select few Western perfumes. And even than, it doesn’t always receive justice.
My impression is still a bit divided when it comes to this new interpretation of champaca in the Tom Ford Private Blends collection. Like Linda Pilkington’s Champaca there is rice-steam and subtlety of tea to it underneath it all, which I find both very suitable and complementary for champaca absolute. Interestingly, from all the rice-steam fragrances I've experienced, this one delivers the feel the best despite the fact that it is not "supposed" to do so (judging by the list of "notes" released by the company); also, there is no synthetically musky dry down to get in the way of enjoying this unusual floral.
At the same time, it is way fruitier than champaca absolute is, which make the name a bit misleading. Perhaps the flower in full bloom portrays more of this fruitiness, typical of its sister the white magnolia; but the effect takes away from the rarity of this perfume as it brings to mind too many typical fruity florals. Thankfully, this common effect is not dominant and for most of its duration on the skin, Champaca Absolute delivers that rare thing – a subtle big floral. My first thought when wearing Champaca Absolute was - "this is how I would have wanted KenzoAmour to smell", which goes to show you how much of a prettified champaca this one is.
There is much of the exotic in here, from banana-leaf wrapped steamer rice and tea to the large golden petals of this admirable magnolia, dipping slowly in warm plum wine. The scent lasts well beyond expected, and is only a tad overbearing for a few minutes in the beginning (at the fruity-floral phase). While it does linger on clothes after it departs from the skin – it is actually a pleasant surprise to find it there, like a sweet memory of Malaysian food enjoyed the evening before in candle-light. It is just a little too pretty and little too simplified for champaca, but if that would make the West understand and appreciate champaca more - perhaps it is a good thing.
Heart notes of: champaca, broom, Phantomia orchid and night blooming jasmine
Base notes of: vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glacé (candied chestnut)
I would say it starts off like plum wine (perhaps the Tokaj and davana, which is a boozy smelling type of artemisia), continues into magnolified-fruity champaca with the addition of rice and tea like notes (perhaps this is the starchiness of the candied chestnuts) and boils down to vanilla and a woody amber. It is semi-linear though, as the changes are not that dramatic and it generally keeps its original shape throughout.
P.s. First it was Velvet Gardenia, and now the newest addition to Tom Ford’s Private Blends proves my lack of integrity. It just occurred to me yesterday that the ferocious ad
was really making fun of men who like porn, rather than being demeaning to woman. Isn’t that a convenient way to get around the bush?