Jasmine and Champaca

They sell flower garlands on the streets, and you find them hanging in front of the shrines – shrines at the busiest streetcorner in Bangkok, like the Erewan shrine pictured here; shrines under the spooky banyan trees hidden in the jungle behind the hotel we’re staying at. Shrines everywhere. There are spirit houses, and burning incense, and food, and the garlands. A tiny old woman walked by me yesterday, selling the garlands, which she carried strung on a long stick resting on her shoulder. There are two kinds – jasmine with roses, and jasmine with marigolds. There´s a third flower called roc, like a white bead, but I don´t know what it is in English. You can smell the Erewan shrine a block away. Even the perfume from the garland sellers is so powerful I can smell them long before I see them approaching.

I´ve been looking for perfume here to sample. They sell it in a few market stalls over here, along with the endless Chanel and Louis Vuitton knockoffs, and the chief value for me is entertainment. I took careful notes for once, and so far I´ve seen: Tommy Summer Colonge; 8th Evame (looks like Elizabeth Arden´s Fifth Avenue); Jaodo´re by Cristian Dior; and an Asian anime figure bottle called, inexplicably, “Latino.” But there was one bottle in particular I wanted; when I saw it I had to have it. I was haggling with the seller via dueling calculators, and I was already writing it up in the blog in my head. Patty and Lee may think they´ve tried everything. They may think they have access to endless rare perfumes. But I was sure neither of them had ever heard of, or seen, much less tried, the delectable … Wanker. The seller and I were within a couple hundred baht of a deal when I realized it read “Hanker” and immediately lost interest. Who the hell wants a bottle of Hanker? That´s just stupid.

So I dug around in the random candy sample bag I threw into my suitcase before leaving and came up with Ormonde Jayne Champaca. Champaca was one of those scents I tried early on and it bored me to tears. I could barely smell it, first off. By the time I realized how intereresting it was, I was still in my leather-porn phase. But Champaca is an ideal summer fragrance.

Like most of the rest of the Ormonde Jayne line, I find it beautifully done, but it´s the only one I can think of off the top of my head that doesn´t have what I´d call the OJ base – that signature accord that links Ta´if to Tolu to Ormonde Woman. Ormonde Jayne has its lovers and its haters (one of the chief complaints is the tendency for bottles to go “off” quickly), and whether you like that base would probably factor into it, but I haven´t read anyone calling them boring. Champaca might be the exception only because its distinction is how much less in-your-face it is than the others. Notes are neroli, pink pepper, bamboo, champaca flower (used in nag champa incense, please see endnote), freesia, basmati, myrrh, green tea, musk.

Smelling it again on this trip, sitting with my feet on the damp morning sand, is like smelling it for the first time. How could I ever have dismissed this as dull? The neroli is dry and peppery, but delicate. The bamboo and champaca combine to give a green, resinous, incense smell of enormous refinement. The famous basmati accord (that rice steam smell) is actually quite subtle on me, dominated by the faint spiciness of the myrrh and the previous notes. On my skin, the drydown is a trifecta of peppered bamboo incense. Champaca is a study of subtle contrasts – the sweet tea versus the pepper; the bright bamboo versus the shadowy champaca. There is nothing at all feminine about it; I think it would smell wonderful on anyone. It is less subtle and much less sweet than, say, KenzoAmour. And for all its delicacy, it is a tenacious fragrance. I am curious how the hardcore Ormonde Jayne fans feel about Champaca; is it the Bud Lite of the line? Also, why does this scent not get more love on the summer fragrance lists?

ps for anyone with further interest, here’s a link to Ayala’s great article about champaca’s relationship to nag champa. As Ayala notes, the smell of champaca is extremely difficult to describe — it’s both floral (magnolia, star anise?) and woody (gaiacwood).

  • CH says:

    Ah, yes, to answer to the question about Champaca – I am fond of it and tend to think of it as more of a spring and summer scent. I like the bamboo and nag champa flowers especially. Nag champa reminds of trips to Whole Foods; the cosmetics section is filled with lovely “natural” candles, and one of my favorites is a bright yellow votive that smells of Nag Champa and sandalwood. The scent is very “exotic”, sweet and resinous.

    • March says:

      Before, nag champa never really triggered anything in me. But now I’m hoping it will always remind me of this trip, they burn a lot of it here.

  • CH says:

    I purchased the entire sample pack from the OJ website, along with a few decants. The OJ Woman and Ta’if are my favorites but they are all full-bottle worthy! The rose note in the Ta’if is wonderful and quite unusual (once you get past the top notes). Yes, and that OJ base – works perfectly with my chemistry! 😡

    • March says:

      Ta’if just blew me away. I thought it was the most AMAZING thing. Somebody’s done something similar since then (bugging me, I can’t remember what) but Ta’if was first and better. Stunning, stunning rose that doesn’t give me that queasy rose feeling. I kinda like the top notes /:) but they’re not for everyone… it’s a treat to find a line that works well with your chemistry, eh?

  • Amarie says:

    Hi March,
    I am loving hearing of your adventures and the amazing garlands and markets.
    I haven’t tried any of the Ormonde Jayne line before, but just yesterday received samples of Ormonde Woman, Orris Noir, and Ta’if, and I think I really like them, maybe even love..we will see. Now I wish I had included Champaca as it sounds intriguing and I love peppery, incense and green. You made it sound definately worthy of trying. Hmmmm, maybe next time.
    By the way, customer service on the Ormonde Jayne website was absolutely lovely.

    • March says:

      I’ve heard that about the website, thanks for the confirmation. It’s always great to hear about excellent customer service. Confession: Woman I admire more than adore. Ta’if is one of the very, very few roses I love; it’s spectacular, isn’t it? Orris Noir isn’t as Noir as it sounds, but it’s gorgeous.

  • Amy K says:

    Ooh, jasmine with marigolds sounds great – wish you could bottle that scent and bring it back for us!

    I’d never heard of a durian before reading this blog, and now I’m (un)happy to say that I’ve smelled one. In fact, not only did I smell it, I witnessed a durian-eating competition in Seattle on Saturday night. The winner got a region-free DVD player. It took place at a small indie theater, and when it was over we had to evacuate the building because of the stench. They must taste better than they smell and look. Ugh.

    • March says:

      Wow! That is so cool! Wonder if I can find out anything about it in the Seattle paper… I’d say the winner of a durian-eating contest could eat … one.:-& Seriously, the ladies here tell me they’re very fattening, I wonder (separate from the other issues) whether they feel very filling?

      Also, how will they ever get the smell out of the theatre?

  • Twibbet says:

    I love Champaca (wearing it today, in fact) – it’s the perfect scent for a day that’s warm but not hot, breezy but not windy, with green smells in the air and a few clouds floating around. I find it too heavy for a truly hot day – it’s very strong on my skin, and I’ve gotten compliments on my perfume ten hours after I’ve applied it (is three squirts overdoing it? Hm.) But it suits me absolutely perfectly, with the rice, the wood, and the flowers. So nice.

    • March says:

      Well, you’re asking the wrong gal, probably, but I wear three squirts. That’s the only way I can get the Full Effect. Maybe I’m gagging everyone around me, but it just doesn’t seem that pervasive.

  • Amy says:

    I’m a hard-core, die-hard, do-or-die, doobydoobydoo Tolu fan, but I can’t remember ever having sniffed Champaca. How silly. Must fix that.

    Yes, yes!! Buy the jasmine! Drape yourself in it! My first trip to Paris I was taken to a VERY non-touristy Indian restaurant by my hotel concierge (who is from Rajasthan) and street vendors presented me with garlands of jasmine, which I promptly wound around my neck & wrists. Bliss, absolute bliss, and one of the fondest scent memories of my lifetime.

    • March says:

      Okay, then, based on these comments, I’m clearly not disrespecting the garlands with my own personal use. Maybe I’ll pack them in my luggage and bring them home? Dried out, would that represent a threat?:-? Dang. I’m sure they’re not allowed.

      • Joyti says:

        Champaca is my current obsession – it smells so right for summer. Plus, I love the basmati rice and green tea in it. I think it smells better as it ages a bit (hence I keep ordering decants instead of using the brand-new bottle I’ve got at home). I swear the rice and tea notes become more pronounced over as it ages.
        In regards to the jasmine garlands – feel drape to drape yourself in jasmine garlands. I’m Indian-American – and there are plenty of Indian schoolgirls who wear jasmine garlands in their hair (in the country).

  • Robin says:

    Cracking up at Wanker/Hanker, but hope you haven’t passed up the opportunity of a lifetime, LOL…

    And no, the “Bud Light” of the OJ line has to be Sampaquita, I should think, with Osmanthus not far behind. Champaca was actually one of the more popular on MUA when the line first hit the US. I adore it.

    • March says:

      Well, of course the problem now is I’ve blabbed about it, and I’m, uh, kind of hankering for it, but I can’t quite remember where it was in the acreage of covered market stalls. You, having lived here, can feel my pain.

      Yup. Agreeing about the Sampaquita. I think it’s really pretty, but not the credit the rest of them are. I believe I like Tolu waaaay more than you do.

  • Teri says:

    ……said with a very silly, girlish giggle….

    I Hanker for Wanker! :-j

  • tmp00 says:

    Look on the bright side- you would have been hounded by people (like me) who wanted more Wanker! David beckham, your next scent name is here…

    Poor Enigma. I know storms can be really scary, but she’ll dine out (or whatever kids do) on the stories forever. Far better than a summer in Connecticut, believe me…

    • March says:

      I wonder if anyone’s copyrighted the name on that perfume? 😕 Seriously, what a great name. And it’s too late for Becks — he did that totally boring Beckham Intimately or whatever it was called. Ugh.

      • March says:

        PS that kid slays me, she’s got her goals. She’s already dining out on her stories. She’ll probably be calling you next year when she’s 11, making arrangements to move in with you. She thinks the chaos level in our family ins unacceptable.

  • Catherine says:

    Ormonde Jayne is my favorite line of perfume. I test other lines, even purchase a few bottles (SL, Jicky), but I wear OJ every single day on some part of my body. Champaca was my immediate love. It changes scent depending on the day, from sweet to salty, from minty herbal to floral, so it always catches my attention with its playfulness. I’ve made it my civic duty in this part of Iowa to introduce as many people to her perfumes. Women fall in love; men’s faces grow non-plussed (in a good way–these are men who might consider perfume to “common” to contemplate). I’ve offered a sample of Champaca to a woman whose skin cannot hold fragrance for more than a few minutes. The base held up beautifully, and she smelled it for hours–so Champaca certainly has that part of OJ composition. Alas, she cried, “It smells like you. I smell like you.” I’m scratching my head as to what OJ to offer as “hers”–I love them all. Maybe I can promise myself never to wear one of them around her . . . Yes, I can do that.

    • March says:

      Yay, good for you, bringing the OJ love to the heartland! And proving, once again, that if you GIVE people interesting things to smell, they’ll wear them.

      Has your friend smelled all your OJs? Maybe there’s one that smells sufficiently different on her that it wouldn’t remind you both of the way it smells on you? Although, with the OJs, to me they are powerful enough, maybe the skin chemistry isn’t going to override that.

      Glad to hear about the lasting power of Champaca — I’m going to note that up there for Louise and Maria!

      • Catherine says:

        No, I have not yet given her samples of all of them. But I’ve made a package of Orris Noir, Tolu, Osmanthus, and Sampaquita to give to her when we go out for martinis this Wednesday (girls’ night out, complete with a bar called “The Piano Louge”). She hasn’t smelled these on me yet, so there’s hope she’ll find “hers.” Yes, I think OJ fragrances are substantial enough to withstand chemistry to a degree. Yet, the bases are very similar, so she may find that all of them remind her too much of me. The OJ base is one reason I love Linda’s perfumes, but it may not be for everyone. I have difficulties with the FM line, because something in all of them makes me nausous for an hour or so. They are beautiful, but I’ll won’t own a bottle right now.

        Even if the OJs do not work for her, I am also bringing a horde of samples from CB. She loves his fragrances, the playfulness. She just needs to take some home to test for longevity.

        P.S. Do take flowers back to the hotel. In India, I would buy jasmine and tuberose outside of temples to wrap in my hair–that’s what so many women do. There is no need for perfume in such a land (in my humble opinion).

        • March says:

          Have fun and let me know how it all works out. Surely the world is big enough for you both to have an OJ love… that sounds like a wonderful night out.

  • Patty says:

    Wanker would have been a huge prize, Dagnabit!

    Champaca is a stunner. It’s perfectly understated and beautiful. And this reminds me that I should wear my Ormondes more!

    • March says:

      I know, I know!! Think how great Wanker would have looked next to your priceless Guerlains or something similar.

      I’ll keep an eye out for something similar, though. Hmmm, maybe I have to take another gander at “Latino.”

    • CH says:

      Yep, Patty. Wanker might have been a best seller, next to Musc Ravageur! 🙂

  • Louise says:

    Great review, March! I think you ought to get some of those fakes just for fun, even if Wanker isn’t among them. You can always run a contest for which one is nastiest.

    Champaca sounds lovely. Put on my list for London-go to the O,J, shop. I haven’t done so well with most of her fragrances, but this might be the winner!

    • March says:

      Oh, please do try it if you get the chance and let me know! Maria up there will be interested in your results as well.;) I have a funny feeling about it, as I said to her, I wonder if it works out something like the Nicolai Fig Tea. Something that would seem impossible to work on you, yet does.

      Either that or it disappears 40 seconds after hitting your skin.:-”

      You leave soon, don’t you?

      • Louise says:

        Had to reschedule the trip. Am going solo on August 3, returning on the 15. Will you me home before then???

        • March says:

          We get back the day before, so I probably won’t have a chance to catch up. Is everything okay? I’ll email you.

    • March says:

      PS Some of the fakes — I wish I could upload photos more easily (although I’m not sure they’d like me taking them.) The fakes are SO BAD. I mean, you can’t believe how cheesy they are — the writing’s practically coming off in your hand. They’d be more attractive as novelties, but they’re surprisingly pricey — it’s like everyone knows they’re fakes, but the sellers don’t seem to see what terrible fakes they are. On the other hand, how would they know, necessarily? There isn’t a dept. store anywhere around here.

  • pitbull friend says:

    Maybe you could get the Hanker & send it to Lee for judicious editing. I remember a college friend of my sister’s, apparently a frustrated graphic artist. He would take cans or jars with paper labels & make subtle alterations using markers & erasing pencil, then put them back in someone’s cupboard. The one I remember was how “Greenwood Red Cabbage” became “Greenworm Red Cabbage.” Great review, March. Will have to try, esp. for the rice steam. –Ellen

    • March says:

      Works of art! I would love to have some cans like that. And yes, if you’re a rice steam fan, you should try it. I wore it again today and am definitely getting more of the rice steam, although it doesn’t last a tremendously long time on me.

  • Elle says:

    I *adore* Champaca. Wore it over the weekend. It’s high on my list of favorite scents of all time.
    How utterly tragic that that scent turned out not to be Wanker. I’d have wanted a case.
    I think that the roc flower you’re referring to may be Tabernaemontana Corymbosa (flower of love).

    • March says:

      Oh, thanks! I’ll have to look it up! It’s just so beautiful looking. It looks like a carved white bead. I did buy a couple of garlands, by the way, to scent the room. They assured me I could keep them for personal use (the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers have them hanging from their mirrors for luck) but I still feel a bit funny about it. Perhaps I’ll run them out to the banyan tree.

      So nice to hear about Champaca. I’m going to have to get you to do a list of summer scents I should retry!

  • Lee says:

    Waaah! I’d like a bottle of Hanker just so I could change the first letter. I’d spray it on when the cocksure mood gets me, just to take the edge of a little.

    And me… smelled everything? You’ve got to be kidding…

    Nothing like all those flowers, all that incense and (from my memories of India at least) all that diesel and sewage…:x

    • March says:

      Lee, it fills me with sadness. I mean, there I was, scant inches (and baht) away from the perfect gift for you! But the bottle’s sufficiently ugly, and I’m sure the heat has done nothing for the juice, that without the correct spelling I just don’t think it’s worth it. Sigh. I’ll keep looking.

      They just had a big sewage spill over here, along with the requisite fish-kill. And Enigma had her wits scared out of her, walking home with me and we didn’t quite make it before the afternoon storm hit. We huddled under a store canopy and watched for 10 to 15 minutes as the transformers exploded like fireworks on the poles up and down the street in the wind.

  • Tigs says:

    My favourite of the line, hands-down. I do quite like Ormonde Woman and wear it as well, but Champaca remains my great love. I don’t find a single fragrance in the line boring, except perhaps Isfarkand. Many of my favourite perfumes contrast peppery spice/sharp/green/citrus notes with creamier, “whiter” notes of a gourmand or floral character: OJ Champaca, Osmanthe Yunnan, Omnia, etc. Light, but not “lite”, because they are thoughtful. Sometimes there’s a musky or more animalic or leathery base, equally opaque, like in Mauboussin Histoire D’Eau, Courtesan, Rush, Parfum de Therese or my new Maharanih. This is the kind of perfume I find contemplative, intimate, the kind the makes me feel most “me”. OJ Champaca is one of the first perfumes of this type that I found, the first scent that let me know that striking and subtle were not opposite qualities.

    • March says:

      What a beautiful way you expressed that. I would like to do a post on the fragrances that make me feel the most “me.” And I am fascinated by your list — I love all of those you listed, except Therese, which I keep retrying and I completely fail to see its charms. But seeing it there on your list only compels me to put it BACK on my to-retry list…

  • Maria says:

    March, what wonderful descriptions of the flower scents of Thailand! I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself and that your nose is getting a lot of exercise. That’s a shame about Wanker though; Lee would have loved participating in a four-way review.

    You’ve convinced me that I need to put Ormonde Jayne Champaca on my to-try list. “Hate” doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings about OJ Woman. Maybe this one is different enough. @-)

    • Maria says:

      P.S. Great photo!

    • March says:

      Hey, Maria — I still think you should try Champaca (although let’s see what Louise says.) It could be the sleeper of the year for you, like Fig Tea.

      I am still extremely bummed about Wanker. It would have been the perfect gift for Lee and Patty 8-}

      By the way, the Erewan photo I would like to credit, but I found it on a Thai website (couldn’t find a similar one in English) and I can’t figure out how to get it to convert to English.:-$

      • March says:

        PS Catherine further down there in the comments says she gave a samp of Champaca to a friend whose skin can’t retain fragrance, and it lasted. So there is hope.