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).

44 Comments
CH July 10, 2007

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.

CH July 10, 2007

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! :x

Amarie July 9, 2007

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.

Amy K July 9, 2007

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.

Twibbet July 9, 2007

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.

Amy July 9, 2007

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.

Robin July 9, 2007

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.

Teri July 9, 2007

......said with a very silly, girlish giggle.... I Hanker for Wanker! :-j

tmp00 July 9, 2007

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...

Catherine July 9, 2007

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.

Patty July 9, 2007

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!

Louise July 9, 2007

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!

pitbull friend July 9, 2007

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

Elle July 9, 2007

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).

Lee July 9, 2007

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

Tigs July 9, 2007

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.

Maria July 9, 2007

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. @-)