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).