Thursday, October 30, 2008

Champaca Absolute by Tom Ford: fragrance review of a new Private Blend

Champaca Absolute by Tom Ford~men and big florals

~by guest writer Mike Perez

When I started exploring niche perfumery, I stumbled upon a bottle of Guerilla 1 by Comme des Garcons, window shopping in Miami Beach. G1 is a mixture of champaca flower notes, fruits and spices and smells like the inside of a butcher shop (no lie). I assumed this strange accord was the champaca flower that I’d never smelled before, but its meaty (almost surgical and metallic) smell is more likely a blending of champaca with a lot of other notes, to achieve this effect.

Tom Ford announced that his newest Private Blend scent (the Private Blend range currently includes 12 scents) is to be released soon (fall 2008) and it is named Champaca Absolute. The name is a ‘reference’ to champaca absolute, a perfumer’s term for the liquid extraction of the flower. There are a few ways to extract the fragrance from the flower: CO2; concrete and absolute. Like many florals, the extraction process can vary the scent profile of the flower. Champaca Absolute then, makes reference to this ‘pure’ form of the champaca flower essence. I haven’t smelled champaca absolute. But from hunting through the internet for a scent profile I came up with this: Champaca is related to the star anise family and it’s smell has been compared to magnolia; it is slightly less peach-y than magnolia with a bit of spice; many compare it to a white flower such as orange blossom, but admit that it has its own unique scent profile; it has a distinct tea note (*). It seems I thought I knew what champaca flower notes smelled like - but based upon these descriptions, I did not.

Champaca Absolute begins with a soft fermented plum note, very wine-like in a hazy sort of tannic effect. Immediately the champaca notes appear and blossom on my skin.

Whoa! The first time I wore CA I got nervous because it is very big floral. I was heading to my office that morning and I was slightly uncomfortable with arriving there with a strong floral presence all around me. For a second I felt as if I was wearing a pair of women’s sunglasses and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Colognoisseurs(**), you know exactly what I’m talking about!

But once the floral notes warmed on my skin (no civet or indolic properties are apparent to my nose, rather it’s a clean and distilled floral note) I relaxed into wearing it. It is amazing how much champaca smells like tea. Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger utilizes a tea note to good effect, but the tea accord in CA is tenacious and not delicate. It mixes beautifully with the spicy floral profile of champaca and this ‘spicy tickle’ in my nose reminds me of sniffing a carnation - and lasts the entire duration, all the way to the base notes.

The base notes are smooth and dry, in a soft chypre style - with a light sprinkling of fruity warmth to it. I’m reminded of Gucci by Gucci, another woman’s fragrance that I personally cannot wear- due to its ‘feminine’ dry down.

CA wears very close to my skin, which I was thrilled with, since if it was stronger it might’ve made me uncomfortable. Mr. Ford clearly had women in mind, when he created CA. It’s the most unabashedly floral of all of the Private Blend scents (even more than the high-definition, indolic Velvet Gardenia).

But still, men (besides Tom Ford himself) will wear this scent, I am sure of it. My advice: Apply lightly and give it a few minutes to settle on your skin. Then put on your sunglasses and stand tall when you walk out the front door. :)

Official Notes: not yet available, to be updated.

* Thanks to Ayala Sender and the vital information on champaca absolute on her Smelly Blog ** Term for a male ‘perfumista’ – created by Quarry (Basenotes member)

ON THE PRESS NEWS: In addition to Champaca Absolute two other Private Blend scents, Italian Cypress (exclusive to Tom Ford boutique in Milan) and Arabian Wood (exclusive to Kuwait) will join the regular lineup within six months of their exclusive debuts.

Pic courtesy of anna.vedeneeva/flickr


  1. Hi Helg, I have just discovered how much I like Voile De Fleur and am not much more interested in Tom Ford's line so this post came at a good time for me.

    Do you think this trend towards only selling certain scents in certain stores is meant to keep them exclusive now that we can get so many scents over the internet? I think it has it's good and bad points. I also think if you had a scent you truly loved you would want it to be available to as many people as possible. Although equally I do see that it will no doubt be available over the internet via other sellers and so on.

  2. Is anybody besides me totally turned off by the image here? I fault Tom Ford for being so crude, not you m'dear for posting it.

  3. We were offered a gorgeous 10 ml gold purse spray to take with us and be the first to wear , if we pre-ordered this during Sniffa...I am kicking myself into next week for not selling my soul and buying the $300 or so bottle...

  4. stella p13:43

    (Well, I like it! like the way it captures the erastês (he who "does" the eros). Eros always retains its nature as desire, and desire have many objects...
    But: what connection may champaca have to eros?)

  5. Mike Perez14:08

    Rose -

    Ah...Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Yet another BIG FLORAL. I guess big florals are 'in' again?

    I think the Private Blends line is attempting to appeal to consumers of luxury items (like the Hermessence's, Chanel Exclusif's, Serge Luten's Non-Exports, Armani Prive's, and-so-forth). For certain consumers luxury = exclusivity. Exclusivity therein creates demand and hype (via the ‘net and blogs like this) - whereby these brands can price exclusive items at a higher price and the consumer will pay for them. That’s really what it’s about, in my opinion.

    Does the exclusivity or hype mean they will smell better? No. Do I think the exclusivity sometimes comes across as elitist or snobby? Yes.

    However take notice: Le Labo sells its exclusive scents in certain LL boutiques and has no intention of adding the exclusives to its regular line. Atleast Tom Ford is only keeping the scents 'exclusive' for 6 months wherein they will join the regular PB line. In addition, his PB line was exclusive only to the TF boutiques and Bergdorf, but now it can be purchased at Neiman Marcus (online) and Nordstrom’s.

  6. Mike Perez14:15

    Karin -

    Mr. Ford's 'crude'-ness is what makes him so fascinating, isn't it?

    Helg, said it best when her and I talked about the image I chose: 'Racy doesn't bother me when it's either 1) clearly meant to be outré (like here for instance) or 2) tastefully perverse or 3) intelligently sarcastic.'

  7. Mike Perez14:17

    waftbycarol -

    Oh really - how enticing!?

    I'm not sure a sample of this is worth impulsively buying a $300 fragrance, but get thee to an online decanter when this is juice is released and sample it!

  8. Mike P14:19

    stella p -

    champaca = eros? No, I don't think so. If you want an erotic Tom Ford scent, go straight for Black Orchid.

    However the image/picture complimented the theme of my post: A man surrounded by big florals and trying to get comfortable with it. :)

  9. stella p14:56

    thank you for your interpretation of the picture, I didn't see the women as flowers before now.
    It seems like he is very comfortable with the situation :)
    But still: for me the picture is of eros, even though the perfume is not. A crude and direct interpretation, I know..

  10. Anonymous15:04

    Hi Mike! I've been reading this blog for some time now and I'm happy to see you here as a guest writer :) The only Champaca I'm familiar with is Comme des Garcons Luxe Champaca. I'm curious if you've smelled it and if so what are some differences and similarities. It's funny, I watched a link from Perfume Shrine that Helg posted with a video of Roja Dove luxuriously misting a woman with perfume and I wanted to do that too! It sounds crazy but last night I wanted to wear floral perfume, not to smell like a woman, but rather to luxuriate in fragrance in a way that one can only do with a big floral. I'll have to try this one out for sure! Congrats on having the cojones to go to the office in Champaca Absolute :D

    -Anthony (nthny from basenotes)

  11. Anonymous15:06

    sorry, by the way, is that Tom Ford in the picture?? Whoever it is, nice bum. hahaha. -Anthony

  12. Mike Perez16:22

    Anthony -

    Thanks A!

    Champaca (Luxe Series) by Comme des Garcons is a very big floral also, but it retains the white floral component much more through the entire fragrance profile and gives off that hint of orange blossom I mentioned. It is neither spicy nor teal-like, like the TF.

    And yes, that is Mr. Ford in the picture. It's also not the only time he's decided to strip naked for a photo shoot, I might add.

    I'm not complaining! (wink)

  13. Tom Ford, as a brand, is all about sex, sex, sex. That's all I'm going to say about that. :)

    And I have to say: I wish I had heard about Guerrilla 1 sooner! The smell of a butcher shop... it would have been perfect for my Sweeney Todd costume! My fiancee could also have worn it as Mrs Lovett. ;D I suppose I will have to settle for my D'Humeur Massacrante and her Bois Farine.

  14. Mike Perez01:30

    adam -

    Sweeney Todd, huh? I think No. 88 by Czech & Speake might be the right scent for that costume! :)

    Happy Halloween!

  15. Thanks, Mike! Tom Ford's fragrances are really starting to appeal to me. My wallet trembles, but the nose is getting very excited!

    Also, a geeky question - do you know offhand if this one uses a CO2 extraction champaca absolute?

    Thanks again! -Red

    PS: colognoisseur - I love it! :)

  16. Rose,

    you're welcome. Thanks to Mike, Perfume Shrine had a scoop on this :-)

    I am CERTAIN that it is as you say: look at the Chanels for instance> the Rue Cambon collection (Bois des Iles, No.22, Cuir de Russie, Gardenia) was on the internet all too briefly ago, but as soon as Les Exclusifs were out, those 4 were incorporated into that line in gigantic bottles to make it even harder to buy and poof! they're slowly but surely disappearing from the Internet. (have said it in detail here)

    A scent that is loved and is selling is guaranteed production which is a good thing. This is why I want people to actually know about really good, forgotten or little-known scents, so they get a needed boost.
    On the other hand, the huge boom of the internet and the discounters means it's even easier to smell yourself coming and going (not so good when perfume has been romanticised as being so intimate, so personal) and also it means a certain trickling down to lower classes which I suppose is what the upper classes don't want, so companies are catering to that need to stand out. Hence the multitude of "exclusives", justified or not on a case by case basis.

    Yet, this recent economic crisis (which will escalate) will bring about changes that will shape the industry once again >I predict the ultra-luxe status symbols will become a little "bad taste"; you don't drive a Porsche when people are standing in line to get their oil at the station that sells it cheaper than most; nor do you exhibit your Manolos when people are rationing their milk. Therefore I am sure that companies will respond to that in some way. Economic crisis usually brings a revert to spirituality, introvesion and serious pursuits: therefore the ad copies and press releases will soon drop the "luxury" part and focus on other aspects. Mark my words and wait and see! ;-)

  17. Karin,

    thanks for chimming in and respect (yup, it is crude).
    However I think mr.Ford is deliberately wanting to "shock" us and he is projecting something really funny here: an homoeroticized image that is using a very heterosexual scenario!! (two women and one man, classic male fantasy). So I laughed out loud when I saw it, instead of thinking "crass" and being bothered, and decided to run it.
    And please do notice the tan lines: is Mr.Ford taking his Speedos at the tan booth? :-P

  18. Carol,

    this price/gift policy reminds me of a joke I used to make about someone amassing paper bags from stores: "you get one free after the first 1000?" I used to say. LOL!

  19. S(tella)P (and Mike too),

    champaka forms one of the five darts of Kamadeva (Cupid in Sanskrit literature), therefore there is certainly a connection between the flower and eros ;-)

    And mr.Ford of course chose the more graphic representation of it!

  20. Adam,

    TF knows that sex sells and is taking it as a personal mantra :-)
    Well, I was repelled by this whole fixation at some point, but some trusted reports on the scents actually having some value (beyond the monetary which I am not concerned with), I gave them a try: indeed some are good.

    Have to agree with Mike that No.88 would be perfect for Sweeney Todd.

  21. WOW!!! That photo is stunning! Love it. I must say, Mr. Ford has an incredible body. (This is a different Karin, BTW.) :-)

    Only TF I've tried is Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Haven't tried the original Black Orchid, but I love VdF. Champaca sounds wonderful. Thanks for the review, Mike, AND the photo!

  22. Hi Mike, yes that's true Tom Ford is quite democratic by keeping the exclusivity to 6 months.

    We have a fairly new Le Labo in London and they have a London only scent Poivre 23 as I'm sure you know. Apparently this will never be available elsewhere. Now although I might not agree with it it still means it's in my to do list to go and smell it asap where as if it weren't exclusive I'm sure I would try it when I was next there. So I suppose it works!

  23. Hi Helg
    I think you're right about the downturn. I have already read articles, unfortunately not bookmarked so I can't think where, saying this could mean a resurgence in interest in more cultural things; discussion of what book you recently read rather than how much your house has increased in value and so on and how an economic downturn can make for a cultural upturn in the mainstream media and mainstream culture etc. In my eyes that can only be a good thing!

    This is probably true of perfume too as you say. People will think far more about purchases, perhaps do more research and cherish the scent they buy more.

  24. Karin #2,

    yeah, I thought you were another one (we do have two Karins, two Abigails, I do get confused sometimes, LOL!)

    I get the idea that TF is spending his life thinking about his body, toning his body, thinking about sex in sales, toning his sales through sex, sexing his body through sales, selling his body through sex....you get the drift :p

  25. Rose,

    it can indeed be a good thing! Although I am pained at the situation many fellow beings are put through right now (losing their homes, having debts to last them through their kid's graduation etc.), a return to some core values instead of mere materialism isn't bad.

    I am sure that apart from those things you mention (which are fine and I agree), the industry will devise new, concrete ways to make us part with our -heavily budgeted- money; perhaps budget-savvy ways! ;-)

  26. Helg,
    Gosh yes it's horrible and it makes me very angry that the people at the top of these banks aren't taking more responsibility.I feel desperately sorry and also very worried about it all.

    Culture provides some escapism and I suppose bad times are when it can help to read a great book or see a great film.

    Yes I'm sure you're right about new ways to get us to part with money! I have already some articles explaining to me that it's really fine to splurge on designer make up because I need a treat in these hard times! Or that a new lip stick will update my look...

  27. Mike and Elena, I agree with you both. Tan lines -- I noticed them right away.

    I guess beauty is in the I of the beholder (pun intended.) I likely would have liked the picture better with a different man in it. He is not my cuppa. How about a heterosexual man in it?

  28. Rose,

    one of them parted with some million dollars as personal compensation, issuing a "I feel terrible" email to his employees who were sacked.; one of them said it was the first time they heard him talk about feelings. (make of that what you will)

    Articles are rather lazy, I find, in general: I am keeping my eyes pealed for when they start the old adage "when you can't buy a dress, buy a lipstick" etc etc. blah blah...Perhaps they have already begun if what you mention is any indication!

  29. Karin,

    apart from defeating the purpose (veering into the cliché male fantasy I mentioned above), using a heterosexual man would alienate the gay audience: we wouldn't want that, would we? So mr.TF chose his humble self to front it. Perhaps he has a bit of a Dorian Gray syndrome too, who knows! At any rate, good proportions. I guess...

  30. Mike Perez20:11

    karin/helg -

    I, as one member of the gay audience, vote to have Jake Gyllenhaal (or Henry Cavill) pose in the picture (in the buff, of course). I would not feel alienated at all.

    (wink, wink)

  31. M,

    you're giving us poor girls ideas, stop doing that please! :P

  32. Anonymous12:52

    Can this ever realy compete with Ormonde Jayne's genius Champaca Absolute? Although Champaca has been used before, there is something innovative, unique, original about Linda Pilkington's version and although I haven't yet tried Tom Ford's, I can't help but feel it will be an inferior copy...

  33. Anon,

    thanks for commenting! Since you haven't tried -by your own admission- the TF yet (I haven't either), I strongly suggest you do and compare the two. It might be enlightening for both of us if you come back and post your impressions. Loooking forward to it!

  34. Anonymous18:06

    Reading this review and others' discussions about Tom Ford's photo, it reminds me of a painting named The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) painted in 1862-3. A stark naked woman was having a picnic with two fully clothed men. I often wondered why in so many paintings the women were baring it all and the men are fully clothed! I don't like TF much but I would like to thank him for giving us the female (male?) opposite 147 years on.

  35. Le Dejeneur sur l'herbe...a classic. I don't think this photo of mr.Ford will be such a classic in the future, but it did merit inclusion for the very reason you pointed out: it broke with form and we have an especial inkling for breaking with form here ;-)

    Thanks for your stimulating comment!!


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