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Comme des Garçons LUXE Champaca

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

November 20, 2008:

Anyone familiar with my perfume journal knows I am a lover of white floral perfumes, and especially the heavy-hitting white florals that come at one with a womanly thump. Most of the white florals in my collection are willful Maggie the Cat-like creatures that purr most seductively while, at the same time, making me aware that, presented with a hot tin roof, they will use any means at their disposal to pounce, scratch and claw their way across it.

And because I have come to expect that of my white florals, I was rather dismissive when I first smelled Comme des Garcons LUXE Champaca eau de parfum. It smelled pretty, very pretty, certainly, but in a slim-hipped, waifish way that just didn’t interest me. I promptly threw it back into the samples pile and forgot about it for several months. But lately my mind has been wrapped around all things Asian, and Comme des Garcons being a Japanese company (an avant-garde Japanese fashion house, to be exact, known for its anti-fashion fashions, its austere and deconstructed clothing collections), I felt compelled to fish the sample back out again and reexamine it with a more enlightened mindset.

When you think about perfumes being created from a fashion house that made its mark by eschewing the idea that fashion is about adornment or expressing sexuality, then you sort of expect that this house's notions about perfumery are going to be rather anti-perfume, as well. Case in point: Comme des Garcons' first perfume, Odeur 53, which I’ve never tried, is said to smell of nothing—at first. Nothing, that is, until its strange list of notes (oxygen, fire energy, laundry drying in the wind, sand dunes, pure air of the high mountains, burnt rubber, flaming rocks, etc.) delivers up the scent of cold, crunchy air on crisp, line-dried linen.

Now, having said that, CdG LUXE Champaca is not at all strange and seems to be fully exempted from the company’s more militantly weird (or, at least, rebelliously playful) series of fragrances. Champaca is, in fact, on the other side of that coin: it is straightforwardly, naturally realistic. This is not a floral perfume in the grand French tradition, where even a dominant floral, like tuberose, for instance, wears the veils of other flowers (or of sparkling aldehydes or greens or precious woods) and plays a role, like an actress, in a perfumed drama. CdG LUXE Champaca is like a deconstructed perfume, where accoutrement is done away with and the alchemy that we typically experience from a masterfully blended perfume is erased, too; this is the champaca flower as one might experience it blooming on the tree: the pure smell of a creamy flower that smells fruity in the best sense of the word. Champaca is a flower that has resemblances to tuberose, jasmine and orange blossom, but with a hint of tea rose and exotic fruits, too. The tea-rose aspect of the bloom is softly present in CdG’s champaca scent, lending a whispery berry-like quality to it, too. Imagine yourself experiencing an orchard of fruit trees in an alternate reality where you are presented with the orchard in bloom and in fruit at the same time, and that is what it is like to experience CdG LUXE Champaca. The artfulness of this fragrance is simple: it arises not from the composition (in other words, not from a masterfully composed idea) but rather from the artfulness of the exquisite champaca bloom itself.

Of course, this is a fragrance re-creating what is found in nature, so a composition is involved. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer created LUXE Champaca using notes of white pepper, angelica, cardamom, champaca, bird pepper, tuberose, white musk, and iris wood. The pepper notes are very delicate—only really noticeable in the top notes—and the tuberose is lightly indolic and, like the pepper, more evident in the opening stages of the perfume. I consider this fragrance, as I stated above, a slim-hipped white floral in that it has, in addition to its linear composition, a floaty sheerness to it, much in the way L’Artisan Parfumeur’s La Chasse Aux Papillons has a dainty floatiness. But whereas La Chasse is so dainty as to be fleeting on my skin, I find that CdG LUXE Champaca is wonderfully lasting. In my experience, that is what qualifies this scent as luxe: this fragrance is the kind of pretty that will stay with you for hours, without an anchor of heavy basenotes, which makes it seem kind of magical.

Magical, yes, and enchanting, and oh, so very lovely; but in the end, not something I would ever buy, even if the price tag on this one wasn’t so, you know, luxe. As much as I enjoyed sampling this—and much as I would enjoy wearing it every now and then—I am a woman who craves a high level of crafty artifice and bewitching alchemy in my perfumes. Coco Chanel was quoted in 1924 as saying: “I want to give women an artificial perfume. Yes, I really do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made. I don't want any rose or lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition.”  And, really, who knew women better than she?

Every day, I experience the breathtaking beauty of nature by walking out my door. With my perfumes, I want something that leads me inward, something that is not only a product of nature but of the clever mind and passionate spirit. To Comme des Garcons, I say, your LUXE Champaca is a graceful beauty, but no match for the white florals already in my collection, the ones that behave like those broads in a Tennessee Williams play: cunning and imaginative, sometimes eccentric and tragically flawed, and always larger than life.


Comme des Garcons LUXE Champaca can be purchased at BeautyHabit.com and LuckyScent.com, $265 for 45 ml. Both stores also sell samples of the scent.

Bottle image is from LuckyScent.com.