I'm not a big trend watcher, but if you're paying any attention at all, it is hard not to notice the number of fragrance houses jumping on the "luxury" (e.g., expensive, exclusive, limited distribution) bandwagon this year. We started with the Chanel Les Exclusifs, which are now looking more and more like a bargain at $175 a pop. Then we had, well, let's see how many can I list — Tom Ford Private Blend, MDCI, Yu by Mane, Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, By Kilian, Guerlain Quand Vient La Pluie, Thierry Mugler Angel La Part des Anges (and the upcoming Thierry Mugler Miroir Miroir). I'm sure I missed a few. L'Artisan (the Harvest series), Hermès (the Hermessences), Giorgio Armani (Armani Privé), and Givenchy (Les Millésimes de Givenchy) got started earlier, and all have new releases this year.
Creating a luxury product that purports to emphasize quality and integrity over mass market appeal seems a natural way to stand out from the pack at a time when the market is virtually flooded with product. But when the market gets flooded with luxury, what then? And when you've smelled enough "luxury product" to know that the ambitious pricing is often all that sets it apart from its competition, well, it is hard not to be cynical about "luxury".
So I was very sorry to see my beloved Comme des Garçons launch the Luxe series. I'd already begun to suspect that the glory days when the Comme des Garçons fragrances were as avant garde as the fashions were on the wane, but still, this is a blow.
Champaca, as it turns out, is a nice fragrance. Really nice. It starts out bright and clean and peppery, and as it dries down, the florals get creamier and richer (the notes are champaca, white pepper, angelica, bird pepper, cardamom, tuberose, white musk and iris). The base is warm and musky, and quietly spicy, with just a tinge of sweetness. The lightest little dusting of iris renders the finish smooth but not quite powdery. Perhaps a man could wear it, but it is more obviously feminine than one might expect from the Comme des Garçons line.
The overall effect is of modern restrained elegance. Champaca would fit nicely into the Armani Privé line (where it would have been a better match with the packaging). That I don't want modern restrained elegance from Comme des Garçons is, I suppose, my own problem. Perhaps I take context too seriously. I will say that Champaca is easily my favorite Comme des Garçons scent in a very long time, maybe even since the Incense series (2002). Anyone who demands a bit of a "wow factor" from a fragrance of this price, however, might well be disappointed. For a "wow factor" champaca, you'll need to turn to Ormonde Jayne, and for real luxury, Jean Patou's Joy can be had in extrait for less than $300.
Comme des Garçons Luxe Champaca is available in 45 ml Eau de Parfum for $265. You can buy it in the pyramid bottle shown above, or in a much plainer black glass cube bottle. For buying information, see the listing for Comme des Garçons under Perfume Houses.