I love that in the promotional materials, Francesca Bianchi refers to the fact that champaca absolute has a fleshy, ‘human bodies’-like smell. It really does. In perfumery, champaca is managed in one of two principal directions, namely, either towards its shampoo-like and fruit-custardy facets (touched here and there by mint and green apple), making it the perfect accompaniment to tropical floral perfumes, or adding it to nag champa-heavy compositions so that a line is drawn to the original dusty floral incense stick smell of Indian agarbatti, which used to feature real champaca absolute before being dumbed down for cost reasons.
But Francesca Bianchi doesn’t go down either of these routes. Instead, she chooses to accentuate the rich, musky ‘body odor’ aspect that lingers in the unneutered, un-interfered-with absolute. (Well, of course she did, she’s Francesca Bianchi. If you’re surprised, you must be new here). The only other perfume I’ve smelled that accentuates this part of champaca was the challenging Afrah by Amouage, but not only is this long discontinued, but it is also revolting. Obsessive Devotion is Francesca Bianchi* showing Amouage how it should be done.
The opening is so sharp and gasoline-like that I urge caution when lighting a match anywhere near it. This is the coarsely fruity honk of ylang and champaca flowers dunked in petrol and laid out on peach skins to dry. Along similar lines to Tropic of Capricorn by Olympic Orchids, there is the sensation of piles of wet fruit peels and flowers stewing in equatorial heat, turning slightly garbagey at the core, but with the sharp elbows of rot tamped down with a chalky cocoa-ish note. This ensures zero shriek. Yet, dusty as this secondary accord may be, we never stray into nag champa territory.
In fact, over time, it is the bitter, saline oakmoss that prevails, pulling the scent out of the Caribbean and back into Europe. The sexy Bianchi DNA of acidulated leather-iris is also firmly present. As these basenotes emerge and thread their wares into the fruity-floral funk of the main body of the scent, you notice that Obsessive Devotion is retro in feel, to the point of being downright chypric – it is rich, swampy with oakmoss, a bit perfumey and bitter in all the right places, and powdery when it needs to be soft. The far drydown is a tip of the hat to Mitsouko (Guerlain) in that it smells pleasantly acrid, like the sweated-and-dried skin of a lady following a moderate tromp through a city. But that humid funk of that champaca never quite departs the scene. Obsessive Devotion is Parisian 16th arrondissement in the front but all Marseilles in the back.
* How often do you guys think I can say Francesca Bianchi in this review without summoning her to appear through my bathroom mirror?
Source of sample: Sent free to me by the brand in PR.
Cover Image: Photo by Del Barrett on Unsplash