Alembicated Genie reviews ZELDA

- a review of Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda

In literature, a certain kind of woman has always been immortalized. She is theImpossible Woman, the muse, the catalyst for a torrent of words in books and stories circulating down through time as both cautionary tale and metaphor, the medium of an often life-long wakeup call that jolts a hapless (mostly male) writer out of his doldrums and provides the fuel for those bedrock molten lava flows from which all creativity springs.

She is complex, intriguing, infinitely various, untamable, indefinable and maybe ultimately unknowable. Her charms are too vast, her appeal too ephemeral to be contained with the parameters of mere words. Often, she is beautiful, but more often still she possesses a far more precious quality – the ability to mesmerize her all-too captive audiences into believing she is, or else to hold up that deflecting mirror of her soul and project back whatever the writer, the artist or the man wants or needs to see, all to feed those ravening beasts that dwell below and breathe the words alive so they sing on the page.

Alas as in all timeless love stories, should the man somehow manage to catch this mythical woman and claim her for his own, it will end badly (for the man and the woman both), if not for the stories and the books that will come, fed by that creative collusion between creator and inspiration. The many mundane details of drab reality will kill the myth, will douse the fires, or else – and this scenario is common, too – the man if not the writer will try to quell if not kill the very quality he fell in love with, only to spend the rest of his life trying to recapture or relive it, through prose or real life.

This old, old story has been on my mind a lot lately for all sorts of reasons but mainly since the arrival of a perfume inspired by just one such story, that great, immortal tale of a true Southern rebelle, femme impossible, quintessential flapper and original It Girl – Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda.

It was once said about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald that she was ‘a brave and talented woman who is remembered for her defeats.’ Her short life is a cautionary 20th-century tale of l’amour fou, bourbon, fame, frustration and a final descent into a heart-breaking, tragic end. Yet in my research for this review, I find I wonder whether her story is in fact a story of just such anImpossible Woman, too passionate not to burn so bright, too talented to ever go unnoticed, a free spirit too uninhibited not to thumb her nose at convention, only to be done in by the very conformity her fiery heart raged against. The story of Zelda Fitzgerald breaks my own heart as few stories do.

Somehow by some alchymical sleight of hand, Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage Perfumes managed to wrap up that perception of such an iconic woman, not so much a literal interpretation as a fragrant Jazz Baby-inspired riff, and just as its namesake and inspiration, this Zelda breaks my heart too.

Shelley herself characterizes Zelda as a neo-Oriental eau de parfum, which is nothing more nor less than the truth, which to this perfume writer is a bit like saying Mozart was a composer of classical music, or Bessie Smith was a blues singer. Indeed they were, and yes, Zelda is a definite Oriental in its unfolding and its composition, but just as Zelda was far too complex to be merely muse, wife, inspiration and flapper, this tribute is too…complicated, too rich, too lush and far too evocative to be dismissed as merely…an Oriental, neo- or not.

We’re on a shady veranda beneath the stars of a distinctly Deep South sky with Zelda, the verdant, happy punch of galbanum and bergamot wrapped around a sultry, boozy, sweet coconut-skewed flirtatious laugh, the laugh of the belle of the ball and the queen of the cotillion surrounded by a bevy of beaus. If I am lured in by that exhilarating opening of sweet and sultry, greenery and booze, I’m helpless to resist what happens next.

The real star of the show makes her entrance. A star that blooms luminous as moonlight on her tree, glowing like ivory silk taffeta among those glossy leaves, a fragrant bloom claimed by many perfumes, but I can think of only one other perfume that does her this much justice, and it is nothing in the slightest like Zelda.

Magnolia, that glory of the South. If ever there were a flower that somehow epitomized its location and nearly its women as well, surely it would be magnolia? In nature, magnolia has a deep, lemon-cream green scent with intimations of peach skin and earth, but this Southern Belle is bigger, brighter, bolder and lusher still. Shelley Waddington has managed to encapsulate the entire scope of magnolia grandiflora with all its associations and extrapolated, enlivened and expanded it into an epic bloom that glows in the dark on my skin, that takes me over and demands my surrender with all the charm and guile of a belle of the ball, and it’s all I can do and I want to do. Now I understand the allure of magnolia, now I comprehend all its glories, now I think that heretical thought…this, dear readers, is as great, as grand and as gracious as a magnolia can ever get.

But Zelda contains more stories within her amber depths, just as captivating but very much darker and denser, a shade of midnight to reflect something of the tragedy of its inspiration, when a decadent, seamless mix of amber, musk, sweet vanilla and balsam (I’m guessing tolu, which is spicier and more fiery than Peru) and above all sandalwood wrap all its stellar evolution up in moonlit black pearls.

If I had any hesitations with the magnolia of before, I have none at all now.

Believe me, dear readers, when I say that yes, I’m given to hyperbole and poetic license, yes, when I’m sometimes transported by either the genie in the bottle or my own brand of blarney or simply the rhythm of the words on a virtual page. I will happily agree that verdict is out – it’s all true.

But I will also say this: Zelda, for all its backstory and inspiration, for all the deft historical understanding of zeitgeist Shelley Waddington caught so effortlessly in this liquid filigree, is quite simply one of the superlative best and most original perfumes I’ve encountered this year.

It is as subversive, as rebellious, as breathtaking and as heart-rending as its inspiration, burning just as bright as Zelda Fitzgerald surely did in her time. Other reviews have pointed at its ‘vintage’ feel. The only vintage feel I get is that pang of epiphany when I reflect and think:

They really don’t make them like this any more.

Except, as Shelley Waddington has demonstrated so perfectly, when they do.

Perhaps Zelda Fitzgerald herself wrapped up its mood best of all, when she wrote:

A southern moon is a sodden moon, and sultry. When it swamps the fields and the rustling sandy roads and the sticky honeysuckle hedges in its sweet stagnation, your fight to hold onto reality is like a protestation against a first waft of ether.”

-  Save the Last Waltz

Or as a friend of mine put it last night…

This is a perfume for someone who knows to glow in the dark.

Like all the very best of Southern Rebelles always do.

Zelda is available from the EnVoyage website in EdP.

Notes: Italian bergamot, Iranian galbanum, bourbon, magnolia blossom, amber, vintage musks, vanilla, balsam, sandalwood, vetiver