Bonkers About Perfume Reviews Zelda

En Voyage Perfumes Zelda: a Southern belle does (the) Charleston

My old colour print snaps, re-photographed on my iPhone!

I've said it many times, but it bears repeating - I love America.  I have visited over 30 states, and one of my favourite spots in the whole country - nay, world! - is Charleston.  Who could not love a chain of fried chicken restaurants with the slogan: 'Born and breaded in South Carolina'. Well, actually, that wasn't in Charleston itself, for the town is more genteel than that - it has graceful Georgian terraces and palatial ante-bellum houses, and its broad avenues are lined by old oak trees swathed in Spanish moss. The soundtrack to any stroll in Charleston is the intermittent clipclop of hooves, as horse-drawn carriages make their sedate way through the main arteries of the town.  There are piles of cannon balls, saw palmetto trees and pineapple motifs at every turn.  Secret gardens with plishing fountains beckon behind wrought iron gates. The air is fresh with a salty tang, as the town is on an isthmus shaped like a fat thumb of ginger, and the sea is never far away. And most of all Charleston is hot, hot hot - and humid, humid, humid


I came to the area about ten years ago for a meeting at a chemical plant located in a swamp a little way out of town.  It was so very hot and sticky that week that the man I was meeting urged me to ditch my customary business attire and come along in something 'loose fitting and cool'.  Which was the first time in my professional life that I have been asked to 'slip into something more comfortable'.  So I wore a summer dress with a little cardigan - or rather without a little cardigan, most of the time. 


Two odd things happened during my time in Charleston: firstly I met a man in a fish restaurant who was a peripatetic trainer of staff at Michelin tyre plants.  As someone who has carried out studies into rubber chemicals, I instantly bonded with this chap during an animated chat about rolling resistance, drag coefficients and tackifiers. The other odd thing that happened is that the landlady of my B & B snuck into my bedroom in the dead of night, which in hindsight I found distinctly creepy.  I know for a fact that she came right up to my bed, because there was a plate of fresh-baked cookies on the nightstand in the morning...

My historic B & B, with unsolicited nocturnal room service - and a curious list!

So Charleston - and some other southern towns and cities like Savannah, Georgia (home of the incomparable El Cheapo gas station chain!) and New Orleans - made a deep and lasting impression on me, and I dream of the chance to go back and spend longer than a weekend.  But what has that got to do with Zelda the perfume, other than the fact that Zelda Fitzgerald, the inspiration for the scent, was born in Alabama, also in the Deep South?  And who was the poster girl for the Jazz Age - the era of flapper girls and the Charleston, of course?  Is this post just a gratuitous vehicle for my travel memoirs, you might well ask?

The white blob is not one of those ghostly orbs, just a flash malfunction!

Well, not quite...Zelda the perfume also contains a prominent magnolia note, which is strongly evocative of this part of America.  The sensual, lemony, almost fleshy quality of the petals is synonymous with southern states for me. Then there's the film 'Steel Magnolias' set in Louisiana, and Magazine Street, Strange Invisible Perfumes' magnolia-forward scent inspired by New Orleans.   'Gone with the Wind' was filmed at the Magnolia Plantation, while 'Moonlight and Magnolias' is a stage play about the making of the film.  So, not just pineapples and cannonballs and saw palmetto trees - magnolias also abound in this particular part of the union...


I have described Zelda the perfume in my 2013 Top Sniffs post (where it won one of my top three spots for best releases of the year!) as "a sumptuous floral oriental with a sultry magnolia heart in a crisp galbanum shell.  Zelda is a Southern belle in a pencil skirt, Vivien Leigh in geek glasses, and other images of optimally constrained flounce and sensuality."


I have been doing some digging about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, which seems to have begun to unravel once she turned 30 and suffered some kind of nervous breakdown.  From then on she spent years in a succcession of mental institutions in Europe and America, before meeting an untimely end in a fire at a hospital facility in Asheville, NC.  By a spooky coincidence, I happened to be in Asheville on the day my father died, and spent a strange evening in a restaurant being urged by a series of wait staff to 'have a great night'.

Zelda Fitzgerald's biographer summed up her troubled persona rather well:

"Recently myth has likened Zelda to those other twentieth-century icons, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. With each she shares a defiance of convention, intense vulnerability, doomed beauty, unceasing struggle for a serious identity, a short tragic life and quite impossible nature."


And Zelda the perfume exerts a haunting appeal precisely because - as perfume Shelley Waddington set out to do - it captures in scent these different facets of sense and sensuality, intellectual rigour and carefree kicking back, light and dark, and happiness and heartbreak.  On the En Voyage Perfumes website we read:

"Inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, America's first flapper and the wife of F Scott Fitzgeral, ZELDA's bright beginning, full heart, and dark base evoke the story of Zelda's bright life and tragic descent into a final heart of darkness.  Jazzy and contemporary, ZELDA's Art Deco signature exalts the precious naturals, resins and tinctures found in famous vintage perfumes of the '20's."

The Fitzgerald family practising their flapper footwork - Source:

(NB The capitalisation of the perfume name in this description is not replicated elsewhere on the En Voyage website, so I have not reproduced it generally!)

Described as a 'neo-Oriental perfume' for women, the notes of Zelda are:

Top notes: Spiced Italian Bergamot, Spices, and Iranian Galbanum

Heart notes: Creamy Magnolia Blossom and Garden Florals

Base notes: Smoky Amber, Vintage Musks, Vanilla, Balsams, Sandalwood and Vetiver, Cedarwood,and Mousse de Chene.

Now, much is talked about perfumes with a sense of place - or 'scents of place', if you will.  There are some with a clue in the name: Jardin sur le Nil, Bombay Bling,SE1, Traversée du Bosphore.  Others you personally associate with a specific place because you happened to be wearing them at the time, and that location and your scent memories are irrevocably intertwined - so-called 'grandmother's rose garden syndrome' (okay, I did just make that up!).  


But I was in Charleston many years before I cared a monkey's fig about perfume, so for me this is a retrospective - and asynchronous - association, a fabricated scent memory in a sense, yet it gives me pleasure nonetheless to wear Zelda now and imagine myself back in Charleston in 2003.  So, given that I also pick perfumes out carefully with a view to imprinting them with happy memories to come, it seems I am game to indulge in a spot of future AND past time-travelling where forging scent memories is concerned. But as I was only struck by sudden onset perfume mania in 2008, I have a lot of time to make up for, you see...;)

Then I have two other things to say about Charleston and Zelda.  The first is the fact that I once created my own perfume as part of a The Perfume Studio 'experience', and I named it Charleston.  It was a green floral, meant to conjure up the scent of those walled gardens mentioned - and pictured - earlier.  It had notes of sweet pea and freesia, green tea and lemon, sandalwood and vanilla.  Oh, and a ton of other stuff - but trust me, it was nothing like Zelda.  The blends I had at my disposal didn't run to magnolia, though there was a bit of gardenia in there, so a nod in the direction of sultry big white florals at least.  However, it wasn't very good, I don't think now - the green accord rather overwhelmed it, and I - rather cynically - suspect that the hostess who steered me towards using it in my final 'mod' may have had rather a lot of it left over.  The aldehydic accord, which I so nearly sprung for, would have been a safer bet.


The other thing to say about Zelda is that it started life in Carmel, California, scene of my doomed attempt to visit the store and HO of Ajne Perfumes.  That was in 2010, and I hadn't heard of the En Voyage brand back then. When I had drained the sample that Natalie of Another Perfume Blog had kindly given me, I decided I had to own a full bottle, and called upon the courier services of the very obliging Undina ofUndina's Looking Glass.  I paid online but had the bottle shipped to Undina's house, where it lived for a while until a business associate of hers was ready to make another trip to England.  So he popped it into his suitcase and posted it from Sussex shortly after his arrival.  It pleases me to think that this very bottle has spent some time in Undina's possession, so this is another scent association I have - of Zelda the perfume in Northern California, being carefully looked after by Undina, and occasionally toyed with by Rusty...

So many reasons to love this perfume, as well as its glorious scent.

Photo courtesy of Undina, and the unbeatably biddable Rusty!