A Southern Rebelle

zelda

– a review of Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda

In literature, a certain kind of woman has always been immortalized. She is the Impossible 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 an Impossible 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

Disclosure: A sample of Zelda was provided for review by Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage.

Image taken from an original wedding picture of F. Scott and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, 1919. Photoshop editing/compositing, my own.

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Seven more days to Save The Genie! Find out more here.

Shut up, Gertrude!

– Or…not all roses are created equal!

Among my collection of books and cookbooks is a book, ostensibly a cookbook but actually very much more. It contains not only a plethora of outrageous recipes that would have health fanatics screaming for their heart fibrillators, but also anecdotes from two extraordinary lives in extraordinary times, two lives that openly dared to fly in the face of convention – and sometimes propriety – and as such became inspirations for me as well.

The book is ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’, part cookbook of questionable virtues, part extraordinary testimony to the lives and times of two fabled iconoclasts of the early 20th century – Alice B. Toklas, partner, helpmeet, and frontline editor, and Gertrude Stein, art collector, literary salon hostess and resident genius.

Like all relationships viewed with the rose-tinted glasses of reminiscence and in hindsight, the reality of Alice and Gertrude was much more complex and far more extraordinary than the book would suggest – they were both raised at the tail end of the Victorian age, after all – but what’s really telling in our own iconoclastic age is that today, we remember Gertrude for two things, one of which I don’t consider relevant at all and the other for a simple throwaway poem that came to define her in popular culture. Gertrude Stein was considered a literary superstar in her day, but now, say the name (if it registers at all!) Gertrude Stein, and unless you’re well-versed in art history, famous American ex-patriots or impenetrable poetry, this is what you’ll think:

 ‘A rose … is a rose…is a rose’.

An entire lifetime of literary output, and you’re remembered for five words. As they say…

You don’t get to choose what you’re famous for.

This is when I say…shut up, Gertrude! As dedicated gardeners, flower lovers, perfumers and perfumoholics are very well aware, entire olfactory universes lie waiting for discovery within those velvety petals, and with the exception of those scentless blooms sold at florists these days, there’s no such thing as just…a rose.

Roses occur in nature in every hue except blue, green and black, and depending on the variety, exude a unique, multifaceted perfume that can be…lemony, tea-like, musky, greenly fresh, narcotic, spicy and fiery, earthy and warm – and these are just the living flowers, mind, well before they’re turned into concrete and absolute and essential oil in their infinite varieties, all of which will reflect the qualities of the roses themselves. Rose is also attributed to the goddess Aphrodite – no accident, since the scent of roses can be very erotic, quelle surprise!

I’ve been thinking about roses and wearing rose-centered perfumes a lot lately. Rose has a stimulating, uplifting effect on my overall mood, and during a very frantic March, I needed all the help I could get…

Gertrude may have considered rose as just another ‘flower’, for which I’ll forgive her since she was an Aquarius, yet I have other plans for your delectation…here are my personal favorite perfumed Odes to the Rose in no particular order of preference, which each prove that even Shakespeare got it wrong on roses. By any other name they might well smell as sweet, but they would not be those multiverses of perfume and poetry contained within the velvet folds and musical tones…of rose.

The Maharani of RoseNeela Vermeire Créations Mohur

We perfume bloggers live for those moments of olfactory epiphany when suddenly, a seismic shift occurs in our amygdalas and our noses blow our minds. This happened to me when I was given the opportunity to discover a brand-new line that is currently taking the perfume world by storm – Neela Vermeire Crèations. I knew Neela had collaborated for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour, I had read the reviews. I thought I knew from roses. I was delighted to be proved so very, very wrong. For Mohur, Neela’s tribute to both the glorious Mogul empire and the British Raj, is nothing less than a Maharani – a Great Queen – of roses. Spicy and fiery, earthy and decadent, with more rosy-floral facets than any diamond can boast, it’s an outrageously spectacular rose perfume, opulent yet also as ethereal as a fervent wish on a full moon. It’s one of the most magnificent roses I’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff and to wear. As I have and I do and I indeed will for as long as I can ever love a rose…

The Wildest HeartLiz Zorn’s Sinti

Liz Zorn, indie perfumer extraordinaire, was unknown to me when I received a decant of her heart-stopping tribute to rose centifolia, Sinti. Sinti is not your usual rose perfume cliché, there’s nothing in the slightest that will remind you of rose soap or Eau de Granny. For one thing, this rose is wild at heart, wild and untamed and blooming unseen in a secret Saharan desert oasis, as green as nature itself and as surprising as a sudden beam of sunlight on that instant shock of …rose. It is bitter and a bit thorny, with its herbal bite of sage and galbanum that blooms into a fevered dream of one feral flower, easily unisex, easily worn, and all too easy to love, even though it never can be tamed.

A Rosy Dance on Moss Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges

Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges took no time at all to pirouette its way into my rosy heart – it was love at first sniff! Ballets Rouges is by bounds and leaps a green, silky opening that segues into a pas-de-ballet of roses so real, I’ve had people turn to look for the bouquet when I’ve worn this. Yet rose is not the whole story in this perfume, for down below beats a heart of green and a pulse of chypre with a ribbon of oakmoss so dark and luscious, this diehard chypre fan is reduced to molten jelly in gratitude that there are still perfumers who love oakmoss and roses as we do. Put the two together in this peerless pas-de-deux as Ellen Covey did, and even I can dance en point forever more those perfect, mossy, rosy steps.

Iconoclast RoseEtat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy di Palma L’Eau de Protection

If anyone knows how to do celebuscents (that hated category) flawlessly, it would be Etat Libre d’Orange. Their tribute to Rossy di Palma, the feisty, fiery actress Pedro Almodovar so adores, is a thorny, spiky, emerald-green and crimson red tattoo rose that obeys no laws but its own, which is every reason to adore it just as much as Rossy herself. From that bright, green opening bite to the dark patchouli pulse below, Rossy the rose perfume is the quintessential Rossy…unusual, unsettling and beautiful in its defiance of all those tired, trite rose tropes. This is a rose that shows its thorns plain as day and glows its crimson-lipped beauty as soon as you come closer. If you dare.

The Mozart of RoseEnvoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge

When perfumer Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes worked with master distiller Dabney Rose, they danced a tandem that made precisely the rose perfume no one else would dare – the very essence of a classical rose perfume wrapped in a burgundy promise of perfection. L’Emblem Rouge is a thick, lavish, Oriental rose, spicy, green, and darkly romantic. It dances its own Mozart minuet on your skin with its burst of orange and spice, violet and orris, and all its pleasures proves as you muse that Mozart may be music, and rose may be a flower, but that doesn’t make L’Emblem Rouge any less a marvel – or Mozart any less a genius!

The Rosy RevolutionsTauer PerfumesUne Rose Chyprée & Incense Rosé

I’ve said it before in several locations and I’ll happily say it again – I personally consider Andy Tauer a perfumer of such stellar magnitude, I think he should be paraded down Fifth Avenue and carpet-bombed with rose petals by an adoring crowd, except I suspect he’ll have turned them into Un Rose Vermeillé (which I have yet to try) or something else equally spectacular before the parade reaches East 81st Street. The man knows his roses, knows them as only a truly dedicated rose lover can, and has done audacious things to roses that only prove how little Gertrude – or Shakespeare – knew of roses. When I recently was given a chance to name a bunch of samples to try, these two jumped off my keyboard and into the email before I could even blink. Certain things – and certain perfumes – you just…have this hunch about, although in this case, it was more of a neon blinking billboard. Une Rose Chyprée is a rose of reinventions and revolution, dark and light, depth and sweetness, no one element taking a backseat to the other. It’s Rose, Oh, Yes! But Wait! There’s So Much More! A breath of oakmoss, a kiss of vanilla, a whole library of everything rose and fire and all its splendors, too! Incense Rosé is yet another sleight-of-hand rabbit from Andy’s hat – again, not a rose, and not an incense and not like anything else your imagination could dream but something otherwise and elsewhere…from the blinding sunshine brought of its orange/citrus open to the smoky-tinged labdanum and frankincense drydown, if you’re curious what else can possibly be said about roses…look no further. I can guarantee you one thing only – you will be surprised! And roses will forevermore never be the same…

So Gertrude…hush. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can still feel your crotchety ghost breathing down my back as I type, said with a sneer and a hint of that grande dame you also were:

“Well, obviously, I had other, more important things to contemplate than roses!”

But stop a moment and think…about a rose, and know that by any other name, it’s very much more than sweet…

Original image of Gertrude Stein, Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1913, from indicommons.org. ‘Gertrude en rose’ version – me.

With big thank you hugs to the Great Facilitators: Shelley Waddington, Ellen Covey, Anthony of NKDMan, Nick of Les Senteurs and the incredible Neela Vermeire.

The Crimson-Petaled Dark and Light


– a review of En Voyage Perfumes’ L’Emblem Rouge

Without roses, there would be no perfumes. Roses are the heart and soul of more great perfumes than you could possibly name in one breath, in grand, opulent soliflores and classical florals, in chypres and Orientals…there’s always, but always… rose. One niche line – les Parfums de Rosine – does nothing but interpretations of rose in all its myriad glories, and others create entire Wagnerian operas of rose, such as Serge Lutens’ staggering Sa Majesté La Rose or Amouage’s equally titanic Lyric Woman.

Once upon a time, I loved a rose perfume so much, I moved on to other things when it was reformulated rather than be bitterly disappointed. Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Paris’ – or should I say, the memory of what it used to be – will always be very dear to my heart. Since then, I’ve loved a few, but these days, I have a caveat…I like my roses dark, rich and complex, roses with a definite Gothic vibe, and such roses are not so easy to find.

Or so I thought until I received samples of En Voyage Perfumes’ L’Emblem Rouge eau de parfum and the accompanying hydrosol.

Shelley Waddington, the Carmel-by-the-Sea based perfumer behind En Voyage, has thoroughly impressed me before, when I encountered her Vents Ardents. Vents Ardents, which I reviewed briefly here, is a tropical citrusy tobacco vacation in a bottle, the Montego-Bay-in-a-spray that takes me away…so much, I’m saving it for those really wretched November and January days when I need all the help I can get.

The eau de parfum of L’Emblem Rouge is an altogether extraordinary rose. If you think you have rose perfumes all nicely categorized, if you consider rose perfumes to be rather insipid, old-fashioned or…perish the thought – boring, then I beg you to reconsider. L’Emblem Rouge is not…that kind of rose.

A bal masque is in full swing as I open that vial, swirling and sparkling in the light with all the èlan of its many characters – all of them different aspects of the star of the show. You know she’s there, but first, say hello to the many parti-colored dominoes she likes to wear to the ball…the spicy, warm spark of cinnamon, mace and cassie, and next, the dusky twilit greenery of citrus, green pepper and galbanum, adding yet another facet to the velvety depths that draw her out and lure you in, one plush crimson petal at a time. And such petals they are!

Whatever the quality of the organic Iranian rose otto that’s listed in the notes, it must be truly spectacular stuff. Hidden in those crimson depths is an all-star cast of supporting roles, some of them easily detectable, such as the ylang ylang, a whisper of jasmine sambac with its intimations of sensuous green, and violet that makes every rose bloom more opulent than before. But the overall impression, that heady, audacious, silky-velvety rose in the darkest, deepest shades of crimson never wavers and never falters, it just opens and blooms for its long, lovely entrance, and there it stays, finally giving way to an equally luscious drydown of woods, benzoin, tolu and a mere touch of vanilla and ambergris, all of them somehow adding up to a memory of a rose you’re not likely to forget anytime soon.

L’Emblem Rouge also comes in a hydrosol – the watery end-product of essential oil distillation, but here enriched and accentuated by master distiller Dabney Rose by further additions of rose…and I suspect a few drops of moonlight, too! I’ve sprayed this in my lingerie drawer and I’ve sprayed this on my pillow, and it was never less than a sheer, rosy delight to encounter. But rose water is one of the oldest cosmetics in the world, and on the recommendation of Trish of Scent Hive, I sprayed it on my foundation brush the other morning. I knew she was on to something when a colleague complimented me at work. Of course, I’ll never tell that for an ordinary Thursday, I borrowed just a little beauty….from an extraordinary rose called… L’Emblem Rouge.

I’m never happier than when I get to prove Gertrude Stein wrong. This rose is no mere rose, no run of the mill garden mainstay. This is an altogether different velvet-petaled crimson promise, and something in L’Emblem Rouge makes me want to paraphrase a few lines of one of my favorite poets, who was never a stranger to roses such as this one.

What was said to the rose…
That made it open
Was said to me
Here, in this vial…

Five percent of all L’Emblem Rouge proceeds are donated to Broadway Cares, a leading non-profit AIDS fundraising and grant making organization.

Notes:
Top: Cassie, mace, cinnamon, bitter orange, juicy grapefruit, green pepper, Iranian galbanum, violet, cistus
Heart: Organic Iranian rose otto, ylang ylang, heliotrope, French jasmine sambac, violet and honey
Base: Gaiac wood, sandalwood, capaiba, vetiver, cedarwoood, tolu balsam, Siam benzion, tonka, vanilla, ambergris

L’Emblem Rouge and L’Emblem Rouge Hydrosol are available from the En Voyage Perfumes website.

Disclosure: Samples of the eau de parfum and the hydrosol were provided by Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes for review.