“I think, quite frankly, that the world simply does not care for the complicated girls, the ones who seem too dark, too deep, too vibrant, too opinionated, the ones who are so intriguing that new men fall in love with them every day, at every meal where there’s a waiter, in every taxi and on every train they board, in every instance where someone can get to know them just a little bit, just enough to get completely gone. But most men in the end don’t quite have the stomach for that much person.” Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women.
The problem with anything intended to commemorate, from photography to writing to memory itself, is that it flattens. No matter how vivid the details are, the whole enormity of a person or event cannot be recreated, and thus in the act of remembering we turn the subject into an object.
Zelda Fitzgerald was once a living, breathing person– by all accounts, a quite complicated one. Look at her from the future and three narratives predominate: she was an abused, appropriated genius and feminist icon; she was a monstrous egotist who couldn’t handle her husband’s greater fame and the responsibilities of being a wife and mother; she was a tragic victim of congenital mental illness at a time when it was largely untreatable. In truth, she was probably all of these things at different times, plus many other things that have been lost to history.
Of course, the fact that once a person is gone we can no longer quite grasp their essence doesn’t mean that we should abandon the effort. The Fitzgeralds are undeniably icons and occupy a place in the pantheon of anyone who originated from the 20th century and fancied themselves a writer. In fact, I think an argument could be made that their marriage is symbolic of the trajectory of American culture, though that grandiose simile also ignores the day to day reality of bills to pay, diapers to change and trains to catch. (Look carefully at the photo above; I love the fact that the surname is misspelled on the trunk because it anchors the picture in reality rather than the mists of time.)
In my opinion, a large part of Zelda’s mystique has been how elusive she is to pin down.
For this reason, it strikes me as brilliant to try to honor her through a more ephemeral art form, fragrance. The idea to do so came from Michelyn Camen, editor in chief of CaFleurebon, who worked with EnVoyage perfumer Shelley Waddington to envision and execute a fragrance that did Zelda justice. For a detailed description of how this homage came about, visit CaFleureBon.
As for the fragrance itself, it is complicatedly gorgeous. I have always been fascinated with stories told out of chronological order, and that is how Zelda (the fragrance) unfolds for me. The top notes (listed as spiced Italian bergamot, cinnamon bark, clove, cardamom and Iranian galbanum) hint at the bitterness of wasted potential, though I am not sure that Zelda’s desire, more than being a dancer or a writer, was not just chasing fame itself, in which case she succeeded wildly, though too late to enjoy it. I experience these notes as a combination of orange pith and spices, and there is definitely something antique about the feel, evoking the vintage tinctures and resins mentioned in the CaFleureBon piece.
For me, the top notes stick around a very long time, but they are joined by a floral bouquet that seems to bloom through time lapse photography. I personally am not familiar enough with the scent of magnolia to comment on it, but other bloggers have noted that it is authentic. The contrast between these velvet florals and the bitter, smoky spices is delightfully evocative of the contradictions embodied in Zelda’s character. In time, the fragrance settles down to a warm, smoky, slightly sweet spice, reminding me of time being kind to someone’s memory.
If you concentrate, it’s all there. The beautiful southern belle with her life ahead of her, the paparazzi It girl, the descent into madness, the tragic early death by fire, and the subsequent fascination.
It must be noted that this fragrance is of extraordinary quality considering the price point. It is full-bodied, complex, and vivid, with good projection and excellent longevity. It is the most vintage-smelling modern fragrance I have ever tried, and I mean that entirely as a compliment.
Zelda can be purchased from EnVoyage’s website for $55 for .6 oz. While the company is located in the U.S., it reportedly will ship overseas. This review was based on a bottle in my own collection which I won in a drawing on CaFleureBon, and I have no material connection to EnVoyage.