I’ll be honest with you: I’ve yet no idea what shape this commentary will take as life is pushing my stress buttons, the heart is pounding out of my chest and I’m truly in no mood for perfume writing. How’s that for honesty? But this is about Frida Kahlo, one of the most amazing she-humans to ever grace the face of the earth. I can’t not honour her and I can’t let perfumer Shelley Waddington’s kindness unthanked for. She very graciously sent me a sample of her newest creation Frida, no conditions attached. Naturally, I was over the moon as I’d heard so many things about Shelley’s talent and beautiful perfumes, especially the one inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald. And now a perfume inspired by Frida Kahlo. How could I not be interested in it?
To me, Frida the woman is about love and suffering. I’ve wondered many times if she would’ve been the same iconic personality without the terrible accident she had as a teenager, when the bus she rode collided with a trolley car. She did manage to recover somewhat, after a very long convalescence, but throughout her life the pain would comeback, and with such ferocious intensity that Frida would spend months at a time bedridden in a hospital or at home. Her world would shrink to the size of the bed she was confined to. She, the unconfinable, had to contain herself within a 2 square metres perimeter. Her body was broken in so many places that during her lifetime she had to undergo more than 35 surgical interventions. Furthermore, one of the tragic consequences was that she was left unable to sustain a pregnancy, and as a result she suffered several miscarriages.
I have a lot of compassion and even tenderness for that poor little Frida body, held together with bits of leather strips, corsets and bolts. And I think she had too. She did her best to decorate it with the most colourful skirts and blouses and beads. She would gather her long, raven black hair into a crown of plaits and flowers, and she liked red lipstick. She wanted to look like a queen not like a victim, and she would receive her guests and her lovers of both sexes in bed, surrounded by all the vibrant Mexican regalia. Bed was a place of creation too, as she has taught herself how to paint during endless days of recovery. In a way she gave birth to a new self in the middle of that white sheeted rectangle. A painful one true, but oh so alive and fascinating at the same time.
And her immense capacity for love and forgiveness of the ones she loved was as equally absorbing as her suffering. The woman simply knew how to live: intensely, fully, vibrantly, emotionally and spiritually. She was all too aware of the limited time we have, as her body would only remind her so often. As a former medical student she had the full grasp of the extent of her injuries and she was under no illusion. And she lived, created, loved, danced, smoked and dranked, traveled and then always came back to her home, The blue house from Coyoacan, where she died, a week after her 47th birthday. I always shudder at the last entrance in her diary, few days before she passed away “I hope the exit is joyful – and I hope never to return – Frida”. Dear Heavens, how great her pain must’ve been. And how bravely she struggled with it, when not even morphine couldn’t help her anymore.
I could write and write about Frida and I wish words wouldn’t fail me so miserably. But they do, and this is a perfume blog and I should try and cover the subject of the latest En Voyage fragrance. From the very beginning this was set to be a task of epic proportions for the perfumer, but also a very rich, full of olfactory possibilities theme. From the flowers she wore in her hair, the cigars she smoke, the food she loved to eat and cook, the bodies she entangled herself with and the paraphernalia attached to her medical conditions, Frida was one long scented adventure.
And Shelley Waddington has definitely created an interesting, unique perfume, even if not to my personal tastes. It is a very complex fruity floral with some strange, disturbing nuances on a dry yet warm musky base. The drydown really brought to my mind the image of Frida’s heavy black hair hanging loose over her shoulders, like curtains of black velvet from behind which those mesmerising eyes would fearlessly look at you.
The fragrance is very difficult to dissect into notes, and even more difficult to explain how it smells. It is a very abstract, conceptual composition. What my nose senses first and foremost is a medicinal, clovey, antiseptic vibe that alludes to Frida’s physical pain. This is overwhelming the other aspects of the scent for me, at least for the first half of the perfume’s life on the skin, as my nose is getting attached to this aspect like a hunting dog to the blood’s trail. I can also make out a fresh, juicy fruit undercurrent, that it’s both sweet ( not overly so) and watery. Some reviews mention watermelon and that could easily be it. There’s a distinct vegetal feel to the scent mixed in with the rubbery, mentholated nuances of the white flowers, particularly tuberose and Ylang-Ylang. I would’ve liked very much for the tuberose to be a lot more forceful so it can fully express the muse’s sensuality and emotional passion. Slowly a hint of caramelised sugar emerges and lightens up the mood a bit, and that sensation of musky skin and hair of the drydown starts to come into its own. I don’t sense tobacco or incense specifically, just a kind of cognac hued ambered warmth. Thankfully, my nose takes pity on me and lets go a bit of its unnatural attachment to the sadder, hospital like impression I was talking about at the beginning, so I’m starting to relax and enjoy the scent better.
In conclusion I do find Frida the perfume to be creative, original, and capturing some of the details it set out to suggest, especially the Mexican garden aspects. I would’ve like for the scent to be sultrier, more human and floral and less vegetal. Also with the medicinal characteristic toned down. But that’s just me and my expectations. Nevertheless this is a well blended, unusual composition with a strong exotic aura, and definitely unlike anything else out there. Don’t expect a tuberose centred perfume, the flower is more suggested than showcased, and I think the perfumer chooses to concentrate on the more unsettling aspects of it, which I like but I would’ve preferred to be shown a bit more of the diva elements too. I think this will be a polarising fragrance, and for some it will work very well and for others not at all. I’m somehow in the middle. Definitely worthy of your precious sniffing time though. Try it!
TOP NOTES: Fruits, herbs and leaves of Frida’s garden; Agave, Green Pepper
HEART NOTES: Tuberose, Hibiscus, Cactus Flower
BASE NOTES: Light woods, Sugar, Oakmoss, Aldehydes, Myrrh, Frankincense and Copal, Tobacco Accord, Sexual Animalic notes, Musk, Amber