Artisan perfumer Shelley Waddington was inspired to create Zelda in 2013 as a tribute to an icon of the Jazz Age, Zelda Fitzgerald. Her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald called her “America’s first flapper”. An accomplished dancer, writer and painter, Zelda was a woman ahead of her time. Tragically, she struggled with mental health problems for much of her life and died in a fire at a psychiatric hospital in her late 40s.
While Zelda references vintage fragrances, it does so with quality and complexity. The twin hallmarks of old-school perfumery, soap and powder, are present but not in the least overwhelming. The triumvirate of galbanum, magnolia and mousse de chene (oakmoss) also contribute greatly to the glorious vintage effect. Although it is reminiscent of the perfumes of yesteryear, it doesn’t feel like something that should be in The Osmotheque. It’s very wearable in the here and now.
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, vetiver, cedarwood and mousse de chêne.
On first encounter, Zelda is ravishing, savvy and confident but its heart is vulnerable and its soul is multi-layered. It is a grown-up perfume in a time when so many fragrances cater to youth. It demonstrates intelligence in an age of dumbing-down. It tells the complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end at a time when so many others give up all the goods on first spray.
The vivid green of galbanum in the top notes is cool, astringent and striking. It is very much underused in fragrances today and is the very antithesis of the sugar syrup that dominates modern mainstream perfumery. The addition of a squeeze of bergamot and a sprinkle of piquant spices makes for a truly stunning opening.
The heart of magnolia is creamy, luscious and a little heady but there is also a mossy darkness surrounding its edges. It is a luminous bloom in the half-light. Zelda is inviting you into her world of bright lights and dark shadows where nothing is quite as it seems. You find out that she is far from the vacant flapper, the quintessential 1920s party girl. She is far more interesting and clever than that.
In the final hours we feel the darkness encroaching as the very last waxy petal is taken by the breeze. The enigmatic base is as complex as the notes suggest. I find it to be largely resinous, becoming more balsamic over time with little puffs of amber. There is just the right dose of musk to entice you further into its depths rather than frighten you away. It is as seductive as a deep, dreamless sleep after a long, tumultuous day.
Zelda is a mini-biography in fragrant form. A small wonder.