Saturday the Fourth of July was American Independence Day. It struck me as fitting that several new fragrances by American independent perfumers were released recently and sent to me for review, all in time to celebrate Independence Day. So much of what’s interesting and innovative in perfume these days is coming out of the American indie perfume scene, and as the Fourth of July has recently passed, I thought I’d devote a week (or so) to reviewing three new releases by American indie perfumers. Today’s review is of the brand new Frida from En Voyage Perfumes, created by perfumer Shelley Waddington and launched only a week ago. In Part Two of this post, I reviewed Enticing from Anya’s Garden, and in Part One I reviewed Aftelier Perfumes’ new solid fragrance, Bergamoss.
Frida – inspired by the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo – is a brand new fragrance from En Voyage Perfumes. It was launched on Kahlo’s birthday, July 6th. As a fan of Frida Kahlo, I was thrilled when I discovered Shelley’s latest creation was inspired by this wonderful feminist artist who had such an interesting private life and remains to this day a cultural icon in Mexico and around the world.
Frida the Person
What follows is an extremely curtailed, superficial summary of who Frida Kahlo, the woman and the artist, was. To find out more about Frida, I can highly recommend reading The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Carlos Fuentes). There is no better way to learn about an artist than by viewing their art and reading what they’ve written about themselves.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) endured a life of intense physical pain from illness and injury, including childhood polio and a bus accident in her late teens. She was also famous for her relationships, including a tempestuous yet close and long-lived bond — featuring two marriages and one divorce — with renowned painter Diego Rivera, and an affair with Leon Trotsky. Her paintings incorporate elements of folk art and surrealism, and she explored her illness, pain and relationships through many of her works, which rely heavily on symbolism and often take the form of self-portraits. Frida was also known for her flamboyant dress-sense based on traditional Mexican apparel, as well as her heavy brows and elaborate, traditional hairstyles.
A Love Letter from Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera
I’ve included one of Frida’s love letters to her husband Diego Rivera below as it helps give some insight into her character and the nature of their relationship.
Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. the dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.” (From The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Carlos Fuentes), and quoted at BrainPickings.org)
Frida the Perfume
Shelley Waddington says of Frida on the En Voyage website:
“This perfume celebrates the life of Frida Kahlo; the woman and artist, her suffering, her Mexican heritage and her love of nature.
Frida was feminine, fearless and a revolutionary; she cross dressed, smoked cigars, and has been a part of pop culture for over 50 years. A world-travelled sophisticate who had love affairs with both men and women, Frida remained happiest at Casa Azul, her traditional family home.
Tuberose, a flower that the Aztecs called the Boneflower, is an important note in this perfume as an homage to Frida’s brutal calamities and artistic transformation. Other notes include the hibiscus that she wore in her hair as well as the tropical blossoms and plants of Frida’s garden. The fragrance also devotes close attention to other details of Frida’s life, such as the heat of her native Mexico City, the smells of her cigarettes and her heavy hair.”
Perfumer Shelley Waddington from En Voyage creates such rich, interesting, complex, multi-layered creations, and Frida is no exception. For some background on Shelley’s work as a perfumer and to find out how she conceives of her perfumes creatively, check out the interview that I published with Shelley a couple of months back. To read my recent survey of three En Voyage perfumes, click here.
My Experience of Frida
On first application Frida is very dry and savoury, and even a tad bitter. I feel like I’m in a hot climate and I smell dry, dusty earth and a strong tobacco with hints of a savoury vanilla* and green bell peppers*. Very quickly the top notes settle and start wafting around my body to produce the startlingly realistic effect of being in a fertile greenhouse, or a lush, tropical garden, complete with water-drenched leaves. Subtly sweet fruity notes emerge, the most dominant being a realistic, wet-smelling watermelon which, along with the tropical flowers and plants, creates a summery sensation.
Tuberose is central to this fragrance, and I find this particular tuberose quite indolic, and not very sweet or cloying, as it often can be in perfumery. The tuberose note forms a family with the heady, similarly indolic and tropical white floral notes of ylang ylang, gardenia and jasmine. All of this indole (along with myrrh) seems to create a medicinal note in the fragrance, which for me alludes to Frida Kahlo’s illnesses and injuries. I can’t help but think of the smell of adhesive bandages, hospitals and plaster casts when I detect this note. Oakmoss adds a slightly bitter undertone to the composition of Frida, and there is also a sweet and subtle woody base note that emerges after an hour or so, and which reminds me a little of En Voyage’s own New York Man.
There are two interesting Mexican notes in Frida: cactus flower and copal. According to Wikipedia, copal is
“a name given to tree resin that is particularly identified with the aromatic resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as ceremonially burned incense and [for] other purposes... Copal is still used by a number of indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America as an incense, during sweat lodge [and other] ceremonies…” (sourced from Wikipedia)
Frida is a strong scent, and while it’s pleasant to smell it directly from the skin, I find it more enjoyable to apply it and to let it waft around the body as I go about my day. This also helps create the illusion that one is literally surrounded by a lush and watery tropical garden. Frida radiates enormously at first, but dies down to a softer, slightly sweeter version of itself after a couple of hours. It lasts on the skin for at least 8 hours, although it is a skin scent on me after about 3-4 hours.
My overall impression of Frida is that it is a tropical, vegetal and floral fragrance, a realistic garden scent to rival Jean-Claude Ellena’s Les Jardins (Garden) series for Hermès. In fact, I find Frida more complex, multi-faceted and realistic than any of the fragrances from the Les Jardins series, and it has much better sillage and lasting power too. If you like Les Jardins, give Frida a try.
This fragrance is a true unisex scent. It’s neither too sweet nor savoury, neither stereotypically masculine or feminine, which matches Frida Kahlo’s character perfectly. Kahlo was one to play with and subvert gender stereotypes: she enjoyed dressing in masculine clothing at times and having relationships with both women and men, while also embracing an ultra-feminine, traditional Mexican style of dressing.
Frida can be purchased from the En Voyage website, and stockists in the US (see the En Voyage website for details). A 0.8g sample is $6 USD, a 0.5oz (15ml) bottle is $75 USD and a 1oz (30ml) bottle is $95 USD.
For a complete list of notes and to read more about Frida, visit the En Voyage website. I’ve avoided listing all the notes here as I think it’s important to convey an impression of the scent and its character, and to talk about the dominant notes, rather than a list of the ingredients.
Warmest thanks to Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes, who kindly sent me a sample of Frida to review.
*A note about the smell of green bell peppers (known as capsicums here in Australia). One of the notes listed for Frida is green pepper. Due to this difference in nomenclature — Americans call capsicums peppers or bell peppers — I assumed (incorrectly) that green capsicum had been used in Frida. I had a brief discussion with perfumer Shelley Waddington yesterday and she confirmed that it is in fact green peppercorn that can be found in Frida. However, she also told me that she had worked with incorporating the smell of capsicums/bell-peppers/chillis in the scent, even though these ingredients aren’t actually present, through perfumer “tricks”. Well it worked, because my nose really does smell capsicum! Vanilla is not listed in the notes for Frida either, but I do get wafts of a vanilla note very much like that found in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Vanille Absolutement when I first apply Frida. It’s a dry, dusty, savoury vanilla, a little like vanilla essence.