Few artists are as iconic and confrontational as Frida Kahlo. From her dominant monobrow to her flirtation with androgynous clothing, Frida was never afraid to challenge preconceptions. Her work, which comprises of many self-portraits, is often brutal, displaying herself or her subjects in pain, or with their organs exposed, representing in some ways, her own damaged body that was catastrophically injured in a bus accident early on in her life. She challenged the world’s idea of what it means to be a woman, and defined her own idea of feminine beauty. Frida was a renegade and a free spirit, but she was also a prisoner of her own physical presence. Most of all, she was an artist with a fearless form of expression
The other Frida, the fragrance created by Shelley Waddington for En Voyage Perfumes, that is, also questions our preconceived notions. It takes the familiar note of tuberose and presents it as something otherworldly. It’s still recognisably ‘tuberose’ (which is music to the ears of this particular tuberose fiend), but it is so much more than just another take on a popular note, in fact, I would call it a detailed essay into the psyche and inspirations of one of the most unique artists ever to have lived. Frida was a rare bird and a unique voice from a richly cultured nation. Frida, the perfume is as complex and fascinating as its muse, and for that reason, it’s most definitely a worthy sniff.
“Viva la Frida Vida! 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.”
– En Voyage Perfumes
Top: Apricots, Watermelon, Peaches, Lemons and Lush Greenery
Heart: Tuberose, Hibiscus, Cactus Flower, Champaca, Ylang Ylang, Gardenia and Jasmine
Base: Light Woods, Sugar, Oak Moss, Aldehydes, Myrrh, Frankincense, Copal, Tobacco, Green Pepper, Sexual Animalic Notes, Musk and Amber
How Does it Smell?
Frida starts out with a big squeeze of watermelon. As one’s teeth sink into the soft pink flesh of the fruit, the initial impression is large and lush, with weighty globs of water spraying out in all directions. Things are aqueous, dewy and vibrant. Cleverly, there is a strong sense of something green and spiky underneath the watermelon, adding a verdant bitterness and ensuring that things never feel overtly sweet in the slightest. One gets a real sense of dense tropical greenery, peppered with colourful pink flowers, but the sense is not literal and there’s almost a distance from this scene – a haze that gives the impression of a painted landscape rather than a view from a window.
Of course, Frida is a tuberose fragrance. No wait, scrap that. Frida is a fragrance with tuberose, rather than a ‘tuberose fragrance’. The narcotic and hypnotic white flower is a key player, yes, but it’s not the star, and what really surprises me about it, is just how reserved and paired back it is. This tuberose is green and fresh, with soft, rubbery white petals. It boasts a delicate musky facet, much like the ginormous wind of musk seen in Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower, albeit on a much smaller scale. There’s also a subtle touch of the cool, mentholated nuance so often found in tuberose, complete with tiny hints of raw meat. What at first, seems like a simple tuberose note, soon reveals itself to be a masterfully complex character filled with contradictions. It beguiles. It ensnares. It fascinates. It even repulses. A lot goes on beneath the surface and in the mind of the tuberose, much like the artist from which this fragrance takes inspiration
The dry down contrasts the opening half completely. Frida starts out as a jungle-like maze of orgasmically bursting fruit, skyscraper-sized green leaves and finely-tuned tuberose, but somewhere in the labyrinth the mood shifts, the skies darken and things feel a lot more serious. In the base, Frida shows her dark and more masculine side. This is the Frida that wears men’s clothing, smokes cigars and paints pictures of wounded animals – the other side of the painter who imagined images of mouthwatering fruit. Like Frida the woman, Frida the perfume is an exercise in duality, and the base sees a smoky blend of resinous incense, bitter moss and dried tobacco leaves. The trail Frida leaves on the skin leaves a lasting impression and whilst it certainly feels like a perfume of two halves, the result is cohesive and utterly fascinating.
Frida is a breathtaking piece of work. It manages to mix a vibrant sense of colour with a bold, androgynous structure that is entirely unique. The contrasts are strong, with lush watery notes opposed by dry incense smoke and skin-like musk. This is a cerebral kind of perfumery, similar in tone to the work of Vero Kern for Vero Profumo, that is beautifully abstract. Sure, there are botanical cues here and there – nuances that place Frida in that abundant Mexican garden however, the overall impression is entirely more surreal. With Frida (and also, the remarkable velvety magnolia of Zelda), perfumer Shelley Waddington is creating artistic fragrances of exceptional quality. More importantly though, she is placing herself as a force to be reckoned within the world of Indie perfume. I for one, look forward to seeing what else she comes up with.
Frida is available in 15ml ($75) and 30ml ($95) Eau de Parfum
Sample, notes and quotes via En Voyage Perfume. Image 1 via Fragrantica. Image 2 via elsita.typepad.com.