Imagine this: It’s the late-1980s, and Sirio leads you to your table for lunch at Le Cirque. As you dangle your quilted Chanel 2.55 off your chair and consider whether you’ll have the Dover sole or the carpaccio, a cascade of laughter draws your attention to the table next to you. The frizzy-headed woman with Bordeaux-purple gloss lipstick and an armload of bangles is Opium. Next to her sits Giorgio, a blond real estate agent with frosted pink talons for fingernails. Coco, swathed in fur and velvet and jewel tones despite the July heat outside, looks a little embarrassed by their loud conversation. (Boucheron had to be at a committee meeting for a Met gala and couldn’t make it. Neither could Cinnabar — she’s summering at her house in Bali.)
Then the room’s chatter and clink of silverware stops. A curvaceous, full-lipped woman of a certain age glides toward the empty chair at the table. She’s ignored the trend for shoulder pads and somehow combines Sophia Loren’s earth-mother sensuality with Silvana Mangano’s elegance. Still, her silkiness packs no less potency than the assertive styles of the other women at the table. This is Fendi by Fendi.
Fendi launched its first fragrance, Fendi, in 1985. The Société Française des Parfumeurs classifies it as a floral aldehydic chypre, but its honeyed base notes give it the warm, dreamy feel of an oriental. Fendi includes top notes of bergamot, aldehydes and rosewood; a heart of rose, lily of the valley, geranium, jasmine, tuberose, orris and carnation; and a base of cedarwood, patchouli, sandalwood, moss, musk, amber, vanilla and benzoin.
Fendi kicks off warm, sweet, and mossy-green with a hint of the kind of funk that wood can make. This touch of dirtiness is quickly swallowed into Fendi’s operatic heart of major florals blended so that not one single note sings loudest. I can only pick out rose's grounding and jasmine's tingle. The heart is tightly swaddled in a powdery mix of sweet wood, animal musk, benzoin and patchouli. Fendi is one of those fragrances that you can identify in a millisecond. It’s big and complicated, but it telescopes into a definite signature that reads as a velvety blend of honey, tobacco, sandalwood, and rose.
"We're tried to make the fragrance as feminine as possible," said Carla Fendi.1 For more insight into what femininity means to Carla Fendi, here’s what she told the Boston Globe in 1987: "My mother taught me the truth about the authentically fashionable woman. The real fashionable woman is a thoroughbred, apart from her clothes. She projects a joyous spirit, moves with feline grace, has a gentle tone of voice,” and "It's no longer necessary for a woman to deny her femininity. When it comes to equal jobs, there is no rivalry and conflict between the sexes. It's time for women to reemerge their natural splendor. Women must be women again.”2 This combination of power and femininity (but perhaps not "gentle voice") definitely shows in Fendi.
Fendi is probably best applied in dabs, and not during summer. (I’m testing this during a heat wave, by the way. I love it anyway, but the bottle is going back into the perfume cabinet until it’s sweater weather.) I was lucky enough to find a bottle of Fendi Eau de Parfum at Goodwill this week, and I bought it for a friend who wore Fendi for years and is still mad she can’t buy it anymore. After sampling it the last few days, I’m afraid all she’ll be getting from me is a decant.
Fendi for Women is discontinued, and bottles online cost a king’s ransom, so keep your eyes open at thrift shops and estate sales.
1. Women's Wear Daily, November 21, 1986.
2. Marian Christy, The Boston Globe, February 22, 1987.