Fendi (Fendi)

It is the fate of all overblown things to encounter, at last, a deflating pinprick. Looking back, people love to mock the 1980's, a decade filled to bursting with silicone, steroids, and hubris. But during those days, size really did matter-- to a great many people in all walks of life.

The world at that time was run by titanic egos with equally titanic insecurities; we the people could only watch helplessly as these giants roared. From them, we took our cue: if you didn't stand your ground and shout, you risked being lost in the shuffle. We learned to look squarely in the funhouse mirror and imagine ourselves larger than life.

Our surroundings reflected the lesson: everything from politics to architecture to fashion to the human body itself seemed redesigned for maximum one-upmanship. With a quick trip to the mall, you could inflate your silhouette with linebacker-sized shoulder pads, Hammer pants, towers of spiky, geometric hair and lots of pointy metal jewelry. 

Finally, you had fragrance to round off the threat display-- and some of these perfumes were all you really needed. If the DSM-IV applied to fragrance, '80's mega-hits like Giorgio, Poison, Obsession, and Drakkar Noir would be classified as either sociopaths (blunt, aggressive, insensitive) or narcissists (grandiose, attention-seeking, crass). The message broadcast by these olfactory bullies was simple: I am powerful. You do not want to fuck with me. 

But once the decade turned, all this sturm-und-drang seemed faintly silly.  We then spent the 90's disposing of the evidence in various Goodwill stores and rehab centers, stripping away the ammo belts and aggression and cocaine habits and bad memories.

Will it ever be safe to view power as a positive again?

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I entered the new millenium thinking of myself as a peaceable person.  Like many of my age cohort, I'd recoiled from the militaristic Reagan era by embracing what I thought was its antithesis: nonviolent conflict resolution, organic farmers' markets, Bono.  Yet the first time I saw Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, I leapt out of my chair shouting "FUCKYEAH!"  

Fifteen years earlier, I'd scoffed at the notion of male audience erupting into cheers at screenings of First Blood or Commando or Predator-- now here I was, mild manners tossed abruptly aside, completely galvanized by a bloody, turbo-charged revenge saga starring the most steely antihero I'd ever encountered.  Only this time it wasn't Stallone or Schwarzenegger, but a chick-- namely, Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo.  Not since Sigourney Weaver played Ripley in Aliens had there been such an uncompromising warrior-woman on celluloid.

Give that girl all the Hattori Hanzō steel she wants and send me the bill!

And what of the director? Though he launched his career in the '90s making films that paid homage to the '70s, Quentin Tarantino is in many ways a child of that decade inbetween, which shaped both his oversized personality and outré style of cinema. Yet of all indelible marks a filmmaker could make on popular culture, Tarantino's portrayal of women has been the most remarkable.  He clearly respects and admires us and shows it by consistently placing strong, highly independent female characters at the eye of each narrative storm, where they hold forth with calm, courage, and self-contained style. Even unarmed, they wield power. And when they're happy, they kick off their shoes, put on a little music, and sing. Ever seen Rambo do that?

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Fendi by Fendi probably would have ended up reminding me of Beatrix Kiddo whether I wanted it to or not. For one thing, that black-and-yellow packaging is a hue-perfect match to the famous tracksuit she wore in Vol. 1. But more-- Fendi encapsulates all of Kiddo's strength, stillness, and (yes) sweetness in an accord of concentrated feminine force.

I first saw my bottle three months ago in (of course) a secondhand shop, still in its box and nearly full. One sniff made my eyes widen-- this couldn't have borne less of a resemblance to its male counterpart had it come from some alternate dimension.  I've since figured it out: all those perfume forum contributors who call Fendi Uomo a "monster" are sniffing the wrong juice. It's a simple mistake, really; those spare, geometric bottles look so much alike. But when it comes to assertive, world-beating 1980's power fragrances, Fendi by Fendi -- the women's perfume -- is the one that commands respect. Vive la différence!

I stood with my nose parked over that bottle for ten whole minutes, convinced that its previous owner must have been plumb loco to give up such a beauty. Sadly, not all the mad money in my pocket was enough to cover the $40 price tag, so I reluctantly left it behind. Several weeks ago, however, I revisited the shop to find that the price had dropped to a more reasonable $15. This time I didn't hesitate-- I even wore it home.

And yes... I kicked off my shoes, put on a little music, and sang.

Straight out of the bottle, Fendi's clove-heavy spice symphony packs serious firepower. For those familiar with Uomo -- a reticent carnation leather with a hazy vetiver note -- you might expect cultured, modulated tones. But la femme is a big, balls-out fragrance that rings like a temple bell, one glorious heart-swelling note after another with no concerns whatsoever about volume.

Like Yves Saint Laurent's Opium, Estée Lauder's Cinnabar and Youth Dew, and other museum-replica pieces of chinoiserie, Fendi sacrifices subtlety for potency, delicacy for exoticism-- but mitigating features abound. Seldom (or at least not since Andy Tauer's L'air du Désert Marocain) does one get to see cedar -- normally so austere a scent element -- given such a voluptuous outline. Sweetened with tangerine and mellowed by an autumnal note reminiscent of Ginestet Botrytis, it makes me hunger for a dessert of kumquats in syrup and sweet rice wine served beneath the boughs of a flame-red maple... katanas optional. The drydown is honey all the way: can it get more feminine than the delicious drip of nectar from a yielding honeycomb? (Answer that question after you're stung).

For any who have learned to cringe from '80's fragrances as if from a slap in the face, try some Fendi when you come by it... and take back your power.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, rose, ylang-ylang, pepper, iris, jasmine, clove, myrrh, nutmeg, cedarwood, patchouli, vetiver, amber