The Proustian madeleine analogy is well known to everyone who enjoys French literature or believes in the inextricable link of perfumes and memory. I believed I knew all about it: an old, seemingly insignificant memory, buried deep in the subconscious only to become alive through a smell and reveal its significance. Recently however I had a much deeper dive into this proverbial cup of tea full of madeleine crumbles. I reached its bottom, hitting a memory I didn’t even know I had. I found a small bottle of Fendi by Fendi, released circa 1985, in a street market in Geneva. I bought it because it was cheap and because I knew of its reputation as one of these big, bold, feminine scents of the 80’s. Frankly before the first spray I couldn’t tell you what it smells like to save my life. I had no memory of ever having smelled this. The first spray awakened in me the cultural and social background of its era. Hot spice, sweet patchouli and a fruity undercurrent, connected to a high tech lamp amplifier with volume cranked up at max. I could actually taste the scent in my mouth as well as smell it. And then the second time I put it on my skin , it hit me: late eighties, still a student at the biology department in Athens I had just made a connection with a group of junior students who were a lot more socially active than us, old farts who were struggling to get those pass grades for the most difficult classes of the degree and finish with it. We connected through my Aromatics-Elixir-wearing dear friend who was getting noticed by students and faculty of all classes and ranks thanks to her mix of mediterrenean and jweish genes. We got introduced to new people, invited to new parties. I remember us both feeling a little out of place in these parties and exchanging surprised wtf-looks as commentaries of the way our younger co-eds were celebrating their first year of student life. We couldn’t help but notice we were a lot nurdier in their age. There was a lot of booze in these parties, a lot of sexual merry-go-round and of course a lot of the drama that comes with these. I have memories of this era that flash in my mind like three second gifs and nothing more than this. Sepia coloured, grainy gifs of faces. Dramatic black gifs of drunken driving. I remember being in a car, driving in a group of cars from one party to the next bar and seeing this girl from the party driving in front of us. When we reached a roundabout she drove right through it instead of around. Never knew what she did.
I remember that hanging with these people was more adrenaline inducing than the risk of riding a car driven by a semi-drunk girl. The adrenaline was not always of the uplifting kind, it often reached the get-up-and-run levels. Anyway this was not a long period and it was fun while its irresponsible time lasted. I very quickly lost touch with everyone and forgot their existence, their names, even their faces. If I were sitting next to one of them today I am sure I wouldn’t recognise them. But this bottle of Fendi brought me back the memory of a drunk kiss I exchanged with that girl who was driving the crazy car that night, going over the roundabout. She was aptly named Christine, a strange reference to crazy cars and the feminine version of my name. I suddenly remembered her face and her name and the taste of lipstick on her face and her pinning me against a wall and sticking a drunken kiss in my mouth. I remembered that she smelled of Fendi, even though at the time I wasn’t preoccupied with perfume and there was no way I could possibly have identified it on her. So I knew that it wasn’t the bottle nor the name of the perfume that brought these memories back to me. It was this smell of boozy, sweet patchouli poured over ice cubes that triggered this trip down memory lane.
Fendi Fendi (so good they named it twice…) is a beautiful scent but most importantly it is a scent that encapsulates an era. To be more precise, it is a snapshot of the transition between two eras of perfumery. There is this firm, robust body of powdery rose, sweet patchoulii, leather and oakmoss, with the intricate baroque detailing of Jacomo Coeur de Parfum or Chanel Coco. It embodies the coming of age of feminine perfumes from blushy pinks and sleek greens to shoulder padded shiny blacks. But the signs of a new era are evident. While Coeur de Parfum and Coco have a solid volume in space, sort of like an enamelled ball, Fendi creates the illusion of a vast concave surface that pulls you to its centre using your own weight. Aldehydes, carnation and ylang-ylang combine to create a metallic cloak over the traditional body of the scent. Elements of the popper smelling Choc de Cardin and Gucci Rush that will arrive a few years later are already here. The details are not as much three dimensional but rather flattened and ironed and you get a feeling of a very high definition photograph. Glossy, fashion still from a 90’s magazine. It smells like a high budget fashion editorial.
Even without having smelled Fendi before -at least to my knowledge and coming from a bottle- I always remembered the disturbing photo that was used for the original campaign. A seemingly romantic photo of a woman with her hair in a girly do, wrapped in one of the signature feather-light Fendi fur capes. But she is desperately directing her affections to a marble statue that looks equally romantic itself. Somehow however the juxtaposition of these two romantic images creates a very disturbing result that has nothing to do with romance. It is an almost demented, full of sexual tension image of fetishism and autoeroticism. I believe I was curious to buy my little bottle of Fendi mostly because of this image and how the sum of its elements contradicts the elements themselves. The memory of my drunken college kiss came as an extra layer of reality to the sexual tension of the scent itself. And I remembered me receiving that unprovoked drunken kiss in a surprised and statuesque way while being the outlet of sexual tension for my drunken college friend. And then I remembered these Facebook posts were two photos are put side-by-side,
what you think you look like doing something on the left, and what you actually look like doing it on the right, and this image popped to mind of us back then and other people now and always, exchanging not elegant, nasty, steamy, wet, magnificent kisses at drunken college parties. When we don’t care what we look like. When we are swirling in alcohol fumes. Those kisses are more often than not bursts of liberated autoeroticism. A fetishism of our own youth and of our own bodies. They lack the elegance and idealisation of the Metzner photo shoot but essentially they represent the same thing: kissing a mirror.
Though most reviewers talk about the elegance of Fendi Fendi and how classy it was, I beg to differ. What it represents was indeed classy in the late 80’s but has little to do the pristine photo of the statue kissing woman. Partying hard and kissing strangers under the influence was part of the glamour back then, much more than it is today and than people cared to admit then. Metzger’s photo is a beautification of the drunken college kiss and I have the memories to prove it.