Dead Letter Office: Fendi Theorema- When Perfection Fails


There are times when the why of how a perfume ends up in the Dead Letter Office escapes me. In doing my research for this article I can see that others who have written about this month’s perfume are equally perplexed. This month’s story is about a designer fragrance which came out at the height of the designer’s popularity. The perfumer was on her sixth fragrance but everything that has made her a star is on display for, arguably, the first time. It was on trend for the time as it married the qualities of fruity floral on an oriental base. What happened? I don’t have a clue. The perfume’s name? Now that I know, Fendi Theorema.

In 1998 Carrie Bradshaw on the HBO series Sex and the City was introducing women to the Fendi Baguette handbag. Fendi was one of the most desirable luxury brands at that time. They had been doing fragrance since 1985 but those early efforts were forgettable. In 1996 they would make a shift towards a fragrance which more clearly reflected the fashion designer aesthetic. The first pair of women’s and men’s fragrances were called Fantasia and Life Essence. These were much better than the earlier releases but still lacked something. As they got ready to make a new fragrance they would return to the perfumer responsible for Fantasia, Christine Nagel. I talk about inflection points in a perfumer’s career often. If you try Fantasia and Theorema I would bet most would have no idea it was the same perfumer. Fantasia is stock fruity floral over sandalwood. There is nothing unique about it. Two years on and Mme Nagel was beginning to get the hang of this.

christine nagel

Christine Nagel

In Theorema, for maybe the first time, she would display what has sort of become her trademark. By taking a sturdy nucleus of notes and draping them in diaphanous accords which are transparent enough for you to reach through to that foundation. It is that duality which has made Mme Nagel one of the best perfumers currently working.

Theorema opens on a candied orange accord. If you ever had those orange jelly candies which are sprinkled with sugar that is the opening of Theorema. Rose provides rich floral contrast to finish the fruity floral opening. More florals await in the heart as Mme Nagel combines osmanthus and jasmine. Along with the rose this is the very floral heart of Theorema. Now it is when those transparent films start to overlay the florals. First she takes out some spicy veils as cinnamon and baie rose settle over the florals. A set of woody veils in the presence of gaiac wood and sandalwood are next. A high pitched white musk and a rich amber provide the last bits of adornment.

Theorema has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

As I await the first release from Mme Nagel in her new position as in-house perfumer at Hermes it was fun to go back to the beginning of her career to remind myself how good she has been for so long. Theorema should still be on the shelves as it has all the construction of a classic with nothing which feels dated. Everything was perfect for its success yet it failed.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke