One Thousand Scents

Friday, March 27, 2009


Every time I discover a great discontinued scent, or more usually a great scent that later gets discontinued, I feel as if there ought to be some governing body that could force companies to keep such things in production--and keep them unaltered--regardless of sales figures or fickle taste. It wouldn't be a decision made lightly: you can't keep producing every scent just because someone somewhere likes it. But there are some fragrances that are so good--elementally appealing, ground-breakingly novel or simply the best in their class--that they should be universally and eternally available as an example of what is possible.

Theorema by Fendi is just such a scent. Fendi made the baffling decision to delete every single scent from its line except the most recent, the boring Palazzo. The charming, summery Life Essence: gone. The admittedly very Eighties original scent (which was dazzling at the time and could have been given a renaissance): toast. The iconoclastic oriental Asja, in its gorgeous lacquered box-bottle: a memory. And most incomprehensibly, the greatly beloved Theorema, which is, distilled into a bottle, the coziness of a cashmere blanket, a box of bonbons, and a winter fireplace.

The top is a joyous explosion of orange peel (well, tangelo and shamouti, a seedless, thick-skinned, perfumey orange varietal, according to the manufacturer), supplemented with creamy spices and a smidgen of chocolate, like a memory of a Terry's Chocolate Orange. This settles down into an even creamier body of wood and amber, bolstered with the suggestion of flowers. It's not exactly a gourmand scent, despite the food notes, but it sure is an oriental, and as it should, it lasts a long time: twelve hours or more on me. And they are enchanted hours, because Theorema is extraordinarily beautiful, really in a class all its own. It is incomprehensible to me that it would be discontinued.

The bottle is meant to suggest a Fendi handbag, so clearly Theorema is positioned as a women's scent, and in fact there was a men's version a couple of years later, which I never tried, but the original Theorema is, like so many oriental scents, quite neutral. (Even the handbag is abstracted: the spare, angular bottle wouldn't look wildly out of place on a man's dresser.) There are floral elements, but they are not as important as the sweet, enveloping oriental warmth of the scent.

I could have had a full bottle of it back at the end of the nineties. I can still envision it sitting on the shelf at the perfumery around the corner from where I used to live, that smart black-and-gold box: it wasn't hellaciously expensive, and I knew how gorgeous it was, but in one of those incomprehensible choices we regret later, I decided against it. And then one day it was gone, deleted to make room for something else probably less interesting. A couple of years later, I found a boxed set of Fendi miniatures, among them Theorema, and of course I snapped it up and have been doling out droplets from time to time. I still have nearly a half of the miniature; it hasn't turned or changed in any way, and if luck is on my side, it will continue to delight me for another few years yet.

A little digging--well, a lot of sleuthing, actually--will find you a few places that you can still buy Theorema online. (There are plenty of Google links, but most of them take you to places at which the scent is out of stock. Forever, one supposes.) A site called PerfumeLA, which I've never ordered from, has a one-ounce spray for $34.95, which is a pretty good price, I would think. Get it while you can. (The only thing stopping me from ordering it is that I have way too many scents already that I'll never use up, and I still have a few precious millilitres of Theorema, so I don't want to be a pig: I'll leave it for someone else.)

"Theorema" is a rather baffling name, because Fendi is an Italian design house, but "Theorema" isn't a proper Italian word: their version of "theorem" is "teorema" (which is also the name of a Pasolini film). "Theorema" is, however, Latin, for whatever that's worth. I don't know why such a stiffly mathematical word would be used to name such a soft and luscious fragrance.


Bernard Loiseau was a French chef most famous for having killed himself when his restaurant was rumoured to be losing a Michelin star. (It didn't: he shot himself over nothing.) Before that, though, he was famous for owning the three-star La Côte D'Or ("The Gold Coast") restaurant and making himself a public commodity in France with books, frozen meals, and a boutique.

He also created a group of food-based perfumes with a Parisian fragrance company called B'Prime Parfums, one of which was called Orangette. I can guess, unlike Theorema, why Orangette was used as the name for a fragrance: because, like Theorema, it has oranges in it. What I can't seem to find out is what "orangette" means. It clearly must be some sort of food, but beyond that, I have nothing.

Orangette is essentially the Platonic essence of Theorema, the idea of the scent, stripped down to its barest possible form. While Theorema dances around the idea of chocolate and orange, suggesting it while overloading the senses with other sweets, Orangette simply is chocolate orange, with the balance skewed very much toward a fresh juicy orange. It's bright and vivid without seeming cheap or childlike, and the combination of the two elements, in food or in perfume, is a sort of genius, their individual sharp and sweet qualities contrasting with and complementing one another.

Orangette was one of a series of five scents created by Loiseau called "perfumed recipes", all food-based: the others were Pain d'epices ("Gingerbread"), Fenouil ("Fennel"), Poivre ("Pepper"), and Persil ("Parsley"). Although I haven't tried the others, and all five are long gone, you can still get Orangette, as I did, as part of a sampler from The Perfumed Court, the Gourmand Sampler, a collection of 12 niche scents with a food angle. While I might not agree that Ambre Narguilè smells like "French toast with sweet spices" (what? really?), I can't argue with their choice of scents. If you want to try Orangette, this may well be your last chance.


  • I've ordered from PerfumeLA a few times and had no problems, in case anyone else wants to snag a bottle of Theorema.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:28 PM  

  • I took your recommendation and bought it sight uns-- er, without smelling it.

    PerfumeLA had it to me within the week, and it smells *fantastic* on my wife, so I owe you one, possibly two depending on how you're counting. Thanks!

    By Blogger D.J., at 6:23 PM  

  • I'm delighted that 1) PerfumeLA is a good bet, 2) they had Theorema in stock, and 3) I didn't steer anybody wrong. Theorema is astoundingly good, a high-water mark for gourmand perfumery. Enjoy!

    By Blogger pyramus, at 8:00 PM  

  • Not to keep harping on this, but my wife -- whom you may remember as XanterraGirl from the late, lamented Fametracker forums -- is still transfixed by Theorema. I may have to start scouring for a backup bottle. So thanks again!

    By Blogger D.J., at 9:14 AM  

  • I hope you got your backup bottle, because I was just on the PerfumeLA site (Sunday, May 17th) and Theorema is out of stock (permanently, one has to assume). If not, then your wife will have to wear hers sparingly or extravagantly as her personality dictates, and then when it runs out remember it wistfully for years afterwards (if she's anything like me).

    By Blogger pyramus, at 7:22 PM  

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