Here we have it, folks, the first celebrity fragrance: Elizabeth Taylor Passion. That’s right. In 1987, Elizabeth Taylor was the first big name, besides a couturier, to brand a perfume. And she went big. Unlike some celebrities who curiously say, “I don’t really like perfume, but I like this one” about their eponymous “clean smelling” scents, Taylor put together a glamorous whopper of a perfume.1
Passion’s notes include gardenia, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, lily of the valley, amber musk, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, incense, and moss. In 1988, the fragrance won a FiFi as the Women’s Fragrance of the Year, Nouveau Niche (Fendi won Fragrance of the Year, Luxe).
Jan Moran in Fabulous Fragrances quotes Taylor as saying about Passion, “It has a scent of mystery, slightly effusive, kind of smoky and sweet.” As to why she named the fragrance Passion, Taylor said, “I think it’s passion that’s made me a survivor. If you care about other people, it becomes a passion…I have a passion for life and loving.”
So, what does Passion smell like? I wish I could tell you — I mean, tell you what it smelled like back when it was made with quality materials and smelled how the perfumer intended it to smell. Smelling Passion now is like looking at a fine painting that has been hanging in the sun for decades, subjected to dust and grease, then accidentally run over by the vacuum cleaner. I can see that fresh off the easel the painting must have been something to behold, but now all I can make out is that it’s a guy on a horse.
Passion Eau de Toilette opens with an aldehydic blast sweetened with rose and what smells to me like violet. When the aldehydes settle down, generic white flowers mix with patchouli and incense, sort of like Princess Diana’s take on Dana Tabu. I miss jasmine’s tingle, gardenia’s cloud-like feel, and ylang’s creaminess. All I get is a flattened, texture-less, sweetened white flower combo that might as well come packaged in a Glade plug-in.
In my first few sprays of Passion, its base notes leapt to the fore, maybe because I was clearing out the spray tube in the little bottle I bought at Rite Aid. Incense dominated the perfume, the dank kind that hints at wet paper towel. Patchouli complemented the incense. I didn’t get much wood. Now that I’ve lived with Passion a few days, I smell musk wrapped through the entire composition, and the incense has taken more of a back seat.
Although today’s Passion is probably only a weak reflection of the perfume it used to be, it does intrigue me, and I’ll be on the watch for an old bottle to see if I can hear more of its orchestra (to mix in another metaphor). Passion must have been complex and grand at one time, like Elizabeth Taylor herself, and I want to experience it. One thing is sure: I won’t find it at the drugstore any time soon.
Elizabeth Taylor Passion is $11 for 15 ml spray Eau de Toilette online at many drugstores.
1. Ed. note: Elvis Presley released Teddy Bear perfume in 1957, and Sophia Loren did have a fragrance called Sophia that launched under Coty in 1980 or 1981. Elizabeth Taylor Passion, however, is widely considered to be the first fragrance from a "big" celebrity, and the scent that started the trend of celebrity fragrances.