Elizabeth Taylor’s perfumes led the way for others

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Nowadays it seems like every actor and pop star is hawking a signature perfume. But the star who set the template for the celebrity fragrance category -- back in 1988 -- was violet-eyed screen legend Elizabeth Taylor.

Through her House of Taylor perfume and jewelry company, the actress and humanitarian has launched 11 fragrances, full-bodied scents that reflect Taylor’s famously indomitable spirit.

“Her perfumes -- everything from the scents themselves to working with the chemists -- she’s so passionate about it,” said former supermodel Kathy Ireland, a good friend of Taylor’s. “It’s like being part of military strategy, [seeing] the way she handles every detail.”

Passion was Taylor’s first foray into perfume in 1988, and the heady Oriental scent earned her a Fifi Award (the Oscars of the fragrance industry). But it was 1991’s White Diamonds, named for Taylor’s lifelong love of the lucent gem, that turned her into a perfume mogul.

Hers were not the first celebrity perfumes. But she was the first to turn celebrity perfumes into a major, sustainable worldwide business, and she is the first celebrity to win a Fifi.

Although Taylor has had serious health problems in recent years, she says she is still active in the development of her fragrances, which are distributed by Elizabeth Arden. Up next: Violet Eyes, a women’s fragrance bursting with ultra-feminine notes -- including peach, jasmine, rose and violet peony -- set to launch on Mother’s Day 2010. We caught up with Dame Taylor via e-mail recently to discuss all things fragrance.

What is your philosophy on creating perfume?

My philosophy for designing perfume is like everything else in my life, ruled by love and passion. Always give your heart and make the world more beautiful. So many people place their name on products that aren’t intrinsic to their soul. I think that’s a little sad. I have to care about everything I do.

What are your all-time favorite notes?

My favorite notes are florals, including jasmine and gardenia. It must be feminine and sensual. Intense notes appeal to me. I’m bold, and I love it when my fragrance notes are as well.

What has been your top-selling perfume?

White Diamonds, which was placed into the Hall of Fame this year, is a bestselling classic. Passion for Men is surprisingly strong. I think these fragrances are successful because we work very hard giving a gift of love and people know it.

Is it appropriate to buy perfume as a gift? Why or why not?

Perfume is a wonderful gift because it touches every one of the senses and is layered in great emotion. A beautiful scent speaks volumes about a woman. A lovely bottle is jewelry for your dressing table. The feel of the bottle in your hand should be reminiscent of an exquisite objet d’art.

What, ideally, should a perfume do for a woman?

I can only say what I want our perfumes to do for women. . . . I want every woman who wears a House of Taylor fragrance to know she’s beautiful, desirable and loved. We all have great beauty, and perfume allows us to express it in a powerful way. In my life, after my bath, it’s my perfume and then my jewelry -- and sometimes nothing else.