When Elizabeth Taylor put her name to a fragrance, it was unprecedented. Sure, there’d been celebrity ‘links’ – Audrey Hepburn with Givenchy, and the fragrance created for Grace Kelly’s wedding by Creed, but a film star’s name on a bottle…? It was a first.
Elizabeth Taylor was, of course, one of the most glamorous figures of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with a global following. British-born (though her parents were from Arkansas), Elizabeth Taylor had been a child star, winning hearts at the age of 12 with her performance in ‘National Velvet’. Her parents had moved to Hollywood, where her mother’s friends urged her to have Elizabeth screen-tested. Hollywood studios were almost fighting to have her work for their studio.
The raven-haired, violet-eyed actress with the bombshell body went on to appear in so many of the classic movies of her time: ‘Giant’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, ‘Father of the Bride’, and winning an Academy Award for ‘Butterfield 8’. In 1963, she mesmerisingly played the title role in ‘Cleopatra’ – and married her co-star, Richard Burton. They went on to make 11 films together (and married twice!), including ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, which earned Elizabeth Taylor her second Oscar.
Her private life perhaps made her equally compelling: eight marriages, seven husbands, and quite a few glamorous romances, including Howard Hughes, who apparently proposed by landing a helicopter nearby and sprinkling diamonds on her. She had two son, a daughter, and adopted a second daughter, Maria, from Germany.
And there’s hardly a woman alive who didn’t swoon for the jewellery collection she was showered with: Elizabeth Taylor owned some of the best-known pieces in the world outside royal collections, including the 33-carat pear-shaped Krupp Diamond, which she wore daily, and the giant pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond, both gifts from Richard Burton. Elizabeth Taylor also often wore the massive 50-carat La Peregrina Pearl, purchased by Richard Burton for $37,000 at Sotheby’s as a Valentine’s Day present, and formerly owned by Queen Mary I of England. (If you can get your hands on a copy, her book My Love Affair with Jewellery makes for an extraordinary read.)
But as Elizabeth Taylor said in an interview with Kim Kardashian for Bazaar, ‘I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands. For me, life happened, just as it does for anyone else. I have been supremely lucky in my life that I have known great love, and of course I am the temporary custodian of ome incredible and beautiful things. But I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something, never more alive than when I have watched a great artist perform, and never richer than when I have scored a big cheque to fight AIDS. Follow your passion, follow your heart, and the things you need will come.’ (Elizabeth Taylor‘s other great legacy is her work raising money for AIDS and HIV research, through the American Foundation for AIDS Research (which she co-founded with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim, in 1985), helping to raise over $270 million for the cause. Her work earned her a special Academy Award, in 1992, the Jean Hersholt Huminatarian Award.
But in 1991, she became even better known – with the launch of White Diamonds. If a fragrance could possibly embody all the glamour and fantasy of Elizabeth Taylor’s career and life, this sensual, rich floral is it: purring with notes of neroli tuberose, jasmine, white narcissus, lily of the valley, iris, on a base of Mysore sandalwood, amber, oakmoss and patchouli. Perfumer Carlos Benaïm worked with her on the fragrance, and as he recalls: ‘Elizabeth Taylor had a very clear vision of what she liked and the kind of fragrance she wanted to create for her fans. Her love for big opulent bouquets clearly inspired the creation of White Diamonds.’
The most memorable moment in their many encounters, he says, was this: ‘I wanted to better understand her taste in fragrance and suggested we do a little “test” with some market products. Her gaze became very inquisitive and intense. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or amused… but I was absolutely mesmerized by the luminous purple shade of her eyes.’ Benaim explains, too, how they selected the notes. ‘Elizabeth Taylor envisioned a very voluptuous fragrance which led us towards rich flowers and deep base notes. The white narcissus became the central floral piece. We used aldehydes which are very radiant ingredients to highlight the top note and give it the dazzling effect of a diamond.’ The bottle itself, appropriately, is a jewel: a pear-shaped flacon of crystal-clear glass, topped a bow studded with more than 300 stones.
Today, this sumptuous scent remains a global bestseller. As Carlos Benaïm comments, ‘White Diamonds is the legacy of Elizabeth Taylor to the fragrance world. Her passion, generosity and beauty are captured in the unmistakable signature of White Diamonds, making it a classic icon and a fragrance legend.’
And if you want to know what true Hollywood glamour is, can we suggest a dab on the pulse-points, a glass of something chilled – and an evening of back-to-back Elizabeth Taylor movies…?
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