Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Cult of the Celebrity Scent: perfume history

We have been led to think that celebrity perfumes, that is perfumes issued under the name of a well-known fodder-for-the-tabloids real person, were a recent phenomenon, established by Coty with Jennifer Lopez's trend-setting Glow in 2002. Which led to the current avalanche of so many derivatives, versions and interpretations that every possible Z-list actress, sportsman, media-celebritoid-du-nanosecond (Jane Goody) or indeed writer (Danielle Steel) has one issued under their belts. However, today I am proposing that it is actually not so!

Yes, Perfume Shrine is proud to propose that the celebrity scent is not a phenomenon of the too recent past after all! Although famous people had been used to promote scent since the concept of perfume as the aspirational ticket to a more glamorous life, with most notable example the classic stint of Catherine Deneuve for Chanel No.5, there was a very distinct phase during the 80s in which famous people agreed to licence fragrances bearing their own name and into the early 90s. I came across a very interesting article from the New York Times, as far back as 1989, which talks about several of them in relation to male celebrities selling perfume to women and it has striken me as astonishing that they describe the process of celebrity-named perfume not as revolutionary, but as "evolutionary" (their words). That's back in 1989!!
I especially liked how they ended the piece:

''The name and the personality can sell the fragrance the first time,'' Mr. Shore said. ''But it's up to the scent to sell the next bottle.''
Tell me about it...

The most impressive aspect of them all is that several of those celebrities from all walks of fame did not only issue one fragrance under their own name, but as is the case with Delon, Pavarotti, Liz Taylor and others, they embarked on a whole series of them in the following years (which of course shows something about the initial reception).
Of course the main difference with today might be that all those people had a definitive body of work behind them to back up their fame...which is arguably not the case with today's celebrities ("Posh" Beckham, anyone?)

This post is far from being the definitive resource on the issue, nor does it intend to; yet some of those ads and bottles, characteristic of that era, have been chosen for your enjoyement.
Some of these fragrances, notably most of those issued under French actors' names, were quite good and they all became collector's items after discontinuation. Which is not as uniformal as one might think: some are still in production!

French actors have shown a special interest in perfumery, perhaps through osmosis, usually to very good results ~like in the line of perfumes under Alain Delon's name.

In some cases, the results have been fabulous and legendary indeed, as in the case of Deneuve, the eponymous long since discontinued scent by Catherine Deneuve circulating under an Avon licence in the 1980s.

Other French actors have also dabbed their hands with the magic of perfume. Jean Louis Trintignant for instance, who will be indelibly remembered by romantic souls for his role in Un Homme and Une Femme from 1966.

Italians couldn't have been left out...Sophia Loren was the first to strike a deal with Coty as a matter of fact.

As well as those of a more exotic lineage...may I present you the feminine oriental by Egyptian hearthrob Omar Shariff, whose deep, mysterious eyes have promised so much in Dr.Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and ~my personal favourite A-list actor fest from the 60s~ The Night of the Generals.

American cinema idols couldn't leave this promising field out of their business aspirations.
Liz Taylor had a go with what proved to be an enduring bestseller: White Diamonds.

The enterprise spawned numerous products...

Others created more inspirational fragrances, with a shorter shelf-life however. Uninhibited by Cher is discontinued, but available through online discounters.

Some of the actresses have had a long stint at another brand that produces perfume, yet decided to also launch their own upon completion of their contract. Isabella Rosellini couldn't have had a better initial launch of a fragrance after her name: Manifesto is an unusual feminine laced with basil and tonic herbs redolent of an open window to the view of the island of Stromboli, where her parents met.

Others yet were just incredibly famous models. Ines de la Fressange was quite a myth during her Lagerfeld collaboration for Chanel. She still is a most impressive human specimen and a very pleasing, kind personality to get to know. Her fragrance is also quite good.

Having a huge fortune came with many business ideas. One of them was perfume: Gloria Vanderbilt.

The art world of course has its own accolytes. From the sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle and her eponymous mighty chype with the mating serpents... the much more commercialised Marilyn by Andy Warhol project. Clever concept exploiting two celebrities in one fragrance, or is it?

The music world is diverse.
The late opera superstar Lucianno Pavarotti has had at least 2 fragrances in his name, a masculine and a feminine one. Very good too, actually!

The mega-super-giga star who has fallen, Michael Jackson had one issued when he was a little...darker. The packaging however is resolutely white: was he trying to tell us something even then?

French pop stars also had to get involved in this: et voilĂ  Johnny Halliday. From the looks of it, a whole line of fragrances in fact.

Who would have thought that even The King had one bearing his name? Yes, there is an Elvis cologne out.

Some people are famous by association: Elvi's wife is perennially pretty (minus a surgery or too) and had a series of fragrances out, the nicest advertisement of which is the one for Moments.

Classical ballet seemed like a very disciplined world to be associated with frivolous commodities like perfumel, especially as its most brilliant stars in the galaxy hail from the former Soviet Union, which let's face it, wasn't exactly the most inviting market for perfume or luxury goods....
Pavlova is named after the famous prima ballerina.

Baryshnikov defected and reaped the benefits of a full westernised existence, eponymous fragrance included. He also had one after his nickname, Misha. Kewl...

Last but not least, even tennis stars deserve their own: Gabriellas Sabatini is a household name in Latin American, not less so because of her perfumes still circulating, such as Magnetic.

Do you recall of more? Let us know in the comments.

Pics courtesy of okadi,parfumdepub, Ebay,, toutsurdeneuve, aunt judy's attic: For entertainement purposes only.


  1. Such fun !
    Johnny, my.

    A lovely light touch, this morning.
    {kisses to you]

  2. Thanks I, dear.

    A fluff subject perhaps, but it puts things in perspective doesn't it?

    BTW, I am planning on devoting space on the Neil Morris collection soon

  3. I love this post--brings back memories!

    I think two of the original "Charlie's Angels" had fragrance lines. Farrah Fawcett had one under her own name, and Jaclyn Smith put out one called California (which was pretty nice, as I recall.)

  4. My favorite, number one, beloved Paloma Picasso of course! I mean... I hate to think of it as celebrity scent, but truly, that's what it is, isn't it? The scent of a socialite in fact...Like Paris Hilton? ROFL! and...*shudder*

  5. Thanks M.

    I didn't know that about Fawcett! Great info.
    I do recall the California ads by Smith (my favourite "angel" by far!), but have never smelled it...

  6. D,
    I was torn whether to include Paloma Mon Parfum in the're right, of course; but then I was hesitant exactly because I consider it serious, I like it a lot and had covered it recently in the Chypre Series.
    But a socialite (mostly) she is...designer comes after that.

  7. Anonymous16:13

    Hi Helg,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this entry this a.m. Fun, fun, fun!

    Another celeb scent to add to your list is: Joan Collins! Her perfume debuted in 1989 and was discontinued shortly thereafter. Here's some info from basenotes:

    Basenotes says:

    When this floral fragrance was launched, in 1989, scent strips were added to Joan Collin's book "Prime Time"

    Spectacular Fragrance notes:

    Orange Blossom, Muguet, Mimosa, Gardenia, Peach, Rose, Amber, Musk,

    Have a most star-studded day!


  8. Dawn,

    glad you enjoyed it! Weren't they interesting and sometimes tacky to look at? LOL!

    I didn't know Joan Colling had one out too!! (I kinda think there was a Forever Krystle out but didn't find an ad for it...
    Thanks!! Sounds pretty nice too.

  9. Anonymous16:37

    OMG Helg... Forever Krystle! You are going to love what I dug up for you on that one and some others! Enjoy...

    Perfumes & Fragrances

    Forever Krystle - Fragrance inspired by the prime time soap DYNASTY/ABC/1981-89. John Forsythe and Linda Evans plugged the perfume named Forever Krystle based on their Blake Carrington and Krystle Carrington characters. Selling for $9.75 a bottle, this tantalizing TV fragrance created by Yves St. Laurent (he also made a men's cologne called Carrington) sold more than 6.5 million dollars in 1985. As Linda Evans said in the commercials "A woman's scent is her identity." Joan Collins who played the wicked bitch Alexis Carrington hawked her own fragrance appropriately enough called Scoundrel. Other celebrities hopped onto the merchandising bandwagon with their own fragrances. Elizabeth Taylor pushed Passion at $160.00 a bottle and later White Diamonds; Cher unveiled Uninhibited; Mikhail Baryshnikov manufactured Misha for women; and Julio Iglesia introduced Only in May of 1989. Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) the vampish horror show hostess hawked a perfume called Evil Her perfume was developed without animal testing and contained no animal ingredients. The profits were donated to People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In 1991, Victoria Principal (of DALLAS fame) followed suit with an animal free line of cosmetics called Principal Secret. A tongue-in-cheek article in TV Guide (2/10-16/1996) reviewed such fragrances as MP (Melrose Place), Mariel by H20 Plus (Central Park West), Amphibia, Pour Homme, Femme, et Frog (Kermit the Muppet). In the fall of 1998 Miss Piggy introduced her own fragrance called Moi. No animals were used in the testing of this perfume, just lawyers.


  10. I have an older example - perfumes made for/by opera sopranos in the begginig of 20th cent: Mary Garden. It was a perfume with a tremendous succes in USA. The perfume came with face powder and a cosmetic line.
    There was also other names but I dont rememeber them now.

  11. There was a French popstar called Claude François who died electrocuted in his bathtub and became quite a camp icon... His scent goes for quite a bit on the French eBay.

  12. Dawn,

    this is amazing! It seems every soap opera had its stars issuing their own fragrances! :-O
    And even the Muppet show had its celebrity star with her scent :-))
    How cute is that!

    Seriously, many thanks on this wonderful info, honey.

  13. Octavian,

    thank you for your most interesting comment about the Mary Garden fragrance.
    Opera divas are of course bigger than life and expected to command the proper "following" from fans. Funny that it happened as early as that! And with cosmetics too.

  14. Dear D,

    what an ominous cologne that must be! :-O

    Seriously, I find these little factoids terribly intriguing.
    The way we're going we are dispelling the myth of the recent celebrity scent for good!! No more complaining online about celebrity scents: they have always been with us...

  15. Anonymous22:29

    Mmmh, those eyes of Omar Shariff. I loved him in Dr. Zhivago. Goes off dreaming.

  16. Anonymous15:35

    You are very welcome. But.... Thank you for posting this quirky subject in the first place. :) It was fun.

    Oh and Denyse, that is quite the interesting story. Have you ever smelled the cologne? I looked him up yesterday after reading your entry, and he was a neat-freak and apparently as he was stepping into his bathtub, he noticed one of the bathroom lights was broken and being the neat-obsessed person he was, he tried to fix it while standing in the tub full of water and VOILA! He was zapped. He was only 39!

    Have a good weekend Helg and Denyse.


  17. Late to the party as always (but regard it as a positive fact that your blog has many interesting corners I'm constantly discovering).
    Speaking of ballet, you forgot the former principal dancer of La Scala (I think), Carla Fracci and her own line of fragrances.
    And from the popculture waters, I think Barbie has one, too:D Not one I'd like to try, though.

  18. i remember in 1988 (or was it '889?) debbie gibson relased a perfume of her own, "electric youth", which i loved! mind you, i was 10 years old :) i do remember going to the drugstore afterschool and spritzing a bit on my wrist from the would be so weird - and time-travelling - to smell that fragrance again (although i'm sure - with all i know and have tried - it must be hideous!). lots of love from argentina, i adore this blog!

  19. Hello M and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!!

    I do recall that Debby Gibson had a huge hit with Electric Youth and all the girls wanted to be like her etc. Hadn't had the pleasure of smelling that fragrance, alas, it wasn't available where I was, but you're certainly not the only one to have such lovely memories of a budding perfume love through it. The perception in retrospect might indeed be a little different if you were to resmell it, but aren't the memories nice...

    Have a great day and thanks again!

  20. L,

    I'll take that in the best possible light, thank you! :-))
    Carla Fracci, indeed. My mistake in omitting her.
    Barbie...hmm...are they fragrances or coloured water? ;-0

  21. I personally like Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely perfume. It is delicate and elegant and it doesn't feel too promoted like some perfume.

    I saw the number of high Amazon reviews on Jessica Simpson's Perfume or Britney Spear's perfume and I just don't understand.

    I think the key is to look for the perfume that doesn't feel cheap after wearing it.

    I would want a perfume that has a strong holding power than one promoted or created by a celebrity

  22. Inyoung,

    this was written before I had tried Lovely, which I agree is quite...lovely. In fact, probably among the best celebrity scents out there.

  23. Does anyone else remember the old Prince Matchabelli Windsong ads on TV. I have never forgotten the song on the ad (ironically "I can't seem to forget you" were the words of the song). But the name Prince Matchabelli is possibly one of the first 'celebrity' scents since he really was a Prince of Georgia who fled to the U.S. during the Russian Revolution. He and his wife established a perfume company in 1926, and it has been sold at least half a dozen times since then. However, the name Prince Matchabelli was mysterious and exotic, and tended to convey the same feelings to the perfume. I can't remember the Windsong scent, but it evokes some very strong memories nevertheless.

    Apparently, Matchabelli used to make his fragrances only for friends and family originally, which tends to lend even more exclusivity to the name, if that is possible.

  24. Bella,

    thanks for commenting and with an interesting comment too!

    The story on Matchabelli is in fact true, though we had all heard otherwise at some point, you are correct; he was a prince. The name always threw me off personally (with its Italian sounding elocution and the American accent in the ads).
    The old ads are very nostalgic (not just on this one, but on many perfumes)
    How about that? Windsong commercial 1 (with George Clooney lookalike?)
    Windsong commercial 2

  25. Anonymous20:25

    Trying to locate Misha


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