Elizabeth Taylor Black Pearls ~ fragrance review

Elizabeth Taylor Black Pearls

For Elizabeth Taylor Black Pearls Eau de Parfum, it’s almost as if the Liz Taylor perfume team set out to make a fragrance that was the complete opposite of White Diamonds. First, of course, the name. What could be more removed from a white diamond than a black pearl? Then the fragrance itself. White Diamonds is a grand, soapy, white floral with a clean, dignified, and innocent air. Black Pearls is something else altogether.

“Well, if we really want to distinguish it from White Diamonds, we’ll need fruit,” a marketing person must have said.

“How about peach? You know, voluptuous, like Ms. Taylor herself. We can add a spot of bergamot to keep it from being too sweet,” the perfume executive said.

“What else? What else will set it apart from White Diamonds?”

“Maybe vanilla? We can make it an oriental. Wait! I know — how about leather? A whopping leather note? There’s nothing innocent and ladylike about that.” And so, in 1996, Black Pearls was born.  At least, in my imagination that’s how it happened. And that’s how it smells.

In the mid-1990s, White Diamonds continued to sell well, but "Fragrant Jewels," the trio of fragrances Elizabeth Taylor released in 1993, didn't make as much money as hoped. Although Taylor had just wrapped up her marriage to Larry Fortensky and had hip replacement surgery, she was determined to make sure Black Pearls was a success. She appeared in four CBS television shows, including "Murphy Brown" and "The Nanny," in black pearls-related plots. (In "Murphy Brown," Murphy was supposed to interview Liz about her stolen black pearls, but the pearls were found. In "The Nanny," the nanny somehow loses Taylor's pearls in a car accident.)

At the first spritz of Black Pearls, peach and bergamot greet my nose in a sweet-tart combination that reminds me of currant. The oily leather underlying the fruit, when added to the vanilla that kicks in soon after, makes an almost chocolaty aroma, like a decadently trashy version of Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte.

The fragrance continues to grow freakier as the leather note burgeons to ride neck-and-neck with the peach. I sense some rose riding along, too, but it's definitely second billing, along with any other florals that might have been thrown into the mix. After an hour or so, when the leather calms into an inviting suede, musk and amber take over. The musk isn’t White Diamonds’ clean musk, but is the sweet, dirty musk of Coty Wild Musk and Jovan Musk for Women.

Black Pearls is a distinctive, warm fragrance, but for all its wild ride, it stays surprisingly close to the skin. It lasts a murmuring but solid eight hours on my skin.This might be a good one for our Australian readers to test about now. Northern hemisphere readers venturing into summer are advised to wait until cooler weather hits, or have headache relief on hand.

Black Pearls doesn't seem to be built to be a crowd pleaser, but there's something over-the-top about it I find irresistible. Just as a few times a year I need to overindulge — eat an extra-large hot fudge sundae, and, o.k., toss some toasted pecans on top and how about some marshmallow creme — Black Pearls satisfies when I want a perfume with all cylinders firing. I’m not sure I could wear it three days straight, but when the urge for excess itches, Black Pearls will scratch it.

Elizabeth Taylor Black Pearls is discontinued, but it’s readily available online for as little as $13 for 100 ml Eau de Parfum.

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  1. LaMaroc says:

    Definitely going to have to revisit this one. I don’t remember leather at all! Not the idea weather for it, indeed, here in the Midwest, but with the A/C cranked, I might be able to handle it. Maybe :O

    • Angela says:

      I’d tested it once, ages ago, and until I tried it again recently I didn’t know it had leather, either. But really, leather is a huge part of Black Pearls. It starts out pretty oily–sort of a patent leather saddle, if you can imagine that–then softens a lot.

      • LaMaroc says:

        Oooohhhh! I don’t own a horse, but I *want* a patent leather saddle now! lol

        • Angela says:

          Very Elvis!

          • LaMaroc says:

            FYI – found a 1.7oz edp for $9.99 at Gordman’s discount store. I wasn’t even looking for it. I was shopping for cologne for my dad and just quickly perused the women’s section and bam! there it was between her “Gardenia” and “White Diamonds”. There was a similar size of WD edt there for $9.99 as well. There my bargain shopper reporting is done for the day.

          • Angela says:

            Great prices!

    • Daisy says:

      Black Pearls was ALL oily leather on me….now I’m going to need to resniff and look for those peaches!

      all that oily black leather spurred an image of Liz all dominatrixed out and giving that naughty Richard Burton a taste of the lash! hmmm, well, let’s not have a repeat of that particular image! O_o

      • Angela says:

        It’s surprisingly freaky with the leather crossed with peach–and yet conventional, with all that vanilla. I can definitely see how it could inspire some people to toss the bottle away in horror.

        • Julia says:

          The peaches and leather reminds me of the apricot and suede which is Daim Blond. Do they have anything in common?

          • LaMaroc says:

            They do, Julia, but as Daim Blond actually translates to (I’ve been told) “chamois” this is more “Damn Blonde” in that oily black patent leather S&M getup with the 6-inch stiletto heels. Lol! Innocent vs. raunchy. The heavy dose of vanilla seems to be the crow-bar separater here. I really like them both but while I can wear Daim Blond every day (even in heat like today’s 95F), Black Pearls could only be tried after I’d been in the a/c awhile. The scent was literally leaking out of the package while I was in the hot car with it!

          • Angela says:

            I wish I could say I saw more intersection between the fragrances, but Daim Blond is more elegant and subtle, more suede and less vanilla-fruit-musk.

          • LaMaroc says:

            I do agree with Angela that smelling one next to the other, you might not see them as sisters but maybe cousins who use their similar genetic makeup to very different ends. :)

      • LaMaroc says:

        Hmmm, I dunno, how old are they in these S&M getups. lol!

  2. March says:

    Hmmmm…. I can’t believe how alluring you’ve made this sound. But you have. I have never smelled it!

    • Angela says:

      It’s not fancy, but the leather really gives it a nice twist, I think. Lots of peach, vanilla, and musk, too.

  3. I’m intrigued because this sounds just so, as you put it, ‘decadently trashy’.

    • Angela says:

      And there is definitely a time for some decadent trash!

  4. RuthW says:

    Over the top leather, peach, sweet dirty musk – and really cheap?
    Total win!

    • Angela says:

      If you try it, let me know what you think!

      • RuthW says:

        The bottle is on it’s way, I’ll let you know what I think as soon as it’s in my impulsive pudgy hand.

        • Angela says:

          I hope it turns out to be a good purchase.

  5. Tara says:

    Your writing is very compelling as is $13 for 100ml…I just might have to blind buy. I bet the shipping is more than the perfume.

    • Angela says:

      I’m always so nervous when people buy something unsniffed based on my review, but this one’s so cheap if you don’t like it you can always use it when you do a load of handwash.

  6. mals86 says:

    Oh, yay! I had been waiting for you to review this one, after all the discussion that went on post-White Diamonds-review.

    I don’t know about Black Pearls for me personally – possibly too much of a muchness? or, as my grandmother used to say, and the saying’s been bouncing around in my head since I attempted (and failed, due to the weather) to do an 80s Scent Week last week: “Enough is enough, and too much will make you sick.”

    But I did go buy that little bottle of White Diamonds parfum and that one, far from being light and soapy, was the Bosomy White Floral That Would Not Give Up. I like it, I do – it has that kitchen-sink kind of EVERYTHING notes list that reminds me of Ysatis and original Chloe (which I wore for years n’years). WD has monster sillage and nuclear lasting power.

    (I love that kind of musk you mention, a warm clean skin smell. My mother, she of the No. 5 when dressed-up, used Jovan Musk for Women as her “everyday” scent, so that a warm musk almost always reminds me of her. Funny, though, the Jovan doesn’t smell dirty to me, just warm. Probably by association with Mom…)

    • Angela says:

      I’ve tried the parfum since I reviewed the EdT, and I was surprised at a definitely civet-y edge! I liked it, though. Not as girlish as the EdT, but nice in its own way.

  7. Anna Stromberg says:

    A big peach-note is always a winner for me. So now i have to test this.

    • Angela says:

      Do you like leather, too? And musk? It just might be a winner for you, then. But I wouldn’t call it a refreshing peach.

      • Anna Stromberg says:

        Oh, I do love a good leather, Cuir de Lancome is my favorite in the genre, and the musky L’air de rien is one of my favorite scents of all time. And I really do love a big eighties-style scent.

        • Angela says:

          This might be a winner, then!

  8. dee says:

    Sounds utterly delicious!

    • Angela says:

      Especially if you have a sweet tooth!

  9. Joe says:

    Hard to believe that four different shows actually incorporated “black pearls” threads into their plotlines. Seriously an unbelievable degree of marketing. Damn.

    This sounds a bit intriguing. When I think of fruit and leather, my mind can’t help but go to Parfumerie Generale Cuir Venenum. Have you tried that, Angela? It’s a bit odd, but I like it now and then; I’m sure it’s quite a bit odder than this. Many say it smells like grape flavoring and leather.

    Very fun and interesting review. Thanks!

    • Angela says:

      I have tried Cuir Venenum (although it’s been a while, but I know I have a sample around somewhere), and I think Black Pearls stands apart from it because of its vanilla and musk. Plus, to me, at least, the leather is right there.

      You’re welcome for the review!

  10. Musette says:

    “Did you notice that rope of black pearls around her throat?”
    “yes, it was beautiful”

    • RuthW says:

      I love that you quoted this! One of my favorite movie musicals ever – you made me smile, thanks.

      • Angela says:

        Thank you for clearing this up for me! I remember Gigi fondly, but I guess I was too young to be caring about the jewels. Must rewatch.

        • Musette says:

          the jewels (and the fashion) are the best part!

          xo A

          • Angela says:

            Sounds like my kind of movie!

      • AnnS says:

        Oh Gigi! It’s so silly – I watched it with my Mom. I kind of dozed through that movie until the DRESS appeared. Leslie Caron in that gorgeous white satin dress with black feathers. I think they could have just put that dress on a stand for 2 hours and it would be a great movie too!

        • Angela says:

          I remember that dress! I wonder where it is now?

          • Musette says:

            Cecil Beaton designed that dress (Gigi is one of my favorite films and Aunt Alicia, played by the timeless Isabel Jeans, one of my favorite characters of all time). He also designed Audrey Hepburn’s incredible Ascot gown for My Fair Lady (which went up for auction at a whopping two hundred thousand dollars (I figured I would type it out, as I had to count the zeroes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things! LOL!)

            I think there’s some Beaton archive somewhere – perhaps it’s in there.


          • Angela says:

            No kidding! I always think of him as a photographer, not a designer. Now I’m really curious what else he’s designed.

      • ggperfume says:

        I can’t believe I’ve never seen Gigi. To my Netflix queue, quick!

    • ggperfume says:

      “Bullets over Broadway” is the movie I think of at the mention of black pearls. Jennifer Tilly’s line when her gangster boyfriend tries to give her a necklace of them: “I never heard of black poils! Must come from diseased oysters”.

      • AnnS says:

        Bullets over Broadway is a great movie. My husband and I have watched it a bunch of times. I love the long take sequences with no cuts, and the ending, which I won’t give away here in case anyone wants to watch it. Jennifer Tilly is just perfectly horribly funny in the movie too.

      • Angela says:

        I still have to see this movie! This weekend for sure.

  11. annemarie says:

    I’m going to give this a go, in our cold weather now. I’ve spotted it for about $15, with free shipping, but it’s 50 mls. Too much! Never mind the price, I can’t store perfume I’m not going to wear. So I’ll pick up a sample to start with.

    Would you call it a friendly leather? Sounds it.

    • debbie says:

      Hi Annemarie, where did you spot it for $15- if you dont mind me asking?

      • annemarie says:

        FragranceX.com – great for free shipping, although I’ve often found the shipping to be slow.

    • Angela says:

      Yes, it’s not butch at all. Pretty friendly, but a little weird with all that peach.

  12. debbie says:

    Never a fan of White Diamonds, and an Australian reader, I may have to give Black Pearls a try! I do like leather, musk and peach and my favourite leather fragrance, Bandit, is so expensive in Aust.

    • Angela says:

      Bandit is a great one, but it’s a lot different than Black Pearls. Bandit is austere, and Black Pearls is more dessert-y. I’d love to know what you think of it, though!

      • debbie says:

        I will order a bottle and get back to you with my verdict.

  13. Queen_Cupcake says:

    When I heard that Liz had passed, I went right online and bought some Black Pearls. Yes, it is a bit decadent–I look forward to cooler weather to take it up again.

    • Angela says:

      There was nothing boring about Liz–I guess it’s fitting that there’s nothing boring about Black Pearls, either.

  14. PekeFan says:

    Thanks for the interesting review! I saw Black Pearls in Marshall’s or TJ Maxx recently. I’ve got to try it. It sounds as if it could fit nicely into the Serge Lutens repertoire.

    • Angela says:

      It’s not as spicy as so many Serges are, but it’s definitely a Liz take on Serge!

  15. Daisy says:

    ….and then there was this mysterious surge in purchases of Elizabeth Taylor Black Pearls ; curious phenomena…. I’m going to call it “the NST Effect”

    • Angela says:

      It’s so darned cheap! Hard to resist!

    • AnnS says:

      You can totally see that NST effect on fragrance net dot com. They have that list at the bottom right – “people who bought this fragrance also bought…” And you’ll see like the Norell, BB Nude, Mariella Burani, etc, — things that only us crazy perfume people would buy in batches.

      • Angela says:

        That’s so funny! But surely it can’t be that much perfume?

        • AnnS says:

          How many lurkers are here? ;-)

          • Angela says:

            Good question.

      • mals86 says:

        Fragrancenet has Mariella Burani?? LOVE that stuff.

  16. NinaraPoll says:

    Since around Easter, I’ve seen quite a few boxes of this at my local T.J. Maxx for $9.99USD, so those of you who have a T.J. Maxx or Marshalls’ might want to check there. (I’ve personally been wanting to buy a bottle since I first saw it, so this review just adds fuel to my fire!) Strangely enough, I saw lots of bottles of it at the same store at the same time last year, so I’m wondering if it gets a annual Mothers’ Day manufacturing run?
    I remember the Jewels trilogy of flankers (DIamonds and Rubies, Diamionds and Emeralds, Diamonds and Sapphires), but I *swear* I also recall a Diamonds and Pearls flanker, as well as a White Pearls scent… anyone else remember, or is my brain inventing scent flankers now?

    • Joe says:

      Maybe you’re just thinking of the Prince song, “Diamonds and Pearls”? LOL

      • AnnS says:

        I love Prince! You mention Cuir Venenom above – now that is a fragrance that makes me think Prince – it’s so “purple” with that juice factor.

    • Angela says:

      I barely remember Black Pearls, so I’m no help.

  17. Celestia says:

    Isn’t anyone going to mention the gorgeous bottle? It’s a frosty scallop shell with a black pearl stopper/lid. For a cheaper juice, it’s really a very beautiful design.
    The flankers I remember are Brilliant White Diamonds and Sparkling White Diamonds.

    • Daisy says:

      Yes! I was just thinking: I love that bottle!

      • Angela says:

        Even if the perfume is awful on you, at least there’s the bottle!

        • Daisy says:

          I fear I may be becoming a bottle ho. *heavy sigh*

    • Angela says:

      It really is a classic design. It looks like it could have come out any time between the 1920s and now.

  18. Absolute Scentualist says:

    I’m coming to this thread a little late, but OMG I loooove Black Pearls. On my skin, it’s all sexy musk and leather rounded out by sweet peach with the creamiest vanilla and something green in the background… It is absolutely unique and original, and was a breath of sultry air during the era of clean/overly flowery in the mid 90’s.

    I remember when it launched and I liked it so much and couldn’t afford it at the time that I hung the ad and scent strip in my room. It smelled wonderful though I don’t think my mother agreed.

    When I moved out and got a job with decent pay, Black Pearls was one of the first perfumes I purchased. I adored the beautiful scallop shell bottle with the black pearl look on the cap, the perfume which, at the time, seemed so exotic to my nose and the fact that not everyone seemed to be wearing it as that was during the height of the Coolwater/Sunflowers/CK1/Pleasures phase. One evening when we were going out for a local festival, I was torn between Black Pearls and No. 5 as it was a warm summer night. I decided on No. 5, and as we were milling through the crowd, cups of wine in hand, another young lady walked by in an unmistakable cloud of Black Pearls. I was glad I chose something else since I’m weird and like to wear something most aren’t (at least around here), but I was surprised just how well it worked in the sultry evening heat of summer.

    Too bad it’s been discontinued. I’ve bought it for years whenever I run out. Oddly enough, sometimes the bottles are frosted and sometimes they aren’t, which is strange as the juice inside is still the same. That oddity gave me hope that it hadn’t been discontinued, but if it has, I can certainly afford to stock up.

    Fantastic review, Angela, and thanks for the history of the fragrance. I never watched any of the shows Elizabeth used to promote the perfume, but do remember the ad and absolutely love the perfume even if it seems trashy and over the top. It is just mysterious enough that it sends my fruity florals packing, but is light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm a room when lavishly applied. Like a girl playing dress up in her mother’s little black dress layered with every piece of jewelry from the box. Almost a bit too much, but not quite. ;)

    • Rappleyea says:

      Ab Scent: I enjoyed reading about your long and lovely relationship with Black Pearls almost as much as I enjoyed reading Angela’s review!

    • AnnS says:

      First big perfume love is always the greatest. Thanks for the story!

    • Angela says:

      Wonderful love letter! It’s so nice to love a fragrance that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, too.

    • Daisy says:

      Love this story! Thank you for sharing it with us!

      • Absolute Scentualist says:

        Thanks guys. :) I didn’t intend to be so verbose, but It was such a pleasant surprise to see a review of something I’d figured no one else really remembered, and nicer still to discover that many perfumistas with such good taste in perfume generally liked it as well. Black Pearls, Versace Blonde, Diva, No. 5 and Obsession were some of the first perfumes I purchased and they still hold a special place in my heart for the time of my life they represent, especially now when they compete with the L’Artisans, Divines, Hermes and other “far from free” perfumes in my collection. I wasn’t an official perfumista then, but each of these just captured my attention in a way the CK and Issey Miyakes of the day didn’t and I’ll be sad to see the less popular of them go.

        Daisy, I’ll be emailing you later with pics, and I have to thank you from Ivy, who adored her ensemble (lots of people commented on it as we passed by) and she got a huge kick out of wearing Arba Wardat for her performance. And surprise surprise, it was still going strong even after six hours out in 90 degrees and the baking sun, two performances and lots of dancing with the band and girls and ladies backstage. That is glorious stuff. :)

        • AnnS says:

          I’ve always been a big oriental type (Coco was my first big love) and then the next love was Jardins de Bagatelle – no wimp either. I never got into the light clean florals and I will have to think really hard if I have any now in a collection of about 200+ bottles. I do like colognes in excessive heat, but that’s about it. I can see why you fell in love with all those big fragrances. I just tested Diva last night and by george it is a dead ringer for L’Arte di Gucci.

          • Absolute Scentualist says:

            Diva is wonderful, isn’t it? And any replacement I can find for my beloved L’Arte is a good thing. I haven’t owned any in about ten years and wonder how much it has been reformulated since then. I really should get another bottle and see if it has held up well. It would truly be memory lane in a bottle. :)

        • Daisy says:

          Cool beans! I’m so relieved she liked it…..and that it arrived on time! You should have seen me running into the Post Office waving the bubble mailer over my head , screeching “I need this in K**** by tomorrow!!!” luckily they know me and that I’m not nearly as dangerous as I appear sometimes…. ;)

  19. Anne from Makeupwoot says:

    Ugh. I remember this fragrance. I sprayed it on blindly when I was 16, lured in by the name alone and spent the next 15 minutes in the Dillards restroom, scrubbing my neck with papertowels and hand soap, trying to breath through my instantly clogged nose and coughing every time I inhaled. I’m sure it’s great on other people but OMG it was complete crap on me.

    • Angela says:

      You’re not the only person who has had that reaction, I’m sure!

  20. AnnS says:

    Thanks for the review, Angela. I love these oldies and goodies reviews. I got suckered into White Diamonds after your last review, and I can see why it’s so popular still. It should be in the same orbit as Boucheron which I like a lot too. I’ve never smelled Black Pearls, even though the name and bottle always intrigued me b/c I’ve always had a thing for pearls of all shapes and colors. But I’m going to take a pass on testing this one – I don’t get along with leather in fragrances unless it is super light like in Vol de Nuit or Traversee du Bosphore, and peaches are hit or miss for me. Hit – Nahema and Badlgey Mischka. Miss – Chant d’Aromes and Peau de Peche. It’s fun to hear about it though. Next you should do White Shoulders……. ;-)

    • Angela says:

      Black Pearls would probably totally strike out with you, then.

      Thank for the White Shoulders suggestion! Does it hold up against other, fancier white florals these days?

      • AnnS says:

        I can’t really say. I’ve not smelled it for a number of years. I really wanted a bottle when I was younger (20s) but my Mom poo-pooed it b/c it had been popular when SHE was in college and I guess didn’t think it was a good choice for me. I did buy a very small bottle of it when I was about 27 and didn’t wear it very often even though I loved the fragrance and the concept of the whole thing. My point of reference for different notes at that time in my life would have been very weak (also the time in my life when I got rid of a bottle of Rive Gauche I bought in France when I was 21 b/c I could never figure out how to wear it. Ah, the mistakes of youth.) I would love to know what vintage White Shoulders smells like and how it compares to current.

        • Angela says:

          I’ll keep an eye out for some vintage White Shoulders, and maybe we’ll be able to do a side-by-side review!

  21. ggperfume says:

    “Firing on all cylinders” – yes, there are times when that’s just what one wants from a perfume!

  22. I really don’t like White Diamonds so I maybe I should try this one. Great review.

    • Angela says:

      You may not like this one, either–it’s a little bit of an oddball–but the good thing is that if you do like it, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to stock up.

  23. fleurdelys says:

    Yuuummmmeee! Never smelled this one, but the mention of peaches, leather (WHOPPING leather!), and oriental is ringing all my bells. The soap and white florals of White Diamonds were not for me, but this sounds perfect. And I wear the big 80s scents well. I’ll have to seek it out – glad to hear it’s a cheap thrill too!

    • Angela says:

      I hope you like it as much as it sounds like you might!

  24. blohan says:

    I don’t think there was ever a Liz Taylor Perfume Team. She designed her fragrances herself just with the perfumer and decided every aspect of it.

    • Angela says:

      Then it sounds like *they* were the perfume team!

  25. blohan says:

    Just to let you know, there was never a Liz Taylor team or a marketing executive with her fragrances, Liz called the shots on every aspect and she created the perfumes just her and the perfumer in a room.

    • Angela says:

      That’s so unusual! But it worked. Thank for the insight!

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