Elizabeth Taylor Passion ~ fragrance review

Elizabeth Taylor Passion

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.

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  1. mals86 says:

    Haven’t smelled Passion lately – or in the past 10-15 years, probably – but your mention of the basenotes being prominent sounds spot-on. I never thought of Passion as being much of a floral; instead it was a honker of a dry incense-woods oriental, even back in the day. Very dusty and dank to my nose, but then I really struggle with orientals.

    (Sorry. Please nobody throw garbage. I like a lot of stuff that other people hate…)

    Ahem. In any case, I agree that it probably smelled better when new, but there was always a turpentine/wet canvas sort of smell to Passion, I thought. It was very popular when I was in college. Just not my genre of fragrance at all.

    No knock on La Liz, either – she had always been very upfront about her love of perfume and her personal involvement in the creation of the ones for her personal brand. White Diamonds is lovely, especially in the parfum, and I think I remember that you liked Black Pearls when you reviewed it for a Cheap Thrills week.

    • Angela says:

      The incense! You’re definitely getting that hit of that special dank incense. Do you like other incense fragrances? Chanel No. 22 is incense-y, but it’s a softer kind.

      • mals86 says:

        There are some incenses that I like – Black Cashmere, for example. I tend to like the ones that people call “churchy,” (CdG Avignon and Zagorsk, Parfum Sacre, Trayee) but I can’t do the Japanese style stuff. Too acrid.

        No. 22 I like better in the LE version, but the older stuff seems very sugary-sweet to me, I mean in the sense of feeling grains of sugar crunch between my teeth. And I’m an AldeHo, too.

        • Angela says:

          How could I have made it this long and never heard the term “AldeHo”??? This goes immediately into my lexicon.

  2. elise says:

    How can you recognize a bottle that is original formulation?

    • Angela says:

      One hint is that the original was made by Parfums International (I think that’s the first parent company–I’m not at home next to source for this), and the new stuff is Elizabeth Arden. Also, the older packaging is nicer.

      • Robin says:

        Yep, Parfums International. Which was either owned by, or sold to, Chesebrough-Pond’s, then went to Unilever, then Unilever sold both Elizabeth Arden and Elizabeth Taylor to FFI, then FFI changed its name from FFI to Elizabeth Arden.

        • Angela says:

          Wow. Tycoons of beauty with stables of accountants churning deals right and left. No wonder Passion might have suffered a bit along the way.

  3. scentfromabove says:

    I never got a bottle of Passion, but I used to always wear White Diamonds. Wearing her fragrance made me feel like a celebrity (lol).
    I wonder what was Liz’s most popular fragrance?

    • Angela says:

      I think White Diamonds is the prize winner for most popular fragrance by a long shot! I like White Diamonds, too. I don’t wear it much, and if I do it’s just a dab, but I admire it.

  4. AnnS says:

    Well, if this was going nose to nose with the fashion powers that be in the 80s, then it’s no wonder that those major scents of the past – like Fendi – were something the downmarket was trying to emulate in Passion. It is interesting to read that it was the FiFi winner the same year as Fendi!

    I never smelled this when it came out, but I’m sure that if it was released today with good quality materials, it would still be a real doozie. Is the downmarket of yore the better of the upmarket of today? I often wonder about the “new” fragrances that come out that pretend to be rich and complex, (mild mannered oud, defanged patchouli, et. al.) when they really aren’t. A rich attempt at being mute in the office? The bar has definitely shifted. … Anyone here read Slavoj Zizek? (eg. coffee without caffiene, sweets without sugar, beer without alcohol): it’s like fragrance without notes.

    • Angela says:

      Oh, now that’s a question for rich discussion: “Is the downmarket of yore better than the upmarket of today”? Some aspects of fashion seem pretty stagnant to me these days, and I wonder how much of it is due to risk adversity. Think of the clothing fashions of 1970 versus 1980. Big changes. Now think of 2004 versus 2014. Not much. (Of course, I’ve been wearing the same old 1950s-early 1960s dresses the whole time.)

      • AnnS says:

        Yes – sometimes I do think we are only recycling the ideas from the past 30 years or so over and over again. It’s easy to recycle what was successful already, right? Stagnation is a good way to think of it. Can you imagine if Frederic Malle or ELdO released something akin to the Passion of yesteryear? While we debate, it sounds like you look fabulous in your classic dresses!

        • Angela says:

          It sounds like a project for Dominique Ropion to me!

          Thank you for the compliment. Most often I probably look more bedraggled than not, but I don’t even feel comfortable in most new dresses nowadays.

  5. sweetgrass says:

    I have a mini of Passion that I picked up in an antique shop a year or two ago. I bought it without even knowing what it was and figured it out later. It was only $3 or 4 so I wasn’t too worried about it.

    I don’t know how old my mini is, but it’s old enough that the color of the juice has gone off a bit (it was originally purple, now kind of a weird green). It smells great, though. It’s big and ’80s for sure, but to me it smells like a complex, green-tinged chypre with a hint of leather in the base. If you come across an old bottle, it would be worth it.

    • Angela says:

      That sounds wonderful! And a bargain, too. I’ll definitely be on the look-out for one of my own.

      • Ida says:

        I got a little Passion mini thrown into a Christmas 2013 stocking by relatives who know a good present for me would be something to do with smells. I don’t really wear it, but like to have it as a reference. Guess if I’d adored it, I’d wearing it. Liking the bottle for being true to La Liz.

        • Angela says:

          I have plenty of perfumes I admire for one reason or another but don’t wear much. I think that a bottle saluting La Liz is a plenty good reason to keep it and smell it from time to time.

  6. kaos.geo says:

    One of my late aunt’s favorite frags.
    It really smelled grand at the time. And expensive too. White Diamonds was that way too. It made me swoon with its grandeur.

    You are right about one thing though… The original had violets galore too… Not the earthy photorealistic violets we perfumistas came to know in these high tech days, but something in between that and the drugstore candied violets of yore.

    Good luck getting a vintage bottle! Let us know if you do!

    • Angela says:

      Oh, you make it really sound wonderful! I’ll definitely be looking for a bottle.

  7. nathanthomas50 says:

    I see there was also a ‘Passion for Men’ launched in 1989 –
    “a refined, oriental, woody fragrance. This masculine scent possesses a blend of ginger, clove oil, nutmeg, jasmine and vanilla.” Which I guess is also still going in a re formulated version

    • Angela says:

      Sounds pretty good, really. I like the sound of the spices. I wonder how it smells?

  8. RoseRed says:

    I hate the new Passion and remember the old as being overwhelming and over applied but ….tastes change and I admit I now love White Diamonds and even Black Pearls. I found a vintage mini of Passion lately, I think I will buy it and try it, the vintage sounds better than the current and maybe I will fall in love, thanks for the advice everyone, it’s good for me to remember that reformulations are not the originals and we should keep on sniffing even if we are afraid we might not like it. I’m coming to view perfume the way I view wine, it’s not the prestige of the house, it’s the juice in the bottle and just because you didn’t like one year doesn’t mean you won’t like the juice when it is bottled again or just because it won accolades in the past, it doesn’t mean the current bottle is as glorious and don’t be snobby, there are many beautiful wines and perfumes in all price ranges, beauty can come from anywhere.

    • Angela says:

      I love the way you compare perfume and wine. It makes so much sense to me in a lot of ways. Besides a fragrance changing, I know that my own taste changes so much. Sometimes it’s simply that I’m getting to know perfume better and so I widen my range of “likes,” and sometimes it’s simply my mood!

      • RoseRed says:

        Bought that vintage mini and you were right! The vintage is far and away better than the reformulation which I cannot stand. I take back everything I ever said that was negative about Passion, those comments were meant for the reformulation only. In the future, I will be looking for vintage bottles :D

        • Angela says:

          Now I’m more eager than ever to try it! And I will…

  9. perthgirl says:

    My mum wore this for years, and whilst I can’t really place what it smelt like (it doesn’t seem to really define itself like some perfumes do), I do remember it being nice.
    I was also given the mission to track down some of the men’s Passion for a friend who used to own it. I only smelled that in passing but know it wasn’t bad, even for what was probably the reformulation.

    • Angela says:

      It would be so interesting to see how’d you respond to it today if you smelled it and if it brought back any feelings or memories for you.

  10. Dilana says:

    Collette, the french author famous for Gigi, had her own perfume line way, way way back.
    And many modern perfume brands seem to claim to be direct descendants of perfumers to the Court of Versailles, attempting to make Marie Antoinnette into a celebrity endorser.

    • Angela says:

      If I recall right, Colette even had her own beauty salon, where she was known for churning out mini-Colettes, basically. Lots of fluffy bobs and eyeliner.

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