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Famous for her beauty and notorious for her many marriages, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure on Wednesday at 79, was one of the last of the great MGM stars, who used her iconic status to pioneer the world of celebrity fragrances.
Playing on the names of the gigantic gemstones she passionately collected throughout her eight marriages, Taylor created the forerunner of the current celebrity fragrance business in 1987 when she launched her first fragrance, Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion. White Diamonds has sold well in excess of $1 billion at retail since its introduction in 1991. Its memorable commercial — a black-and-white spot that features a glamorous Taylor slapping down a diamond earring on a gambling table and proclaiming: “These have always brought me luck” — is still played during the holiday season each year.
In addition to Passion and White Diamonds, Taylor produced 10 other scents. Passion for Men was launched in 1988; the Fragrant Jewels trio of scents — Diamonds and Emeralds; Diamonds and Rubies, and Diamonds and Sapphires — was introduced in 1993; Black Pearls hit counters in 1996; Sparkling White Diamonds was introduced in 1999; Brilliant White Diamonds launched in 2001; Forever Elizabeth was launched in 2002; Gardenia was introduced in 2003, and Violet Eyes hit counters in 2010. All 12 are still sold by Arden, primarily in North America.
“It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary actress, activist and businesswoman,” said E. Scott Beattie, chairman and chief executive officer of Elizabeth Arden, in a statement. “As her business partner in the fragrance industry, we have held her in the highest esteem and have had tremendous respect for her extraordinary compassion, creativity and business acumen....Our best tribute to Elizabeth Taylor will be to continue the legacy of the brands she created and loved so much. Her sense of humor, passion for life, never-ending dedication and generosity of spirit will be remembered by all of us.”
But while she had a major impact on the beauty world, her personal fashion sense was often questionable. In fact, in 1967, at the height of her fame, when she was married to Richard Burton, WWD labeled the violet-eyed brunette a “fashion dropout” for the unflattering printed dress she wore to a polo match in Nice, France. It was shortly after she had won the second of her Academy Awards, for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the text went on to note, “Liz Taylor won the Oscar...but not for fashion,” and ask, “Doesn’t Richard deserve an Oscar too? Not for being wolf-ed by Virginia but for loyalty to The Missus above and beyond the call of duty?”
The ups and downs of her weight through the Seventies and Eighties didn’t help. Numerous photos through the years show Taylor in less-than-flattering ensembles. A 1970 photo shows her in a white HotPants outfit with daisy trim everywhere, including on the high peekaboo boots, and another picture from that same year shows her in a dizzying ivory mesh poncho pantsuit, detailed with fringe.
Arnold Scaasi recalled how, in 1962, a friend who was Taylor’s hairdresser suggested the actress visit Scaasi’s salon to select some dresses for an appearance on “The Bob Hope Show.” The designer said they hit it off, and he continued to dress her through the years.
“She had a lovely sense of humor. She was not a shy woman,” he said. “She was one of the most beautiful women you ever would want to see. Really. She was fabulous looking.” In her “Cleopatra” days, she was “tiny, a good size 4, with heels maybe five six or five seven,” he added. “She loved trying on clothes and would try on a lot of [them]. She would say, ‘I love that,’ or, ‘That’s not for Elizabeth.’ She liked to speak in the third person.”
And Taylor could look stunningly statuesque in the right caftan or flowing dress, perhaps with a plunging neckline that showed off one of the huge jewels she had been given by her husbands. There was the 69.42-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond or the 50-carat Peregrina Pearl, once owned by Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII. Burton gave her both of those, along with the 16th-century Taj Mahal diamond necklace; the King Farouk bracelet, detailed with hieroglyphics in diamonds and colored stones, and the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond, mounted on a ring. Taylor’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, had showered her with jewelry too, including a remarkable Cartier diamond and ruby necklace and the antique diamond tiara she wore to the 1956 Academy Awards.