It’s all Elizabeth Taylor’s fault. Back in the Eighties she discovered that by putting her fame and reputation into her perfume White Diamonds she could make enough money to buy the real thing. But even dear Liz could not have guessed that it would lead to a celebrity-crazed world where famous faces hawk their wares on shopping channels, selling scent by the truckload without their fans even smelling them. This speaks volumes, not about fragrance but the power of fame.
It’s very easy to dismiss celebrity scents as style over substance, but Jennifer Lopez has banked £50 million from the sales of perfume; that’s more than she makes from her music. And Britney Spears has sold more than a billion bottles of scent; and no that should not read million, it is billion.
So why do fragrance aficionados turn their well-powdered noses up at celebrity scents? Because, with very few exceptions, they are the concoctions not of some talented nose driven by a pure passion for perfumery, but by a panel of suits with the sole aim of making money. And make money they do – celebrity scents now make up for 40 per cent of the £1.4 billion annual UK perfume market.
So as cosmetics connoisseurs – well you read Get the Gloss – how do you sniff out the best celebrity scents? It’s more than simply unstoppering a flacon and taking a deep breath; you must first start with the celebrity.
It’s pretty obvious that Britney, Kylie, Taylor and Justin are not going to put their names to anything too risqué or outlandish; they know who their fans are, ingénue teens that simply want to fit in. But what about Madonna, Gaga, Kate Moss and Sarah Jessica Parker?
While many celebrity scents play safe with a ubiquitous, sickly, mixes of fruits and white flowers there are some that break boundaries and are not afraid to divide opinion. Lady Gaga knew how to inflame the press with her talk of notes of blood and semen and co created the first ever black juice for Fame (although it turns clear on the skin). Her scent is a real Marmite moment that is sure to divide opinion as much as the artist herself. It is a real Eighties room rocker that I find overtly sickly but which lovers of Thierry Mugler’s Angel will appreciate.
Unsurprisingly Madonna has very strong views and knew exactly what she wanted before she put her name to a scent. In essence – no pun intended – she wanted a high street equivalent of her beloved Fracas (by Robert Piguet). And I have to say Coty has done a great job. Secure in the knowledge that their attentive, devoted and loving fans will remain loyal no matter what they sell, both women have broken celebrity scent boundaries. But they should take heed. As Sarah Jessica Parker learnt, sometimes you can’t follow your heart when it comes to creating a bestselling scent.
Sarah Jessica’s first scent Lovely was a worldwide bestseller and made millions. It was a classically pretty floral and was, well lovely. But it was not very SJP. Her second scent Covet was very different and a true labour of love. At the time of the launch she said to me: "Lovely is classically pretty, this time I wanted something edgy and more me." Covet was spicy with a dark wood, vetiver and musk heart. Edgy nose Frank Voelkl created the scent, who is well known for his work with cult company Le Labo and talented Laura Mercier (a good friend of Sarah Jessica’s). I loved the scent – it bombed. But if you can track it down online I suggest you snap it up, as it is truly the most original celebrity scent that I know of.
What of Kate Moss? Well, despite her edgy style, she is in fact a lifelong wearer of Penhaligon’s Bluebell, so little wonder that her scents play it safe and sell well. But I can’t help but wonder if deep inside her is a longing to get down and dirty with some musk, leather, smoke and civet to create a signature scent for her diehard fashion fans.
The question remains, do celebrities wear their own scents? Honestly I doubt it because celebrity scents are all created with a high street budget in mind and, as anyone with a true passion for perfume will tell you, when it comes to scent the best ingredients are worth more than their weight in gold.
Worth sniffing out
Madonna's Truth Or Dare, from £25, www.boots.com , a classically constructed floral scent with notes of jasmine and white lily over heady gardenia, tuberose and neroli; the addition of benzoin, a traditional base note, at the top of the scent keeps this carnal.
J Lo's Glowing from £15.99, www.superdrug.com . Ten years ago Jennifer launched Glow, the skin-soft scent that paved the way for a new generation of "nuzzle scents". Unlike most other celebrity scents it’s not sweet but soft and cool with woody notes at its heart.
Lady Gaga's Fame £55, www.harrods.com, a very sweet, heavy and intoxicating scent with notes of belladonna aka deadly nightshade, but mainly jasmine, orchid, honey and incense.