Big girls need big… White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

She remembered reading once, in Time Magazine so she thought, about an Indian film that ran for five years straight in cinemas on its first release.

The same picture, so the article had said, was still playing somewhere on the vast sub-continent to this very day almost forty years later.

Looking across the Hudson at the mirrored towers of Manhattan not quite gleaming in the summer morning sunshine, she wondered why no picture house in New Jersey was playing National Velvet.

If they could run to regular screenings of The Sound of Music over in Brooklyn, surely there would be a demand for Liz’s first big flick in Newark?

Okay so it didn’t have the songs of The Sound of Music ergo no chance of a sing-a-long with giant foam hands and hoards of drunken hipsters hanging out to poke fun.

Plus she had to admit, there were only the two cute kids at the film’s heart not a beautiful Austrian tribe in made-from-curtains clothes.

And yes, yes sadly there was a distinct shortage of both nuns and Nazis in National Velvet.

But people would come wouldn’t they?

Perhaps.

She turns and starts inland weaving her way through the new skyscrapers of the new streets of Jersey City.

In 1944 when the story of a young girl trying to win The Grand National on a horse she had won in a raffle captured the hearts of a world gripped by war, this peninsular was a booming point of intersection.

Here ships assembled to harbour in relative safety from German u-boats before embarking in fragile convoys of floating steel across the Atlantic.

They took supplies to our allies and armies on the other side of the water, including, as she then believed, Velvet and her family.

In return they brought sailors and refugees to flood the streets.

Among the multitudes that made their way here were the women with a ready smile and a willing nature who eased the merchant marines time on shore.

They had a smell unlike anything she had ever smelt before.

Not the sophisticated French scents of the women in Boss Hague’s circle whose apartment s her mother and she sometimes cleaned.

Not the pretty Italian colognes that the Genovese wives of the gang masters who ruled her dad’s world wore, though no one could explain where they got them from in a war.

No this was an altogether different aroma, artificial, but in an exciting, modern, grown up way.

In a manner she felt must be alluring to men according to the fashion in which they fell on these women like bees at the mouths of open flowers.

Ascending the floors through her apartment building, one of the few not to be cast aside in the building of “West Wall Street”, she recalls a trip across the river some time after the war was over.

She had a little money from friends ahead of her impending marriage and determined to spend it on a perfume that would make her as irresistible to her betrothed as those women who worked the docks were to the sailors.

She asked one of the girls for the name of the fragrance she wore.

The answer came back all unpronounceable and French save for the words ‘jasmine’ and ‘lily’.

So she headed to the Flower District first to breathe in the aroma of the real blooms.

But the place she went to didn’t have jasmine, no call for it they said. And the lilies in stock were on the turn and being readied for a funeral cortege.

Without a point of reference in reality she headed up to Fifth Avenue, where even in her finest she felt an absolute scruff, and strode into the heavy doors of a department store before struggling to open them and squeeze her way in.

At the fragrance counter she whispered to herself, ‘jasmine’, ‘lily’ and ‘all grown up’.

The assistant, as beautiful and distant and made up as Miss Taylor in ‘A Place in The Sun’ heard her and smiled

‘We have just what madam’s looking for.’

And so they did: that same chemical composition of the imagined flowers with the names spoken in French accents and that indefinable attractiveness that she felt, no, she knew, she lacked.

“And how much is it?”

She didn’t even hear the woman behind the counter finish, for the first two digits out of her mouth put the prize way beyond the paltry purse she was carrying with her.

She flushed and turned and left and never went back.

Now, many years removed, sat at the small table in her kitchenette she still feels a little hope inside herself fold in on itself, some spark of innocent aspiration extinguish.

She wonders whether had she had the perfume things would have been different between the two of them.

Whether he might have found it in himself to love her, to stay.

Looking through her fan’s scrap book she reflects that she had all the clothes and jewels and fame and fragrances that money could buy but she still couldn’t or didn’t want to keep a man.

Staring into Liz’s violet eyes, a studio shot from the 60s, she smiles back at her and says aloud

‘But you never let me down’

Through Butterfield8 and both their health scares, through the bad tv movies and battles with weight, they were there for one and other.

And long after she’d stopped dreaming of owning that sailor-magnet scent, MissTaylor had even provided that for her and at a price she could almost afford.

Her only wish: that it would have come sooner, like a cure, and that she could have worn it out to the movies with her son and not to his funeral.

She closes the book with sadness and then a growing smile covers her face as the thought comes into her mind…

“Cleopatra, now that must be playing someplace”.

On its release in 1991 Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds already seemed like an antique aroma.

An aldehyde driven olfactory relic many wrote it off as a desperate attempt to cash in on the diminishing fame of a falling fading star.

Critics were proved wrong on both counts.

This is a robustly made scent that knows how to make the best of its slender means and the legend of Elizabeth Taylor has proved bright and enduring enough to see it through to two decades of healthy sales.

To be sure this is no premier perfume even amongst its peers.

However, it is an economically and elegantly composed pastiche of the great perfumes of the middle part of the twentieth century.

Though its sparkling chemical overture is a little rough around the edges in more recent reformulations, like a melody from a golden age musical played on an out of tune piano it still has the ability to conjure up the magic of the original.

The heart is much better with a lily that manages not to cloy for all its intensity and a jasmine that is sheer without being purely synthetic.

As spices and a speppery carnation yield to a base that is quite prettily musky with a slight oakmoss bite, the perfume enters a dry down which, though not as extended as it might once have been, is genuinely sophisticated, shimmering even.

It is here that the most effective allusion to the heyday glamour of the Dame whose name the perfume borrows is to be found.

This is a third act to be enjoyed with maturity and life-earned perspective.

There are better aldehydic, white florals with rose and spice and we all know what they are.

But in the celestial heavens of the celebuscents, the constellation of Elizabeth Taylor is among the most impressive and White Diamonds is its brightest star.

Can a man wear diamonds?

Well of course he can, if he finds the cut to his liking!

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Big girls need big… White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. Lilybelle

    That was so sad. It made me cry. R.I.P. the late great fabulous Elizabeth Taylor. I had a small bow bottle of the parfum of White Diamonds, I think it was around 1992. I bought it (or received it as a gift, I can’t remember) just before going on a trip to Bermuda. I wore it there for evenings out. It was very heady! You’re right, it did smell like an antique even on its release. Wasn’t this around the same time as l’eau d’Issey? I wore that one too around the same time. Anyway, I’m sorry to read that White Diamonds has been reformulated and doesn’t smell as nice. The one I had was very potent and rich smelling – and BIG – but good. I wish I had that bottle still. I think I will always associate my bottle of White Diamonds with Bermuda.

    • Dearest Lily
      How wonderful to associate a perfume so particularly with a place… especially once as brilliantly glamorous as Bermuda!
      White Diamonds emerged in 1991, just a few moths before the game-changing L’Eau d’Issey: the perfume that would eat the decade!
      Really looking back it is like a wind up gramophone sitting next to a brushed aluminium CD player at the audio store.
      That’s not to detract from Sophia Grojsman’s achievement here (she her own share of epoch making as the nose behind EL’s White Linen). for White Diamond was everything you mention, lush, dramatic, generous and expansive.
      In fact, it’s still most of these things, just a little less so…
      Now when I think of White Diamonds my mind will turn involuntarily to Bermuda too.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Lilybelle

        You are very sweet, Mr. Dandy. 🙂 It seems I’ve worn many Grosjman fragrances over the years. Back then perfumers were not credited the way they are today. She created so many huge hits it’s almost mind boggling.

      • Dearest Lily
        Isn’t it extraordinary!
        Eternity, Exclamantion, Spellbound, Paris, Tresor, Vanderbilt and Yvresse just to skim the surface.
        So pleasing that she found a happy home at Lalique in the end.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  2. I remember White Diamonds around the time it was released, and couldn’t help but think that it was absolutely perfect for what it was – a definite throwback, but a well-made one. As for La Liz…. what to say? Except we may never see her like again.

    • Dearest Tarleisio
      Yes that’s exactly the point. Rather like VC&A’s First (though not done quite as well) White Diamond’s knows it’s retro and knows what buttons to push and applies exactly the right pressure in the right places.
      For the price this is a very, very serviceable scent indeed.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  3. rosestrang

    It brought tears to my eyes too! And as Lilybelle mentions, L’eau d’issey was around at the same time, but the thought of Liz Taylor wearing l’eau d’issey with its 90s minimalist vibe is hilarious. I loved Liz Taylor’s excessiveness and the way it reflected her lust for life – from your excellent description Sir Dandy it sounds like White Diamonds is about right – unpretentious yet glamorous.
    Those eyes never fail to amaze don’t they? Her performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe is probably my all time favourite – so moving, enthralling, and funny! When Liz went we all knew it was the end of an era, but for all her star quality and talent, she was so human, I’ve read numerous accounts of her kindness and empathy, what a diamond!

    • Dearest Rose
      Liz wearing Issey would be like the Queen turning up for the State Opening of Parliament in Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack mini dress… The Dandy can hardly imagine anything less appropriate.
      I thank you too for summing up my thought on this tiny gem, it’s an unfussy, workmanlike and entirely unpretentious perfume, but absolutely none the worse for it!
      As for Liz and the legendary violet eyes… there ain’t nothing like that Dame… at least not around today.
      She was a once in a lifetime natural occurrence.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  4. When I was younger all the grown ups said I looked like Liz Taylor, including family and friends and no my eyes are hazel. So I read everything about her, voraciously in magazines and books, saw all her movies even though some were far beyond my ability to comprehend at the time and fell deeply and madly in love with this troubled and slightly mental beauty.
    When I grew up and moved to England one of the first drag jobs I had looked through my portfolio and said that I looked just a little like Liz Taylor. It was spookily surreal.
    Portia x

    • Oh this is too surreal Portia…They said the same about me too when I was a kid!

    • Dearest Portia
      What a tale! And I do so long to see those snaps!!
      It’s a testament to Liz I feel that she was, for perhaps a generation, one of the absolute ideals of beauty. The mother of dear friend of mine, who was ‘Vogue Model of the Year’ sometime in the sixties was forever compared to Miss Taylor, to the point of being mistaken for her.
      Perhaps people in those days were prone to spotting Liz-a-likes, some sort of wish fulfilment a desire or need to get closer to the occasionally demented demi-godess.
      Is it, I wonder, the same desire that drives our insatiable appetite for celebuscents these days?
      What a tale though, what a story!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Well, I know it’s been said before but celebs are our modern take on neighbours, you want to peek through the lace curtains of the magazines and www to go Tsk Tsk, but secretly you want to live those fabulous, outrageous, naughty lives that they all do so you buy their juice.
        Nothing’s changed, it seems, since Liz’s day except how much is on offer. Remember the OUTRAGE when Liz stole her “best friend” Debbie Reynold’s husband Eddie Fisher? Now we’d all think it a bit off and forget it in a week.
        Portia x

      • Dearest Portia
        How true.
        And you know, whilst many bemoan the outrageous lives of celebrities, in some important ways it has freed people up to accept the diversity of behaviour that any social historian will tell you has always characterised human culture.
        If only all the endorsed scents of today were of this quality, then, sadly it is simply a reflection of the fact that so few of the stars of today burn as brightly as Liz did.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  5. Dearest Dandy.
    I can’t tell you and you of course know anyway what this story means to me. I am very deeply moved by your talent and your incredible heart.
    Lanier

  6. ojaddicte

    Dear Mr. Dandy,

    This letter is so beautifully wistful, melancholic. I am not familiar with White Diamonds, but I will sniff it with respect should I ever come across it.

    • Dearest Addicte
      Thank you so much. And yes respect and remembrance are the best emotions to approach this perfume with.
      I do hope that when it crosses your path it might be a more mature version, for the glamour there is more profound.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  7. Dear Mr Dandy,

    Your review mirrors the epic nature of all that is La Taylor. She lived it louder and bigger than any other star. I often found her de trop- too much make up, too big a bouffant, too bright, too loud, too vulgar:but somehow, she pulled it off like nobody else.

    White Diamonds is unlike the constant flow of fruitichoulis and rent a scents that seem to be launched on a weekly basis. White Diamonds deserves a revival, and your review, I hope, could be an impetus, pushing this diva back onto the stage when younger starlets have been found lacking.

    Your friend
    IScent

    • Dearest Iscent
      I once recall seeing a photograph of Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren sat at a table at an award ceremony, between them was a vaguely non-descript woman, to be honest she looked a little like a sixth former who’d one a prize to spend the night with her idols.
      That woman was Demi Moore.
      Sophia, Catherine and as much if more than any of them Liz were, in some cases are, STARS: capital letters, spelled out in lights twenty feet high.
      Today’s, minnows, who I feel are all in some way descended from the instantly forgettable Demi-actress are, with very few exceptions, nothing of the sort.
      Anne Hathaway may be lovely, but she’s no one to worship.
      The sniffed once and forgotten forever celebuscents that proliferate like Kardashians at a fertility clinic, are, sadly, simply a reflection of the poor quality of the talent they represent.
      By the way if you think White Diamonds is quality (which it was/is) then try Deneuve!!!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Dear Mr Dandy

        What a wonderful vignette. It illustrates exactly how I feel. It’s the difference between a global legend and a local beauty queen.

        Your friend
        IScent

      • Dearest Iscent
        That’s exactly it… unfortunately we have too many local talent show winners and beauty pageant runners up occupying the firmament where ones true stars resided.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  8. What…a…story! Another gem.

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