By chance, I stumbled across a rather fascinating website the other day, an ongoing list, painstakingly assembled by its author over many years, of the signature fragrances of the rich and famous. While for the average (non perfume obsessed) person it would undoubtedly make for an astoundingly mind-numbing read, for the manic perfumista, especially one who is drawn to Hollywood, the world of music, art, and even politics, this list is absolutely required reading.
In matching up familiar names with perfumes, we learn something of the intrinsic nature of those scents: (their soul, their identity, the emotion produced by a particular perfume that draws people in empathetically); for it would seem that, despite our difference in wealth, on the whole, ‘the stars’ wear the same perfumes that we do, not only those bespoke creations made exclusively for them that can cost in the thousands.
Last night I went out to meet a friend in Yokohama drenched in Shalimar, even though it was a startlingly warm and sultry evening (it smelled fabulous, as usual), and I apparently share my unvoidable attraction to this smooching, deathless sex-bomb with Rita Hayworth, Gina Lollabridgida, Brook Shields and Joan Collins (what does this say about me?)
Yet look how Shalimar differs in its clientele from Mitsouko, that mossed enigma I could never convincingly wear myself: Diaghilev, Charlie Chaplin (!), Ingrid Bergman, Wallis Simpson….
Yes. The more arch, mysterious and dignified scents attract celebrities we tend to associate with those very qualities (both Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich are said to have worn the divine Vol De Nuit, while Dietrich also, and famously, wore Bandit, Tabac Blond, and her own bespoke fragrance by Creed, Angelique Encens), while the brasher, more obvious perfumes tend to attract their parallel brethren in the world of entertainment and media (Calvin Klein Obsession – another of my favourites, I am almost embarrassed to say – is/was worn by Bill Clinton, Liza Minelli, Jane Fonda, Whitney Houston…….)
Green Irish Tweed, a brilliant, but to me extraordinarily objectionable perfume that just seems to scream out SEX, POWER, DOMINATION, is unsurprisingly and predictably, worn by George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Robert Redford, David Beckham and Pierce Brosnan (though James Bond himself wears Floris 89…), while women who are also not afraid of a bit of attention – Ivana Trump, Courtney Love, Madonna, all seem to plump for tuberose-whore Fracas (Ms Ciccone gets the longest list of scents attributed to her, incidentally: a perfume lover extraordinaire, she buys it in bulk, from Apothia IF, to Tubereuse Indiana, to Caron Nocturnes…I love her even more now, having read this, if that were humanly possible). Other rock stars are also mentioned in the list, including the simple but seductive, scent of Elvis Presley and Jon Bon Jovi, one that beautifully captures the hip-swaying bulge of their testosterone denim: the suave and insinuating, if cheap and redneckish, Brut by Fabergé (though Elvis is also said to have worn other similar fougerès, including Dana’s Canoe and one of the cheapest perfumes ever made and a vivid scent from my own childhood, Hai Karate.)
While celebrities bizarrely find inspiration for their signature scent in many different realms, including the vegetable – Stella Mcartney is supposedly drawn to Demeter Lettuce, while RuPaul is said to wear Carrot, the analytical psychology of which I will refrain from attempting at this particular juncture – in politics, the perfumes worn by those in power speak volumes about their policies and philosophies; Hilary Clinton wears Adoration; Imelda Marcos Mad Moments, while Laura Bush, demure and lady-like, smells, naturally, of Estee Lauder’s White Linen (her mother-in-law, the great Barbara Bush, sports White Shoulders…..)
Though Jacqueline Kennedy, forseeably, selected very stylish perfumes for herself (Patou 1000, Jill Sander 4, Bal A Versailles, Joy), another First Lady, Nancy Reagan, went for Giorgio, a perfect choice for world domination (you could take out the whole of Guatemala with that one), alongside her husband Ronald’s Gendarme (also worn by Janet Jackson). His fervent ally, ‘iron lady’ Margaret Thatcher, is said to have hidden her true, grim and heartless intentions behind the decorous and bashful, prettily English facade of the Penhaligons Bluebell…
The mesmerizing list, whose sources I have no idea of, or how much it can be relied upon (the ‘Queen Of England’ is said to have worn Caron Muguet De Bonheur since 1952, while ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ apparently wears a whole barrage of perfumes from L’Heure Bleue to Fleurissimo and the vulgar Chlöé Narcisse), includes hundreds of people, from cultural giants such as Sigmund Freud (Creed Selection Verte), through to the latest teen stars such as Selena Gomez (Pink Sugar: I saw the phenomenal ‘Spring Breakers’ last week, twice actually, and this is EXACTLY how you imagine she must smell, along with all the other young nubiles in the film such as Vanessa Hudgens); we see the trends that run through the world of film: it would seem that any Oscars’ ceremony must reek of exotic, swaying island gardenias, as that green, creamy floral überhit KAI is exceedingly popular among all the leading ladies of today, from Julia Roberts to Jennifer Garner, to Mila Kunis and Charlize Theron ( you will make your own value judgments reading this list, based on how you view the celebrity; I was unsurprised to find out that the dull Ann Hathaway wears Chanel Chance (urgh!), that ‘Transformers’ totty Megan Fox likes Armani Code Sport, and that the irritating Carey Mulligan wears Marc Jacobs Lola (double urgh), but I am delighted, personally, that Black Swan beauty Natalie Portman wears the dark and exquisite Sisley Eau Du Soir…)
In America, the eighties powerhouse fragrances for men and women by Rodeo Drive designer Bijan seem to still rule supreme (Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzegger, Aretha Franklin, Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, and Steven Spielberg among others are said to wear these creations), while Annick Goutals’ high class, taut-structured citruses, such as Eau D’Hadrien and Eau Du Sud, have a huge number of followers as well (Prince, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman (did they share it?) Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo Di Caprio, and our own Prince Charles….)
Amusing, predictable entries can be found throughout (Zsa Zsa Gabor, bless her, scents her swimming pool water with bottles of Florence Gunnarson N°67 – now that’s what I call Hollywood Babylon), but what is also wonderful about it is the unusual choices you occasionally find, those that initially seem unlikely, but when you think about them, strangely make sense.
Freddie Mercury, for example, is said to have worn Audrey Hepburn’s L’Interdit (she herself of course wore this as well as it was created for her specifically by Givenchy, though the gamine actress is said to have worn the sublime Chamade and Ivoire by Balmain as well). On Mr Mercury, though…how interesting. His other signature scent, the civet-laden, musky, aromatic lemon leaf that is Monsieur De Givenchy, makes more obvious sense with his bare-chested stompings, but I wonder how he smelled in the powdery aldehyde L’Interdit?
Isabelle Adjani, always an interesting actress, apparently wears the mysterious and alluring Caron En Avion and Après L’Ondée; Brigitte Bardot Jicky and Vent Vert, (a lovely idea, I think), while Sophia Loren apparently enjoys the underrated and beautiful Irisia by Creed, along with Ungaro’s Diva. Yoko Ono in Ma Griffe intrigues, as does Jodie Foster in Guerlain Vetiver; and the idea of the incomparable Eartha Kitt in Givenchy Gentleman, leathery and doused in patchouli as she purrs in some smoky Parisian club, gives an inspiring olfactory portrait I could linger over all day.
Ultimately, perfume does reveal who we are, I believe, whether exteriorizing our basic inner traits, or, knowingly or unknowingly, revealing hitherto unknown facets. Who could have imagined that Billy Idol, Rebel Yell pop-punk rocker of the mid eighties, with his fixed-in snarl and peroxide do, would wear the delicate and poetic L’Ombre Dans L’Eau by Diptyque?
Or that Michael Douglas, sex-addicted star of Fatal Attraction and Black Rain, Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, and husband of the terrifying Catherine Zeta Jones (Creed Millesime Imperial, Coco), would be inexorably drawn, somehow, to the delicate, icing sugar innocence and spring time peach pear envelope that is Annick Goutal’s Petite Cherie?