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Celebrity fragrances: remembering the good, the bad and the ugly


TextTom Rasmussen

What can looking back at the celebrity fragrances of the past 30 years tell us about their continuing popularity?

It’s very tacky to talk about the celebrities you know, but I am tacky and I can confirm that I know, personally, at least three minor celebrities; I can also confirm that I once met Rita Ora, and I was once escorted out of a fashion party for trying to meet Halle Berry. I’ve spoken to Robyn on the phone and I’ve tried very hard to actually become Celine Dion through a series of wishes over birthday candles for twenty years running.

Now, the thing that unites all my sleb mates is that none of them smell particularly standout. None of them smell bad, but they don’t smell good either. There is one very iconic influencer I have met and she smells like what heaven probably smells like. But the rest? Meh.

For this reason, the very practice of actually wanting to smell like a celebrity, one that you probably don’t know, is deeply strange. We are primed to consume image after image of our favourite celebrities, and thus to want to look like them, but to actively want to smell like someone you’ve never met, and — as I have confirmed — probably smells pretty average, denotes the point at which capitalism has become a multi-sensory experience, delivered to your nostrils on the back of tiny particles of alcohol, flooding your literal brain with the smell of a celebrity who has never worn their own spritz in their life. 

Yet, we all bought Glow by JLo in 2004, contributing to its $300million in sales in its first year, and the true beginning of the celebrity fragrance boom. I personally profess to have bought more than three. As someone who spent approximately nine years as one of those fags who reads Heat magazine and talks about Britney as if I know her, I am of course also the kind of person who looked in the mirror while spritzing her stunning Curious fragrance all over moi décolletage while humming the tune to "Phonography" and wondering whether people in my small town would notice that I was a homosexual.

In this new world of artisanal fragrance – where you can smell like the (imminent) apocalypse, or purchase a special edition DKNY bottle for over a mil, where you can have fragrances made especially for you, or even wear scents that you can’t smell but those a foot away from you will be bowled over by – it’s a strange idea that we might want to smell like Pitbull, or even Kimmy K – whose foray into the world of scent still sells out in minutes. To unpack this mystery, I have assembled a list of integral celebrity fragrances — some which changed the landscape, and some which sunk below it. From where it started and maybe should have ended, with Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, to JLo launching her ship of smelly dreams at a private party in Trump tower with the now despicable POTUS in attendance, below is a brief timeline of the history of celebrity fragrance – charting their unerring appeal.

Elizabeth Taylor: White Diamonds (1991)

Cash-in: $76.9 million
What they say: The success of Elizabeth Taylor’s fragrance has motivated many celebrities to launch their own perfumes. White diamonds is a sheer floral fragrance.
What I say: Literally iconic.
Spritz Rating: Scent: Apparently quite musty, Three Spritz / Value: Three Spritz / Icon Factor: a whole bottle of Spritz.

JLo: Glow (2004)

Cash-in: $300 million in its first year (if you include the often cross-sold JLo velour tracksuit clothing line)
What they say: J.Lo describes Glow as a ‘skin-scent’. The fragrance was meant to target women in their late teens and early 20s and it became very popular for breaking numerous records in sales which inspired other celebrities to launch their own signature fragrances.
What I say: I mean there’s no way possible to deny that J.Lo Glow, as well as J.Lo Rio Glow — the summer fragrance — were a goddam teenage staple. We built ourselves on the shoulders of this giant: on the frosted glass bottle with the little diamanté necklace slung around the neck of the bottle like the sexy carefree horny teens we all were.
Spritz Rating: Scent: Six Spritz, a league of its own / Value: Five Spritz — money can absolutely buy you class / Icon Factor: Glow invented the Spritz Rating.

Britney: Curious (2004)

Cash-in: Brit is famously the namesake behind a ‘billion-dollar fragrance franchise
What they say: “Curious by Britney Spears represents the young woman that pushes boundaries and revels in adventure. An exhilarating white floral accented with Louisiana Magnolia and wrapped in the sensuality of vanilla-infused musk.”
What I say: Did you ever go to a Regional Vodka Revs in 2006? That’s where I spent all my time and, trust me, everyone is bathed in this “exhilarating” scent. Nothing was chicer than that blue squishy air thing, and it was the perfect accent to the smell of sick you never quite got out of your River Island clutch bag from that time you chucked up your cheeky vimtos into it in the takeaway.
Spritz Rating: Scent: Five Spritz / Value: Five Spritz / Icon Factor: Five Spritz.

Jessica Simpson: Deliciously Kissable Belly Button Love Potion Fragrance (2004)

Cash-in: Multiple law-suits and swift foreclosure.
What they say: Slather it on yourself or a friend to be completely smoochable and delectable. The sprinkles? Well, they're just for fun! Just decorate and dig in.
What I say: Fucking HELL EDIBLE PERFUME this is not a joke. What’s also not a joke is that the 2004 edible cosmetics venture from Simpson landed her so many lawsuits that she had to shut it down. Honestly Google it – I’ve just cried actual tears at the customer reviews — one woman got stung by a bee because it was so sweet. I just…
Spritz Rating: Scent: Five Bites / Value: Zero Bites (who needs to pay for a bee sting?) / Icon Factor: Five Bites + lawsuit = Six Bites!!!

Jade Goody: Shh (2006)

Cash-in: Unfindable.
What they say: Launched in June 2006 following the successful Living TV show Just Jade. First fragrance from this ex-Big Brother celebrity. Filled with a mix of notes including citrus, bergamot, cinnamon, cumin, moss, sandalwood, vanilla, amber and much more!
What I say: Mainline this shit into my veins. Fucking ‘Shh’ which, God bless Jade, she never ever did. Honestly every time I think about Jade Goody’s perfume ‘Shh’ I actually lose the ability to properly speak. It’s like I go through a physiological change and the combination of my homosexuality plus this very fact honestly makes me unable to speak. None of this has made sense.
Spritz Rating: Scent: Three spritz (it’s pissy) / Value: Five Spritz (£9.90 for 100ml) / Icon Factor: Infinity Spritz

The Only Way is Essex: Be Reem (2011)

Cash-in: Unfindable.
What they say: Top notes of bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, lime and mandarin; heart notes of lavender, fennel, green leaf, green violet, apple, melon, cardamom, rose, violet and lily; and base notes of sandal, cedar, amber, vanilla, moss and musks.
What I say: Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Spritz Rating: Scent: (sounds like a copy of Shh to me), Three Spritz / Value: Zero Spritz (£22.95 x 100ml wtf???) / Icon Factor: Three Spritz, just because the bottle is so deeply cheap and a copy of Paco Rabane One Million

Atomic Kitten: Natasha, Kerry, Liz (2013)

Cash-in: They broke up! They are back together!
What they say: “Earlier in the year we told you we’d be launching our own fragrance collection… and we’re delighted to say that it’s available now! Each of us have chosen our favourite scent combinations, for Liz it’s Smile (with top notes of jasmine, pear, rose and white flower); for Tash it’s Poem (with top notes of bergamot, cassis, citrus and mandarin); and for Kerry it’s Inspire (with top notes of bergamot, grapefruit, lemon and tangerine). The set includes a handy handbag atomiser to hold your favourite Kitten scent!”
What I say: Yes they made some great songs together, and their collective work as individuals in the reality TV field is some of the most important in the canon, but to actively smell like a Kitten? The ultimate dream!! Much like when D&G (mood) designed their tour costumes and it was just a series of floaty paisley “gypsy” tops, belts made of circular metal disks, pointed thing high boots in bronze materials ruched around the ankle and a Toni&Guy directional haircut. Perfect look to go with the scent of Kerry.
Spritz Rating: Scale officially broken.

Pitbull: Miami Man (2015)

Cash-in: At this point one must assume that if the figures aren’t there, they’re nothing to write home about.
What they say: “The culturally diverse city has taught me that although people maybe different, we are a lot more similar than we think, especially when we come together to play,” says Pitbull.
What I say: So the fragrance smells like Miami? So like oleaginous older male divorcees who randomly end up on a boat full of barely legal teens during spring break? Like the smell of a man who only eats meats and steroids? Also is there anything less appealing than a grown person using the term ‘play’ to describe drinking, drugging, and fucking? Answer is yes, but only one, and it’s this…
Spritz Rating: Why did you ruin JLo’s album which could have been so good?????

Donald Trump: Empire (2015)

Cash-in: Unfindable.
What they say: Racism; white supremacy.
What I say: State funded violence against minorities. Impeach.
Spritz Rating: Scent: No. Value: No. Icon Factor: No.

Kim Kardashian: Kimoji, Body, Crystals (2017)

Cash-in: According to TMZ (lol) apparently she made a million a minute from fragrance sales in the first five minutes of selling her first round Kimojis. A mood.
What they say: Vibes.
What I say:  The obsession rages on – with sales figures shockingly high it seems that the celebrity fragrance is still something we crave. Why anyone would want to smell like Kim Kardashian is a big question, especially when you can’t exactly test the fragrance over Instagram. But that exact dynamic is telling: these scents aren’t about smell at all – I mean honestly she’s iconic, but a Britney scent? –  they’re about status. About getting as close as possible to the idea of fame, so much so that you can smell like it, or – in the case of Jessica Simpson – you can eat it. Gaga even made a fragrance called Fame which honestly smelled like the inside of plastic high heels after a long night out, and I know literally seven very discerning gays who bought it and WORE it. Celebrity fragrances will be a thing, seemingly, as long as both celebrities exist, capitalism rages on, and the world doesn’t end due to climate change.

We might think we’re above celebrity fragrances, but if the most successful tell us anything it’s that we too want to smell like money, success, fame, old leather goods smothered in sticky sugar. It’s a lifestyle.

Spritz Rating: Kris Jenner.

*"What they say" was largely located on https://www.fragrantica.com/

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