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Taylor Brings Her Passion to the Cosmetics Counter

August 25, 1987|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Fashion Editor

Not since Yves Saint Laurent launched Opium on a barge filled with doves and jugglers has there been such to-do in the perfume world.

It is a purple perfume, bottled and boxed in purple and selling for $160 an ounce. And in the nationwide promotional campaign, which begins this week in Los Angeles, Elizabeth Taylor will promote Passion while wearing a purple satin, plunge-neck, Nolan Miller gown and spouting purple prose: "Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame, each to his passion . . . what's in a name?" is the text of one TV ad in the series.

As a high spot of the multimedia ad campaign, the violet-eyed Taylor will personally shepherd the scent to retail stores in a five-week, nine-city introductory tour. She will tread purple carpets from entry to perfume counter, where she will meet the public, autograph posters and have tea with those who have already bought signed $200 flacons of the heady, floral scent. JW Robinson's in Beverly Hills is the Los Angeles area launch store, where 5,000 people are expected for Taylor's Sept. 14 appearance at 2 p.m.

But the first salvo in this war to win a significant share of the crowded perfume market takes place Sept. 11 at the rented Bel-Air mansion of Herbalife International chairman Mark Hughes, (complete with on-site disco and casino), where Taylor will play hostess to Robinson's executives and members of the local media. Taylor's own home is just a few paces up the road.

The benefits of having Hollywood's own Queen Elizabeth hawk a new perfume are "admittedly great," said Michael Horowitz, vice president of Parfums International, a 3-year-old offshoot of the Prince Matchabelli division of Chesebrough-Pond's, which manufactures the scent.

Horowitz, out to secure and expand his company's place in the "high-end department-store fragrance business," said that after analyzing the market, he became convinced that the success of a new product nowadays depends on "borrowed interest and built-in awareness. You need to have either a person, a place or a thing that consumers are already familiar with, so you can overcome all the competitive clutter that's out there."

A licensing agent he had known for years suggested Taylor to him, and after a few meetings with the actress in New York and Bel-Air, he determined that "we could get along, we could be partners."

It turns out Taylor isn't a partner in the venture. Neither Horowitz nor Chen Sam, Taylor's long-time public relations consultant, would reveal just how much money Taylor gets in the deal. "There's a minimum guarantee and then a percentage," Horowitz said. "It's all tied to sales."

The star's only other commercial venture, in 1976, was a diamond business to which she lent her name. It lasted about two months.

Annette Green, executive director of the Fragrance Foundation in New York, said that other perfumes endorsed by such actresses as Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren, usually "don't do well unless the star is constantly there. Loren's fragrance did very well when she was in the store promoting it. But without the star, the fragrance fades. I understand Elizabeth Taylor is willing to promote hers for a year. After that, I don't know."

Michael Ziegler, vice president of cosmetics at Robinson's, where the fragrance went on sale Aug. 9, said sales have been "very positive. I was in our Santa Barbara store last Friday night and they were selling bottles right out of the packing crates, before they could even get them on the shelves."

Ziegler said his current best sellers are Calvin Klein's Obsession, Givenchy's Ysatis, Giorgio, and scents by Chanel and Guerlain.

Whether the perfume takes off, Taylor certainly will.

TV's "Hour Magazine" will do a five-part series on the star, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" will catalogue her perfume tour, Ladies Home Journal and Parade magazine will feature her on their covers and Vogue will do a nine-page fashion layout in conjunction with the perfume's launch. And, in what's reported as Helen Gurley Brown's first print interview, the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine herself talks with Taylor in the September issue.

While the effect of Taylor's Passion on the perfume world won't be clear until the initial excitement has subsided months from now, she has a few other irons in the fire. Her new book, "Elizabeth Taylor Takes Off on Weight Loss, Weight Gain, Self Esteem and Self Image," (Putnam) is due out early next year, and she is rehearsing for a Franco Zeffirelli film on the life of Arturo Toscanini.

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