Passion for Men (Elizabeth Taylor)

Orientals are a problematic genre for me. Spicy profiles often raise my doubts regarding social consciousness, and leave me wondering if I'm smelling stodgy, and/or like a walking headache. Old Spice, for example, is the quintessential masculine oriental. Its explosion of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg make it a sweet accoutrement to any 75 year-old's wizened persona. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work as well for the under-35 set. Too much application, and you end up smelling like Christmas eggnog. Too little, and you get that "old grooming habit" vibe. That's not to say Old Spice isn't in demand - I once sold a set of Shulton-era cologne and aftershave on ebay for $28. The catch: a 75 year-old guy bought it.

If you take a quick look at the oriental genre for men, you see there aren't many successes. Old Spice tops the list, but beyond that, it's a tricky playing field. There's Royal Copenhagen, a powdery mess if ever there was one. There's the clove curtain of Jacomo, the rosewood-coriander-sandalwood beauty of Chanel Égoïste, and the famous YSL flanker, Body Kouros. It's a real hit-and-miss deal, but to be fair, that's the case with every category.

Tucked neatly between the hated Joop! Homme and beloved Tiffany for Men is Passion for Men by Elizabeth Taylor. This was Liz's infamous follow-up to the original Passion perfume for women, which was THE blockbuster celebrity megahit of 1988. Launched at a time when the AIDS crisis was peaking, Passion and Passion for Men were olfactory expressions of Liz's concern for the prevailing sexual culture in America. She was very vocal about how difficult the decade had been for people, particularly for homosexuals suffering with AIDS, and felt that the '80s needed to close out on an honest note. The two fragrances were shrouded in darkness, their bottles an austere, almost-black shade of purple, the scents rich with herbs and spices. This was her image before the sparkling gemstones of the '90s were introduced, and it's one I can get on-board with.

Liz's grim mood is definitely conveyed in this scent. Smelling it today, I have no doubt that Passion for Men was something that she had a direct hand in. Men, after all, were being hit especially hard by AIDS, and some of her dearest friends were dying, or had already died from it. I believe she sat in on the briefs, smelled the test strips herself, and had heavy input on the final formula. She wanted it to smell serious, mature, and infinitely memorable. I think it ticks all those boxes. For a cheap celebrity fragrance, I'm very impressed by the end result.

Passion is, in short, a very dark and dusty oriental. The surprising thing is how dusty the scent really is. It opens with one of the loudest lavender notes I've ever smelled. Lavender is usually either sweet and chemical (Cool Water), or sharp and herbal (Pour un Homme de Caron), but this lavender is neither. It's very aromatic, definitely herbal, but densely so, almost funereal. The aromatic quality of it makes it seem ethereal, like it's tinting the air with its indigo hue. Its heaviness is tempered a little by a dessicated bergamot, which brightens, herbalizes, and rounds the accord out nicely.

At first sniff, these top notes are actually forbidding. There's nothing cheerful here. With this much lavender, the scent is cold, and the dry citrus isn't adding any warmth. But wait about ten minutes, and something interesting happens. The dry lavender slips gradually into a spicy combination of styrax, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The nutmeg and cinnamon lend Passion's core a subtle spicy sweetness, but it doesn't inflate into a sugarbomb. The styrax remains prominent, and broadcasts an aphotic incense vibe. Eventually the whole affair settles into a burnt, inedible vanilla. I have to say, for a drugstore oriental, this is leagues better than its peers. The lightweight pricetag was a concern of mine, particularly because orientals under $30 tend to be little more than gussied-up coumarin nothings. Fortunately, Passion's budget shows up in longevity, and not scent quality. I'm lucky if I can get two hours out of Passion, and with excessive application, maybe four. The drydown is pleasant, if a little unremarkable. Once the shadowy styrax dissipates, the clean, non-gourmand vanilla hangs on as a skinscent. Interestingly enough, the lavender never entirely vanishes, and I still sniff shades of it in Passion's afterglow. It's all very dignified, a bit aloof, a touch spooky, and altogether bottle-worthy.

The only other celebrity scent I would willingly and eagerly try is Catherine Deneuve's self-titled and now-defunct chypre. That, and perhaps Alain Delon's Iquitos, also discontinued and nearly impossible to find. But it's nice to see that not all celebrity fragrances are cynical fruity-floral abominations. Passion for Men's bottle is refreshingly bleak, like something you'd find on Morticia Adams' bedside table. The whole package represents a certain kind of grimly-optimistic capitalism that used to dominate the American commercial scene, one I'm nostalgic for. Nowadays, people are too afraid to peddle in dark things, unless by "dark" you mean a totally conformist "black." It would have been impossible, as things stand, for Liz Taylor to have released a "black" version of Passion for Men - if this got any darker, it'd slip into another dimension of time and space. As it is, I'm transported to a very good, and very exotic place.


  1. Passion for Men happens to be my scent today and you capture it as well as any review that I've seen. The only difference is that I get better longevity, apparently, than you do (it's not a powerbomb on me either, but I get at least 7 hours).

    1. It's probably more skin chemistry then when it comes to Passion. My skin is strange, waffling between being overly dry and overly oily depending on variables. I used this in the winter when I had dry skin, and couldn't eek much time out of it. But it was lovely while it lasted. Much, much better than I expected.


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