UNA NOTTE A ROMA ~ Le Gemme Bvlgari Haute Parfum

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Slick and glittering of ruby and emerald reflected from the traffic lights, the Via Veneto was empty after the predawn spring rain. Nick Abbot walked down the steps of the Excelc6ior Hotel and trough the porte-cochère filled with the thrill of his first morning in Rome. He could not sleep from the excitement that keep waking him to whisper “five days in Rome…why are you sleeping?”

On the sidewalk near to where he remembered Marcello had returned Ekberg to the Hotel in black and white a half a century or more ago, he smiled. It really was Rome…and it felt like coming home.  He looked up the street. Café de Paris was half hidden by the sycamore trees its sapphire blue neon swirling. The sidewalk before it held the memory of Valentino as a youth bumping into destiny and Giancarlo Giammetti on that very spot.

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Beyond was the ancient Porta Pinciana gate in the Aurelian walls that opened onto the Borghese gardens. He crossed the street and just past the Fellini plaque he turned down the Via Ludovisi.

A Ferrari convertible sped past sending a spray of water up from the street. Caught momentarily in the headlights the water arched over the sidewalk and became spray of diamonds as they fell in slow-motion into a pool of shimmering platinum. The woman driving waved to him her fingers fluttering bejeweled in amethyst. In the rear view mirror He caught her smile, so like Claudia Cardinale’s.  He walked on not knowing where he was going. He just wanted to feel and smell and embrace the city he had waited forty nine years to come home to at last.

The only sound was the click of his heels on the cobblestones.

“Marcello! Where are you?”

At the sound of her voice he stopped and turned in front of the Villa Maraini? Silence, only silence. The kind that only exists in a city as it breathes slowly in and out as it sleeps.  There was no one behind him. He walked on past the Hotel Eden and turned left along via Francesco Crispi. The sidewalk became narrow and kept him close to walls washed in citrine and terracotta. A shutter opened across the street as he turned the corner onto via Sistina and he caught a glimpse of a dark woman. She looked down at him and laughed and shutters closed. That laugh was so familiar. He stopped…wait a minute. He knew that laugh and that dark beautiful face. Anna Magnani! But that was impossible. He laughed softly, it must be jet lag he thought and walked on toward the obelisk up ahead. At the Hassler the street opened onto a small piazza.

“There you are! We have been waiting for you.”

He turned to see young Monica Vitti standing in front of the spinning gold and glass revolving doors of the Hassler. Smoking a cigarette, she was black and white film incarnate. No color except for spectacular Technicolor diamond and emerald necklace which she touched lightly with her right hand. There was a matching ring. And likewise the earrings danced from her ears matched the entire suite. She dropped her cigarette onto the cobblestones and walked right through him. Astonished Nick turned to watch as the Italian star skipped in her evening gown to meet Alain Delon who was waiting in the shadow of the obelisk.

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“I can’t believe……” Nick’s heart skipped five beats as he saw them walk to a flight of stairs then disappear down them. He ran to the stairs and was stunned by his first sight of the Spanish Steps as they tumbled and spilled before him down to the Piazza di Spagna.

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The celluloid phantoms of Vitti and Delon were gliding down the steps toward the Via dei Condotti. Nick stepped down onto the first marble step worn by centuries of those who walked before him. The air became light, and the sound of Nino Rota’s music filled the sky as the first touch of dawn rose at the top of the steps over the Trinità dei Monti . Nick was near euphoria as he moved down and down amid a parade of cinema dreams. Ingrid Bergman passed on his right carrying a parasol…from her neck hung diamonds to dazzle the most jaded eye. She smiled at Nick. From his left came Virna Lisi dripping in scintillating stones she smiled into his eyes. As she passed him she caressed his chin with the tip of a finger and priceless rubies winked from her ears. Legends from every era of film came and went as he descended. Joan Collins in black pearls, Sharon Stone in gold, Grace Kelly in sapphires, Romey Schenider resplendent in amethyst. Audrey Hepburn met him half way down and took his arm. She was eating a gelato on a cone and held it out to him to take a taste. It was like nothing he had ever tasted before. Audrey then led him to the bottom of the Spanish Steps to the man waiting below. She kissed his cheek and vanished in swirl of stars.

Richard Burton stood before him. As he turned to lead the way he spoke as only he could in that baritone made in heaven at Shakespeare’s suggestion.

“’We will have rings, and things, and fine array’”

Nick followed unbelieving and wanting to go on forever in whatever magic this was.

Richard Burton stopped half way down the first block and turned. He smiled.

Nick looked up at the building. One word over the door. BVLGARI.

“That is the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian.”  Burton said.

The music stopped, the street was deserted …they were all gone except for Nick.

A touch of breeze up from the Tiber tosseled his hair and whispered in his ear.

“Welcome to Rome.”

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The new haute perfume collection of perfumes by Bvlgari is inspired by the iconic stones for which the Roman jewelry house is famous for. Six fragrances from six stones that create what Bvlgari calls “The Bvlgari Gems Road”.

The collection is called Le Gemme (The Gems) and it is something to celebrate.  The house known for adorning the necks, ears, wrists and fingers of most if not all of the legends of the 20th century and beyond has in the past impressed us with such fragrances as the amazing Bvlgari Black, The Jasmine Noir collection, The Aqua collection and Bvlgari Man collection and Omnia.  But with this new and very exclusive release the house is concentrating on perfumes that represent the very core of the Bvlgari brand. The soul of chic that is Bvlgari jewelry.

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First in the lineup is Ashlemah, (sweet dreams) is based on the amethyst. A stone associated with divinity, spirituality and purity. This perfume is the aristocrat of the line. It is highly sophisticated in nature and wears on the skin with regal beauty. Purple after all is the color of kings. The notes are lavender essence, Iris absolute and musk. No muddle of too many symphonic notes but rather a chamber piece of clarity and beauty. It opens in Lavender but the star in the evening sky is the imperial cool beauty of a lovely iris note. This is held aloft on the skin by a clean clear musk.

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Sunlight over Capri, Joy and la dolce vita are what we find in our second fragrance Maravilla (delight / marvelous ). The stone that we explore here is the golden Citrine, the stone of intelligence, and sunny disposition. In fact this chypre fragrance is my favorite of the line, bright, effervescent and shooting light and joy right off the skin. This is a lemon grove hugging the cliffs along the Amalfi Coast. The notes of Italian Lemon tree, Orange flower absolute are married to a playful and yet grounded rich patchouli. Again just three major notes and what a magic marriage of notes these three are. The patchouli with the two citrus notes is a brilliant move by the perfumer Daniella Andrier who is the nose for the entire collection. It is woodsy and warm. This will be a huge summer and spring hit.

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Mystery and solitude are Calaluna, the moonstone. The goddess, this stone is associated with magnetism, and intuition. Calaluna is also a beautiful isolated bay on the island of Sardinia. Azure waters and white warm sands are the signature of this place where the cliffs dotted with caves falls it the sea. This fragrance of White Iris, almond flavored Heliotrope and Sandalwood is warm and lonely. Not the sad kind of lonely but the self-possessed solitude of one who lives comfortably in one’s own skin. This is a very contemplative fragrance. When I wear it I feel the doors of introspection and discovery unlock and open before me. Truly beautiful, and again only three notes that blend to do all of this. Less is becoming the minimalist’s everything. That everything embodied here is the pinnacle of cool and chic.

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Lilaia was a Naiad of Spring to the Greeks and Romans. A fresh water nymph and daughter of the river Kephisos. She also lends her name to this green fresh fragrance by Bvlgari. Lilaia is inspired by the green Peridot a gem of rebirth and change. So fittingly this is a beautiful aromatic slightly fruity perfume. The notes are Galbanum, Mastic absolute, mint, bitter orange and musk. The Mastic give the aromatic resinous galbanum a full round lushness of a green Mediterranean forest of pine and cedar like accords. This to me smells like the umbrella pines on the Palatine hill in Rome. There in the Farnese gardens at the top of the hill just before you enter the ruins of the imperial palaces there is an overlook perched over the Forum. At that spot, under those umbrella pines you are enveloped in the most wonderful woody green scent. This to me is where Lilaia now lives singing her song in harmonious lovely notes.

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The Pink Tourmaline is a spitfire stone from Brazil, and at Bvlgari they call her, Amarena. In Italian, Morello Cherry. She is all about heat and glamour and a big bold flower in her hair. This fragrance sambas on the skin to a wonderful tune created by the notes of Amarena Cherry, Violet, Rose Centifolia and Tuberose. This is a glamorous floral that becomes more entrancing after the sun sets. In fact there is a rather playful war of the roses going on here. A tug of war between the temperamental rose and the heavy lidded languorous tuberose. But as you move into the fragrance the two kiss and make up ending in a rather intricate sexy tango. For a winter seduction under the stars in the Borghese gardens wrapped in chinchilla. Well look no further, is your arsenal of love.

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From across the empire and beyond the deserts of the Middle East came spices and the rarest of gems to tantalize and intoxicate the aristocrats and emperors of Rome. For thousands of years and to this day the markets of Rome such as the open air market at the Campo de’ Fiori are filled with wonderful smells. Here in the last presentation of Le Gemme, Bvlgari dazzles us with the exotic Noorah. Inspired by the Silk Road between China and Rome one particular stone made its way through the East to the capital on the Tiber. That stone was Turquoise. Noorah means the “exuberance of the heavens” and what a perfect name for this exotic sensual perfume. Galbanum, cardamom, and vanilla found in the markets of Rome are lush and interesting here in the opening. I pick up a rich sweet tobacco note along with the very intriguing note of candied dates from Arabia. The caravan from Petra has arrived! This one when it first hits the skin is a bit biting but settles down nicely into a warm embracing and very inviting scent.

I found it interesting with each fragrance in the line that they vary in intensity and each as it should for what it is. Some lighter as in the Maravilla and others bold and deep such as in Amarena. With them all I found the longevity to range from good to excellent. The most interesting aspect of that would be that at about five or so hours they seemed to die but then about twenty minutes later they bloomed anew. I found that delightful. In all they last between eight to twelve hours on my skin. Projection is fine Amerena being the one to push out the most. So there is, in this respect something to please almost any taste in that regard. Marketed to women for the most part they all, to me work well as unisex scents. So fellows don’t be shy, step up and try some truly wonderful fragrances to wear with that great Bvlgari watch.

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The line is making its U.S. debut this month April 2015 in a select number of Bloomingdales across the country. As for Europe I am under the impression it has already launched. The beautiful Bvlgari 6-piece Collection box of 10ml sprayers is available at $260. A 30ml bottle retails at $155 and the 100ml bottle at $310

Le Gemme Bvlgari collection has been a joy to explore. A wonderful olfactory journey though the past and present along a road paved with jewels, gems and memories.

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A NEW LIFE ~ 21 Bonaparte by Vicky Tiel

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Diana Vreeland looked across the luncheon table at her and put it quite plainly: “My dear at your age and with a face like yours you simply cannot be a smug Mademoiselle.”

Vivien Van Volkenburg looked up from her Chanel compact and smiled. “Diana what a thing to say!”  she snapped the compact shut.

“It is not that you aren’t beautiful, it is that you are to smart to stay here in Manhattan. You simply must go to Paris. For a newly minted divorcee like you Paris is essential, like caviar or oxygen. You simply must have it to live! And while you are there it is vital, VITAL that you have a love affair.”

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Screaming horns and screeching tires brought Vivien back to the present. She opened her eyes and looked out the window at the gushing fountains of the Place de la Concord as the taxi that carried her whizzed past in a glittering shower of December rain. The mixture of the ozone from the rain and the heady fumes from the cars and taxis cutting across the Place to turn up the Champs Élysées made her delightfully dizzy. Her taxi did not turn with the others onto that famous boulevard but lurched forward toward the Seine and the 6th arrondissement. She wiped the steamy window just in time to see the Christmas lights strung for a good mile in the trees all the way to the Arch de Triomphe.

“When you get there you simply must make a Bee line to this perfectly charming boutique on the left bank. Forget Dior and Coco’s little shop behind the Ritz. This is the place for you. You have the body and the look that was made for wearing Tiel.”

“Teal is not a good color on me Diana”

Diana tilted her head upon her great swanlike neck and vermillion red lips parted in a smile. “It is not a color, it is a person.”

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Just before the Pont de la Concord the taxi driver made a hard left just missing the front fender of an on coming bus and sending Vivien sliding across the well worn leather seat to slam up against the left door.

“Pardon Madame.” The driver mumbled.

“Are we almost there?”

He ignored her as they speed along the Quai Francois Mitterrand. Vivien cleared the window with her leather loved hand just in time to catch a glimpse of hundreds of little Larks wheeling up from the Tuileries and out over the river toward Notre Dame.  Despite the crazy ride across the city Vivien smiled. She was in Paris after all. It was beautiful and somehow, just as Diana had promised her, being here was as easy as breathing. It felt like coming home.  The taxi decelerated from 50 to 15 to turn onto Pont Neuf. The little finger park on the end of the Île de la Citéwas deserted yet inviting as it separated the waters of the Seine like an elegant trowel. Another sharp right onto Quai de Conte that within a block became Quai Voltaire, then a sweeping honking mad turn onto a little narrow street. Moving too fast down the street there was just a flash, a wet impression of the École des BeauxArts in passing in a jumble of stones then a sudden stop.  Vivien leaned to the window and looked out. The driver turned around in his seat.

“We arrive Madame… 21 Rue Bonaparte.

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21 Bonaparte, the new perfume by famed Paris based American couturier Vicky Tiel is classified as Oriental Floral. It is more than that, it is sensual, elegant, refined, a woman’s perfume.fiorentina

Launched in 2013 its creation stretches back many years to a glittering night in the South of France.  The night Elizabeth Taylor won her second Oscar for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  The star did not attend the awards in Los Angeles, she was on the Rivera finishing up “The Comedians” and Vicky was with her. When her husband Richard Burton lost the best actor award Elizabeth was very upset and stormed out of the villa heading down the stone steps that plunged into the Mediterranean Sea. Vicky was worried for her friend and followed  to see if she was alright.  As she followed she noticed the night was filled with the scent of Jasmine, Gardenias and Tuberose. She stopped and looked about to find that she was surrounded on either side of the marble staircase by the very flowers which filled her senses and in so weaving their white magic cemented an indelible memory. She made a mental note on the spot that some day she would make a perfume from that impression.  She then continued down to the sea to find Elizabeth. It took some time, 47 years to finally realize the perfume in memory of that night.

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The name 21 Bonaparte is for the address of the dress boutique in Paris she owned with Taylor. The bottle is a regal beauty worthy of Taylor’s inspiration, the color, purple which Elizabeth loved.

The perfume opens a tad sweet and spicy with black current, Mandarin Orange and star Anise. And at first it seemed to me to be a little too sweet. But in moments that sailed away leaving the perfume to become in every way that garden on the French Rivera in 1966.

The middle notes are glorious, Jasmine, Gardenia and tuberose. Now it should be noted that true gardenia scent is impossible to extract from the flower and must be created with the expert blending of other white florals. Often times the attempt by perfumers fails to delver a believable facsimile of the scent, but in 21 Bonaparte we have a photorealistic Gardenia blooming and lush. Here in the middle of the life of the perfume these flowers are joined buy a very subtle smoky vanilla, It seems to waft into the white midnight garden like an exotic incense.

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The dry down consists of Patchouli, Vanilla and smooth, woody and rich, sandalwood. The Patchouli brings a certain masculine vibe along with the sandalwood making 21 Bonaparte accessible to men. But only those who appreciate the indolic joys of white flowers on skin.

The perfume lasts a very long time, around ten to twelve hours with a heavy sillage in the fist quarter of its lifespan.  21 Bonaparte is exclusive to and only sold on HSN. I have tried other perfumes by Vicky Tiel and found Sirene to be very nice, Ulysse for Men stunning, but 21 Bonaparte to me is her grand opus, a fine tribute to her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and quite simply her best perfume to date.

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(Vicky Tiel)

21 BONAPART ~  FIVE GOLD STARS *****

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TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR ~ Bulgari Exhibit at the deYoung

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Yesterday I went with three of my closest friends to the M.H. deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park to see the exhibit, The Art Bulgari ~ La Dolce Vita and Beyond 1950 – 1990 .

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It was my birthday present to my friend Joe (a link below to his fabulous blog, The Way I See It.) The museum was amazing, the show was incredible. As the four of us entered the show we were greeted by three tremblant brooches.

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They are designed so that the stones tremble in there settings with movement. And the do!  They were like three little galaxies on the outer edge of a spectacular new universe that only hinted at the splendors that waited us. 

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 The jewelry was astronomically beautiful and within this universe of diamonds, rubies, Emeralds and more there floated such stars as Ingrid Bergman, Monica Viti, Claudia Cardinale, Sophia Loren and more. All photographed dripping in Bulgari. The show consisted of four rooms dimly lit with the art of Bulgari in windows along the walls and in small cases in the center of each room . Every decade from the 1950 to the 90’s unfolded in glinting glittering glamour as you passed from room to room. You were presented examples of how Bulgari introduced multi-color settings in the 50’s, The use of ancient coins in necklaces and bracelets in the 80’s and the huge very Roman dog collars of the 90’s. All of this was inspired by where the jewelry is made. ROME. The traditions are blended from ancient Rome, Renaissance times and the 19th century to create the unique and very modern look that is so identifiable as Bulgari.

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Ingrid Bergman

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Monica Viti

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Claudia Cardinale 

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Sophia Loren

But at the center of the this universe of glitterati was the mega star with a room devoted just to her.

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“The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari: Richard Burton.  

We were speechless at the treasures that once hung from the ears, rested on the bosom and graced the writs and hands of Elizabeth Taylor.  There was window after window exquisitely lit to show off the magnificent gems. An interactive picture album on a table that when you turned the page the page became illuminated with photographs that moved from the book up a curved wall for all to see. Some were stills and some were motion pictures of the star accepting awards or arriving at an event always in Bulgari. Elizabeth was gifted in many ways and for many reasons some of the most incredible jewels in the world. Sometimes as Burton once said he would give her some little treasure from Bulgari, “simply because it is Tuesday.” Here is a video that can say more about this room than I can.

After the show the four of us went to the museum cafe and had the most wonderful lunch of lobster bisque, Salmon Salad, quiche and Italian red wine (what else would you drink at the Bulgari show?)  It was the perfect last Saturday of 2013.

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when you wish upon a star……..

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JOE’S BLOG, THE WAY I SEE IT : http://josephb54.wordpress.com/category/elizabeth-taylor/

…AND THE WINNER IS, ~ White Diamonds By Elizabeth Taylor

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Tomorrow night is the 85th Annual Academy Awards.  

I would like to present for your consideration. 

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Yul Brynner ripped open the envelope paused with a half smile looked up and out across the audience in the packed Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to find her eyes.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR OSCAR NIGHT 1961

“And the winner is…..”

The scandal would have ruined any other actress’s career. Only a few years before Ingrid Bergman had been vilified and exiled to Italy for leaving her husband and daughter to marry Roberto Rossellini and other lesser stars had fallen from the heavens of Hollywood for much less.

Yet she is still here, dressed in Dior, sitting back in her chair not expecting anything, waiting to hear if she is going home with Oscar.

She was the little girl with the grown-up face who had won the hearts of America when she dressed as a jockey and won the Grand National at twelve years old, the teenage girl who found her place in the sun when she steamed up the screen with the hottest kiss ever filmed and uttered the line that would define her for many.

“Tell mamma, tell mamma all….”

She had taken West Texas on at twenty two and tamed a rebel in the bargain. She revisited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Paris, went mad in the midst of the American Civil War. But when she was that cat Maggie on a hot tin roof all hell broke loose.

Suddenly a few summers before this Oscar night the most beautiful widow in the world had stolen Tammy’s husband. This sealed her image as a modern day Cleopatra and in so doing convincing a failing studio that she was the only woman who could save them by barging down the Nile in style. But first she had a debt to pay. Metro said she had to play a prostitute before they would release her to play a queen. She hated the role and swore she would sleep walk through it. She took no direction from her director and had her crooner husband inserted into the film. The first few days of shooting where a nightmare but something happened to change it all. Her innate professionalism took over and her forth Oscar nomination was the result.

The housewives of America where horrified and fascinated all in the same breath by her performance on screen and off, she was the home wrecker they loved to hate and envied for her beauty. After playing the Park Avenue call girl she was off to London to make history as the woman who nearly brought down the Roman Empire. It didn’t start out so well and in a month she had to be carried on set for her costume test ill with the flu. Within hours she was fighting for her life when the flu morphed into a deadly form of pneumonia. A London newspaper announced her death at the very moment she came back from the edge at the urging of Mike Todd.

“Go back baby. You have more to do. I’ll be waiting for you when it is time.”

The tracheotomy scar at the base of her neck would be her badge of survival, one of many.

The world suddenly realized what a loss her death would be too their collective dreams. They had almost lost that beautiful little girl, the girl who had everything they needed to remind them that there was still magic to be found in flickering images on a silvery screen.

“And the winner is, Elizabeth Taylor….Butterfield-8”

 ELIZABETH TAYLOR OSCAR NIGHT 1961 WIN

The Santa Monica Civic Center exploded in jubilation. They and the world had forgiven her.

“I lost that Oscar to a tracheotomy” Shirley MacLaine whispered as she joined in the applause.

When Elizabeth still weak from her ordeal in London reached the podium she was visibly moved.

“I don’t really know how to express my gratitude for this and for everything.  I guess all I can do is say thank you, thank you with all my heart.”

All was right with the universe; everything was back in place in the heavens. Our National Velvet had won the prize and come home to us. All that was left for Elizabeth Taylor to do now was to fly off to Rome to meet her new Mark Antony.

 Loris Loddi, Elizabeth Taylor, and others., in scene from CLEOPATRA, 1963

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White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor is one of the most popular perfumes on the market. It has been a huge seller for over twenty years and a winner of the Fifi award (the Oscars of the fragrance industry). It has eclipsed Taylor’s first perfume Passion and outlived the many flankers of rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

It is in my view the best of her line. This Floral Aldehyde is sure to be viewed by the younger audience as an old lady scent. That would be a mistake. White Diamonds is really a nod to a classic and classy approach to perfume. It smells vintage, rich, elegant and glamorous. This perfume is a star and she is at ease in her skin as a stunning beauty with a great sense of humor. And she owes a lot to Chanel No.5 in her make-up. In fact you might agree that White Diamonds is a Hollywood star playing the role of No.5.

When the lights come up on set the star walks on with a glorious blast of fizzy and fabulous aldehydes that flash a stunning set of gems made up of bergamot, Neroli, orange and lily. This opening is a glittering  Bulgari necklace that accentuated the lush fullness of her décolletage.

Then she gets down to the business she excels at, drama! Her violets flash purple lights and she throws out petals of roses and laughing narcissus. She smiles with wisps of ylang-ylang and sensuous jasmine.  Then all is banished by the queen, Egyptian tuberose. How can you resist her?

At the end of the shoot just before the assistant director calls a wrap. She settles into her director’s chair with a relaxing cocktail of fuzzy comfy oak moss, patchouli, musk, creamy sandalwood and warming relaxing amber.

Like all great stars White Diamonds has longevity. (It is long lasting in more ways than one. The bottle I have is from 1991 and smells wonderful.) She lasts for hours and hours, eight to ten hours tops and that is fabulous. She remains young on the skin like a dusting of Max Factor powder that stays smooth and creamy well into the night. Her projection is professional and no need for a body microphone. She lets you know she is in the room and all eyes are on her.

White Diamonds like Elizabeth Taylor is unforgettable.

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WHITE DIAMONDS, FIVE GOLD STARS

“There is no deodorant like success” Elizabeth Taylor

MEMORY ~ E.T. and Me

This one is for Vickie

“I bet nether one of you know about Parma Violets. Well, they are very delicate, and they are what people give when they want to give something really special,  when they’re in love, or someone dies….”  Zee Blakely ~ X, Y, and Zee 1972

There is no such thing as true violet eyes. What seems to be violet is made up of the deepest dark blue and flecks of green. I was surprised when I found that out. But despite that truth there was a myth that was in fact a greater truth and reality.  Her eyes were violet. Like violets of Parma, violet of legend when I finally saw them in person they were the kindest eyes I had ever seen.

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When I was thirteen years old and Marilyn was gone nearly a year I was doing very badly in math at school.

“If you get a B on your next report card, your step-father and I will take you into Hollywood to see “How The West Was Won.”

“In Cinerama?” I had never seen a movie in Cinerama. The mere prospect of a night out, dinner at Musso and Frank’s, reserved seats AND a glossy program all about the movie caused my voice to reach and octave higher than Jane Powell’s.  I worked harder for that B than I ever had in school and forced my brain to embrace problems and figures that were like poison ivy to my grey cells.

Three months later I was sitting in Musso and Frank’s too excited to eat. Dinner half in me and threatening to not stay there I asked to be excused to go to the bathroom. I was excited about the movie yes. But what had my stomach riding the roller coaster at Pacific Ocean Park was what I had seen from the car as we drove down Hollywood Boulevard, the Pantages Theater all decked out for the arrival of the Queen of Everything! I slipped out the front door of the restaurant into the rare night air that only movie stars breathe and ran the six blocks from Las Palmas to Vine just to see the outer lobby of the Pantages. It was covered in photographs of the movie that was to open later that week. The movie everyone in the world had been waiting for over two years to see.  “The most anticipated movie event of all time” the adds read….and up until then it was.

The splendors of Egypt seared my eyes in gold and sapphire, the might and grandeur of a plaster of Paris ancient Rome engulfed me, and everywhere HER. I only had a minute to look and it was almost too much to bear. How could Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Carol Baker, Karl Malden, Eli Wallach, George Peppard and Carolyn Jones compete with this?  Was the West being won from the Indians more important that the ancient Near East being lost to the Romans? I had two choices, pass out on the star strewn sidewalk or run back to Musso and Franks. I turned to run and instantly I saw the most incredible thing my thirteen year old eyes had ever beheld.  High up on the side of the Hollywood Taft building right next door to the Pantages soaring up into the starless inky smoggy night was a painting of HER.  It was seventy; no it must have been a hundred feet high. She was seated on a replica of Tutankhamen’s throne in a green and gold crown, dressed in plunging neckline purple Irene Sharaff gown and holding the emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt across her bosom. Her violet eyes looking down upon me not with imperious hauteur, but with a kind of understanding as if she were the mother of the lost boys.

“We are going to be late….” A hand took mine. It was my step-father. He had known exactly where to find me.

(Painting by Howard Terpning that was on the side of the Hollywood Taft Building.)

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“There are never enough hours in the days of a Queen, and her nights have too many…so I fill them with memories of what might have been.”  Cleopatra 1963

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At seventeen I had my own movie studio. It was a super-8 movie studio named after the father of movies David Wark Griffith,  D.W.G. Studios it was called. I had saved up money from baby sitting and stripping and waxing kitchen floors for the women in the neighborhood to buy my movie editor, my fist step to running a studio. Why the editor first? At fifty bucks it was the cheapest of the necessities I would need. Camera cost eighty dollars and the projector a whopping one hundred and twenty five so I figured if I had the editor first I would be forced to save up the money to get the rest of the equipment. My step-dad and mom took pity on me and got the camera and projector for my birthday and Christmas that December.

My fist epic was an eighteen minute version of “Antony and Cleopatra”. Surprise! The cast was made up of all the kids I baby sat. Cleopatra was eight years old and her brother at nine played Antony. The love scene was a little uncomfortable to say the very least. Unlike Elizabeth’s version my Cleopatra and her Antony came in under budget after two weeks in production at seventy five dollars. And, I had to make that money back or the studio was sunk! So I put on my post production, marketing and advertising hat and got to work.

I planned to run the film for three weekend showings on Friday and Saturday nights in our garage. I painted a huge reclining Cleo and put it on the roof of the garage with Christmas lights and papered the double car garage door with a sign. “Opening in three weeks the film the entire neighborhood has been waiting for!” I didn’t name it…Cleo on the roof said it all.  I sent out invitations to every person I had ever met. Then, almost as an after thought I sent one to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in care of Merto-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. M.G.M. had been Elizabeth’s home studio for eighteen years. She was no longer under contract to the studio, but maybe they still forwarded her mail.

Three months later I came home from school to be met by my mother at the front door.

“What did you write in that invitation you sent to Elizabeth Taylor?”

“Oh I don’t know…I told her about myself. I just wrote to her like she was anybody. Why?”

“This came today.”  She produced from behind her back an robin egg blue envelope. On the back were three words. Elizabeth Taylor Burton. Mom had to turn the hose on me to calm me down.

Thus began a on again off again correspondence that lasted four years. The Burtons got an invitation to every film that came out of D.W.G. and lots of drawings. They never did make it to my premieres but she always supported my artistic endeavors with a kind note.

 

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“I’m an artist, I paint. Nobody buys. Then I turn out watercolors when I need grocery money.” Laura Reynolds ! The Sandpiper 1965

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At nineteen I was a Theater Arts Major in Junior College. By twenty one I came to the realization that I hadn’t the talent to be a good actor, let alone a movie star, I was smart enough to know that Hollywood was sure to break my heart.  But I could paint. So after six months as an English major where spelling proved to be my downfall I became an Art Major.

When I found out in 1971 that I was going to summer school in Guadalajara Mexico and that I would get to spend a weekend in Puerto Vallarta I got an idea. I wrote to Elizabeth allowing the usual three months for the letter to find her where ever she was in the world and told her I wanted to give her a thank you gift for all her support. Would she send me her favorite photograph of her with Richard?

She sent the photo taken when they appeared in Doctor Faustus at Oxford. I painted a very large portrait from that photo of them in costume, he as Doctor Faustus and she Helen of Troy.  It hung in an English Pub in town until it was time to take the train from Mexicali to Guadalajara. The train left at night and there waiting on the platform for the three day trip stood I with my suitcase and the Burtons all boxed up. I was towering at six feet three like mount Popocatépetl above a sea of Mexicans none taller than 5’6″. Everyone was looking at the giant gringo with the long hair and beard. I came to understand during my entire visit to Mexico what it must be like to be famous! Everywhere I went the locals were fascinated by me. Children called me “El Barbo” and ran up to me to tap me for luck.

(The Photo Elizabeth sent when I asked for her favorite photograph with Richard Burton. grey silk caftan by Vicky Tiel.)

I shared my little private Pullman room on the train with the Burtons. When the bed was made up the only place for them was in the bed with me. The first night crossing the Senora Desert was fine. But on the second night in the mountains it was insanity. Every time the train turned and twisted though the Sierra Madre mountains the Burtons would fall over on me. They kept me up all night.

I stayed with the Ramirez family in Guadalajara. They spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish. Senora Ramirez loved the painting so it hung over her dining table for three weeks, until it was time to fly to Puerto Vallarta and surprise the Burtons. My American roommates translated so consequently I never learned any Spanish, except how to ask for scrambled eggs and even that I got wrong. Seems I was asking for “revolting eggs’.  The house maids loved me.

Armed with a friend who spoke Spanish and English I found the Burton house on Calle Zaragoza in Gringo Gulch.  A pink bridge crossed the street connecting the two parts of the house and under the bridge was the front gate. No door bell…just a rope with cowbells hanging down for any one to pull. I was as nervous as a cat on a….you know the rest. I pulled on the cow bells and nothing. My friend yanked on them and again nothing. We were about to leave when a voice came from the bridge above us.

 

“¿qué es lo que quieres?” We looked up to see a handsome young Mexican man who looked to me to be a dead ringer for one of Ava Gardner’s beach boys in “The Night of the Iguana.”

My friend explained in Spanish my story. He must have done a good job because the beach boy told us to wait and disappeared across the bridge into the main house. Moments later he appeared at the iron gate with two maids in tow.

He demanded to see the painting. I pulled it out of its travel worn box.

“aye qué hermoso!” the maids exclaimed and grabbed the painting and ran up the stairs into the house.

My friend translated to me as the beach boy spoke.

“I will see that Mr. and Mrs. Burton get the painting. They just left yesterday for London for the birth of Mrs. Burton’s first grandchild.”  He thanked me and shut the gate. I missed them by only a day.  I never saw the painting again.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the Burtons were in trouble and in a few years they would be divorced. The letters from Elizabeth  stopped and I understood why.

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“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”  Elizabeth Taylor

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Many years and three husbands later for Elizabeth I was working in the collections department at Macy’s in San Francisco. The big news was that Elizabeth Taylor was coming to promote her perfume “Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion”.  It was announced that for two hundred and fifty dollars you could have tea with Miss Taylor and about two hundred other people in the Macy’s cafeteria on the eighth floor. My card was maxed out and I had to work that day so there was no way I could see her, let alone meet her.  What would I say? “You don’t remember me but….” I didn’t want to be that guy.

When the hour arrived that she was due on the main floor I blacked out.  The next thing I remember is that I came out of my blackout very close to the stage and she was walking on to it. Everyone was screaming!

Over my lifetime I leaned many things from Elizabeth Taylor. I learned how to face life straight on and survive the hard times. I learned that it was a blessing to be different. I learned that kindness and honesty and being the real you brings unexpected rewards. I learned by watching her with Montgomery Clift, James Dean, and Rock Hudson that loyalty is the hallmark of being a real friend. I learned how to use my eyes to speak when the world was too loud for words.

The day Elizabeth died she gave me her last gift. Just a month before I had angered the love of my life, Bryant Lanier so much that he had cut me off and ended our relationship. It was so final that I knew I would never again speak to the man I had waited a lifetime for. As time crept onward I took on each day and climbed over it knowing from experience that I would survive …. And then Elizabeth died.

I heard the news getting ready for work.  No tears like for Marilyn when I was 10. Too much had happened for tears now. I went to work. Everyone I met that day said “Elizabeth Taylor died today, why are you here?”  There was nothing else to do but live that day through and go on. I learned that from her, you just keep going on.

The following Sunday there was an email from Bryant.

I haven’t thought about anything in the wake of Liz’s death but you,,,in fact I just made myself LOL. Wondering how long you’ll wear black!

They’re playing a nice tribute to her on the CBS Sunday morning show and ,,if u get up in time..(9 AM ) I’m sure you’d love to see it ….

There may someday be plenty to say,,,and some things may go unsaid thank god…

Have a good day..

I love you

B

 

PS Call me when you get this.”

In an odd way, Elizabeth’s death gave me a second chance with him. I used to tell Bryant how much he reminded me of Burton because of their shared acting talents and personal demons.  I had Bryant in my life for nine more months before he went to join Elizabeth in the place where there are more stars than there are in the heavens. Three days before he died he said. “You are my Elizabeth.”

As Elizabeth Taylor walked on to the stage that day at Macy’s back in the 80’s she was radiant. She waved out to the packed store. Then she turned and she saw me.  She smiled, and then she winked. That was enough.

Her eyes were like Parma violets, the very flowers I used to send to Bryant on his birthday.

(Bryant Lanier ~ Actor, Singer, Director )

AN EROTIC VAGRANT IN ROME ~ Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles

Rome January 1962, in the dark corners of the huge soundstage of Cinecittà Studios all eyes are on an extraordinary personage. The man is Welsh, and touted to be the new Olivier. With a good ten years of films behind him he has never really hit it big in the movies. Not like he has on the stage where he is considered a god. That is about to change.

There is a small commotion in the shadows. He and everyone else on the set turn, and his eyes fall upon the luscious curves of the woman who has just unceremoniously sauntered into the pool of lights in the center of the stage. Sheathed in flowing canary yellow chiffon, her eyes of violet blue spangled with glitter and lined with black Egyptian kohl she is every inch a morsel for a monarch.

Her eyes with veiled curiosity explore his handsome acne scarred face. She is not impressed and yet slightly apprehensive of his stage training. He takes in her dark glamour in and recalls being turned to ice by her dismissive glance ten years earlier across a hot star encrusted swimming pool in smoggy Los Angeles. That was the first time Richard Burton laid eyes upon his destiny in the form of Elizabeth Taylor. This time in Rome was the second.

The director, Joe Mankiewicz spoke briefly to both of them then went off to commiserate with the cinematographer and the assistant director leaving them awkwardly alone to make their own introductions. Burton turned and crookedly smiled at Elizabeth. He picked up a cup of coffee and spilled a little as his hand was seized by a hangover tremor. Instinctively she reached out and steadied the cup. Gently her hand cupped his and guided the coffee to his lips. His eyes fell into hers and locked there for eternity.

“Has anyone ever told you that you are a very pretty girl?” He said.

Her heart, imagination and life were changed forever by that simple cliché that fell in perfect calculated grace from the lips of perhaps the greatest Shakespearian actor of his generation.

 

Taylor and Burton the moment they met on the set of “Cleopatra”.

Antony:  Are you quite sure of what it is you want?

Cleopatra: I have always been sure.

And so it began the scandal of 1962 which shattered two marriages, nearly toppled a studio and ushered in the cannibalistic tabloid world of today.  It was  the romance of the century and inspired a generation of sexual revolutionaries. Not to be left out of the action the Pope got in on the act and branded Elizabeth Taylor an “Erotic Vagrant”. Now THAT is a Movie Star!

What did this shattering moment smell like? Bal à Versailles is the answer. Many famous women from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Queen Elizabeth have worn it, but none more famously than Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Cleopatra” when she launched a thousand paparazzo’s in the arms of her Mark Antony.

Created in 1962 by Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles is traditionally presented as a female fragrance. Well that was back in the old days of the 1900’s, welcome to the 21st century where such gender identities for fragrance are down right passé. This magnificent perfume fully rounded out by 350 essences is a monster of audacious panache and a masterpiece of design fit for anyone with the balls to wear it. It is bold, and huge in its opening of rosemary, orange blossom, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, rose, Neroli, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and lemon. Heavy hitters are the roses and the orange notes. We move in for our close-up with notes of sandalwood, patchouli, lilac, orris root, vetiver, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and leather. The Leather dominates the heart of the fragrance. If you are a leather lover this is Oscar time at the Kodak Theater and Nicole Kidman has just called your name. When the dry down approaches it is a dramatic movie star fade out. Beautiful notes of tolu balsam, amber, musk, benzoin, civet, vanilla, cedar and resins hold court for the final long shot as Bal à Versailles rides off into the sunset captivating all it has touched with its smoky fingers of desire and fire.

Bal à Versailles is a projection bomb. Once you have it on there is no going back. You commit to this one all the way or not at all. The silage is like incense burners pumping purple heaven full blast on Cleopatra’s barge. It lasts for days without the need for “retakes”. It is animalic, dirty, sexy and just a wonder of a scent that has me in its spell as surely as Elizabeth Taylor had Richard Burton just where she wanted him all those years ago in Rome, right in the palm of her hand.

FIVE GOLD STARS *****

A Very Important Perfume ~ SILVER SHADOW DAVIDOFF

When ever I hear the two words Silver and Shadow put together I remember that wonderful Rolls Royce in the opening of “The VIPs”. Paul and Francis Andros are riding in the back of a Rolls from where their private helicopter has just touched down on the Heathrow tarmac. It is but a short trip from the helicopter to the sleek and modern main terminal but even this transit is done in high style. The beautiful and slightly hung over Francis is planning to fly off to Bermuda with international slightly shopworn over the hill playboy Marc Champselle leaving Billionaire tycoon husband Paul Andros in the lurch. In the back of the Silver Shadow Paul Andros unaware that his wife is leaving him gives her a parting Bulgari bracelet; it is a trifling little platinum and sapphire nothing bauble really.

Later in the film as he takes his leave of her he whispers:

“I hope the rubies were a success?”

“Rubies?” she says in the most innocent yet biting way. Confronted yet again with the fact that he is too high-powered to have bothered to pick out his parting present for her himself.  Somehow it all seems incredibly extravagant, luxe and as if it might have really happened in the real life of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Silver Shadow by Davidoff is just as extravagant, luxe and rich as anything you might see in that film. Let’s just say it is a bit of a Rolls Royce in a bottle at a Chevy price.   It is resplendent in its Orientals, sturdy in its wood accords and beauteous in its presentation.

The flacon is pure top of the line elegance. It is architectural with a rather deco feel and look to it.  The substantial cap that clicks like it was sterling is really impressive. The juice within this ravishing bottle is nearly perfect. The bitter orange it what hits you first in the opening but fades almost instantaneously into the cedar and coriander. This lasts maybe a good ten minutes before the heart of the elixir is released. Oriental splendors abound in the heady yet never cloying display of patchouli, saffron and clove. This is what makes it smell so incredibly expensive. The dry down is equally elegant and refined in the notes of Oakmoss, benzoin, cinnamon and an affluent amber that holds and holds.  It has a stunning projection and lasts a substantial 6 hours.  It is so incredibly warm and comforting like a snug den in a gentleman’s club or the cozy formal comfort of the back seat of a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.

FIVE PLATIUM AND RUBY…I MEAN SAPPHIRE STARS *****

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