Oscar Winning Perfumes

By Sarah Ingram February 23, 2013 07:24 PM
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Oscar Winning Perfumes

It’s Oscar weekend here in Los Angeles, which means we are all scrambling to see the films we missed, planning our Oscar parties, and figuring out what movies to pick in the office pool. In my neighborhood some streets will be closed Sunday night to accommodate the parties thrown by the studios and Vanity Fair. If you hang out on the right corner you can get a glimpse of the celebrity guests, but that is as close as I’ll come to the red carpet. Like virtually everyone else, I will be watching the stars and their fabulous fashions from my couch.

When the actress nominees and presenters appear on the red carpet, interviewers ask about their dress, their shoes, and of course their jewelry. One thing they never ask about is their perfume. But they probably should, because as I looked at the list of nominees and past winners, I started thinking about celebrities and fragrances. I tend to avoid the typical “celebrity fragrances” that are named for and ostensibly co-created by stars like Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. There are some exceptions—Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Aniston come to mind—but overall most celebrity scents seem fairly generic, with a goal toward mass appeal rather than specialness.

That said, some of the most beautiful and famous fragrances in the world are linked to celebrities thanks to the high profile, glamorous advertising campaigns in which they are featured. The list is long, and includes several Academy Award winners and nominees. So to get ready for Oscar night this year, I thought I would take a tour through the world of famous actresses (plus one actor), and the perfumes they represent.

The two perfume houses that historically have had the most prominent celebrity campaigns are Dior and Chanel. Chanel No. 5 is the most popular perfume in the world, and some of the world’s most famous and beautiful women have served as spokespeople for the fragrance, including Marilyn Monroe, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Tautou, and Nicole Kidman.

Recently Chanel made headlines for its head-turning (some would say head-scratching) campaign with four-time Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt. The campaign debuted to harsh reviews and endless parodies late last year. But while the ads may have been mocked by many, they certainly had people talking about Chanel.

I have never worn Chanel No. 5, but thanks to Brad I took another look. It smells nothing like the old-fashioned floral you would expect from a perfume that has been around since 1921. Instead it is a very powdery, almost sparkly scent, which comes from the aldehydes that are Chanel No. 5’s dominant feature (aldehydes are organic compounds that appear in a number of materials and are frequently used to boost scents). Chanel No. 5 has been described as a perfectly balanced floral, with no single notes dominating. That approach was revolutionary for its time, and Chanel No. 5 was probably the first truly modern fragrance. It comes in several formulations, and aficionados swear there is no substitute for the real perfume, which is quite expensive when you pay full price. But it is widely available, and good prices can be had online.

Chanel’s other celebrity spokesperson is Keira Knightley. Knightley, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “Pride and Prejudice,” is the face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance. Chanel describes the scent as a fresh Oriental, and its inspiration was the modern spirit of the young Coco Chanel. It is a very pretty scent, with none of the heaviness some Orientals have. It has top notes of orange, bergamot and mandarin, and a floral heart of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, mimosa and iris. When I wore my sample I got compliments all day long, so I may have to treat myself to a bottle.

Dior’s celebrities have been most visible on the red carpet this awards season, and Dior has more brand ambassadors who are Academy Award winners and nominees than any other fashion or fragrance brand. Natalie Portman, who won a Best Actress award for the film “Black Swan” in 2011, represents the Miss Dior fragrance line, and Charlize Theron, who took home the Best Actress award in 2004 for playing a serial killer in “Monster,” is the face of J’adore. French actress and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard appears in Dior’s accessory campaigns and was the first to wear Dior’s new designer Raf Simons’ creations on the red carpet. Dior’s newest star is two-time Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who is the odds on favorite to take home this year’s Oscar for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Dior’s celebrity glamour is cleverly depicted in a video for J’adore that features Charlize Theron running into Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe (you can watch it here.) I have tried and like J’adore, which is a bright and elegant floral, but this week I discovered J’adore L’or, a couture version made with more exclusive ingredients. It comes in a gold bottle reminiscent of an award statuette, so I think it is a perfect choice for Oscar weekend.

Natalie Portman is the face of Miss Dior, a new version of Christian Dior’s first perfume, which debuted in 1947, the same year as his first collection. Today’s Miss Dior is a ladylike blend of mandarin, Egyptian Jasmine, and Indonesian patchouli. I think Natalie Portman is the perfect model for the scent, which strikes me as quiet and elegant, versus J’adore, which seems to mirror the high-gloss, blonde glamour of Charlize Theron. The latest Miss Dior ad is somewhat sexier than past outings, and was directed by another Oscar winner, Sofia Coppola, who won the Best Screenplay award for her film “Lost in Translation.”

“Lost in Translation” made its leading lady, Scarlett Johansson, a star. Johansson has never won or been nominated for an Oscar but she is the face of Italian designers Dolce & Gabbanna’s perfume, The One. There are three versions of The One. The original launched in 2006 and is a little fruity for my taste, so I much prefer its “sequel” Rose The One, which is a fresh and pretty floral, perfect for daytime wear. The top notes of pink grapefruit and cassis are a nice counterpoint to the bouquet of Bulgarian rose, peony and lily that are the fragrance’s heart. The newest addition to The One line is Desire, which just debuted in January. The fragrance seems caramelier than the others, and the images in the marketing campaign are more sensual. The packaging is beautiful: a black bottle with gold-colored details, and the fragrance’s name inscribed in gold script written by Stefano Gabbana.

I ended my Oscar explorations at the Lancôme counter. Lancôme has three academy award winners representing their fragrance lines. Kate Winslet, Best Actress winner for “The Reader”, and Penelope Cruz, who took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” both star in campaigns for Lancôme’s Trésor.

Trésor is one of the most popular fragrances in the world, and perfumer Sophia Grojsman (who also created Calvin Klein’s Eternity and several Estée Lauder scents) avoids the sweet, fruitiness that is so popular today. I like the blend of rose, muguet and lilac that the are fragrance’s dominant notes, but I only got one small sample, so want to try again before I think about purchasing. It is widely available in department stores and online, where it can be found for a very good price.

Oscar winner Julia Roberts has been a huge star since she charmed Richard Gere and the rest of the world in “Pretty Woman.” She is on-screen less often than she used to be, but when she is, she is still a movie star. Roberts is the face of Lancome’s newest scent, La Vie Est Belle. The perfume is the creation of three French masters of perfumery: Olivier Polge, Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo. Iris is the key ingredient, and is surrounded by orange blossoms and jasmine, with a powdery, almondy base of tonka bean, praline, patchouli and vanilla. The Lancôme counter at Saks gave me a generous sample, and as with Coco Mademoiselle, I got many compliments when I wore La Vie Est Belle. The bottle is very pretty, and is a based on a classic bottle from the 1940s. Perhaps I will buy La Vie Est Belle on Rodeo Drive and pretend I am shopping for a day with Richard Gere.