The Great Celeb Sniff-Off

updated 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Andy Warhol to the contrary, not everyone can be a celeb. But now, thanks to the miracle of modern marketing concepts, everyone can smell like one. Long for the Passion of Liz Taylor? It's available at your local cosmetics counter, for up to $175 an ounce. Feeling Uninhibited may not cost anything, but buying the 1.7-ounce "special edition" bottle of Cher's personal fragrance could set you back $300. Want to smell like the woman of Herb Alpert's dreams? Just Listen—at $25 for a quarter ounce of his eau de parfum.

Ever since the cost of launching new fragrances wafted upward in the mid-'80s—sending perfume companies scrambling for ways to distinguish and publicize new products—celebrities have been making scents. In droves. Olfactory wanna-bes can choose from the aromatic offerings of Julio Iglesias (Only), Joan Collins (Spectacular) and Debbie Gibson (Electric Youth). Still not tempted? Relax. The essences of Princess Stephanie, tennis star Gabriela Sabatini and boxing's Greatest—eau de Ali?—are reportedly in the test tubes.

To help overwhelmed consumers cope, PEOPLE assembled a panel of experts to conduct our first Celebrity Fragrance Blind Sniff Test. Their qualifications? All of the panelists have noses, and all have used, or know people who have used, perfume. The judges are: comedienne Julie (Earth Girls Are Easy) Brown; The Young and the Restless's Peter (Jack Abbott) Bergman; The Bold and the Beautiful's Teri Ann (Kristen Forrester) Linn; Beverly Hills wine connoisseur Dennis Overstreet; China Beach's Nancy Giles; comic Jerry Seinfeld of NBC's upcoming The Seinfeld Chronicles; and Sgt. Joe Friday, a German shepherd and trained tracker recently retired from the LAPD.

Judges were given unmarked bottles containing celebrity fragrances and asked to rate them on a scale of 1 (phew!) to 10 (heaven scent) and to describe the smell as poetically as possible. Sgt. Friday's reactions were noted by an observer.

And now, the scented envelopes please...

Joan Collins
Spectacular (Eau de Toilette)
Average rating: 6.83 $28.50 for 1.7 oz.

Say what you will about Collins, just don't say she smells bad. Panelists gave Spectacular the overall highest rating—a tie with Herb Alpert. "Classic," said Overstreet. "A graceful mix of floral and sweetbrier and a feminine touch of cinnamon and fragile violet." Linn was reminded of "a romantic tandem bicycle ride through the Napa Valley." Others found something to sneeze at. Bergman sniffed stuffiness; Brown detected "Paris, the ballet, Jacques Cousteau, anything French. It definitely smells like a mime I used to date."

Herb Alpert
Listen (Eau de Parfum)
Rating: 6.83 $25 for¼ oz.

Not since Jimmy Dean began hawking sausage has there been such an unlikely combo of product and entrepreneur, but it works. Linn found a romantic aroma, suggestive of Latin lovers "dancing the tango." Bergman saw visions of "a high-heeled, dangerous woman." Maybe it was Giles, who said she might actually wear Listen. On the other hand, Seinfeld was put in mind of "Liberace's coffin pillow," and Brown imagined Brigitte Nielsen dabbing on a little Listen "after changing a tire or taking a chain saw to her lawn furniture."

Mikhail Baryshnikov
Misha (Eau de Toilette)
Rating: 6.7 $36 for 1.7 oz.

Yes, now women can have Baryshnikov all over. Behind their ears. In their armpits. "Clean, simple and honest," said Bergman, who added that it was the sort of fragrance a gal might wear "while necking." Linn recommends Misha to "overpowering country girls who want to attract a cowboy." Overstreet also noted "plenty of power and muscle—a rustic musk, multidimensional with long-lasting aromas." Hard-to-please Seinfeld was sent daydreaming about the "inside of a model's sneaker."

Jaclyn Smith
California (Eau de Cologne)
Rating: 6.5 $17.50 per oz.

California, like its namesake, elicited a binary response—panelists loved it or hated it. Linn gave the cologne her highest rating: "Affluent, classy...I'll be buying it. It's very pretty." "Scarlett O'Hara," said Overstreet. "Light, floral-scented, bursting with subtleness." Even Brown liked the "clean, crisp" scent, which she pronounced perfect for "any girl who wants to smell like she definitely has respect for her personal hygiene." The eau no's came from Giles, who found California boring, and Bergman, who said it smelled "too much like deodorant."

Julio Iglesias
Only (Eau de Parfum)
Rating: 5.83 $37.50 for 1.7 oz.

Scientists may yet create fusion in ajar, but they'll never get the essence of Julio in a bottle. Still, many panelists admired the attempt. "Musk, truffle and a hint of whiskey," said Overstreet. "A fragrance that would attract Bruce Springsteen." Linn suggests Only to a "teenage baby-sitter when her teenage boyfriend comes over to help baby-sit after the baby has gone to sleep." Bergman was overwhelmed: "It smells like the cosmetics department at Bloomingdale's—too much." Olfactory curmudgeon Seinfeld figures Only was created with one goal in mind: "to revive Gerry Cooney."

Sgt. Joe Friday sniffed, turned 180 degrees, and lay down.

Debbie Gibson
Electric Youth (Cologne)
Rating: 5.5 $11 for .96 oz.

One man's Mede is another man's Persian: Bergman smelled "fresh strawberries"; Seinfeld could think of nothing but "cherry Luden's cough drops." Giles's response suggests that Electric Youth's chemists have pinpointed their market with uncanny accuracy: "It smells like the perfect scent for a sixth grader who likes gum.... It reminds me of candy and acne." Linn was kindest, describing Gibson's cologne as the liquefied essence of a Southern belle with "a big hat, a white chiffon dress and a parasol."

Sgt. Joe Friday yawned.

Catherine Deneuve
Deneuve (Eau de Toilette)
Rating: 5.25 $35 for 1.7 oz.

Together with Misha, Deneuve was Bergman's favorite: "An elegant evening out, the perfect scent for an intelligent type, a woman executive." Overstreet found it nice and naughty: "Certainly a fragrance for a model, or a call girl. It has an innocence, charm and would be most appealing with lacy lingerie." Brown thought Deneuve too mature, "the sort of perfume my grandmother will give me in her will." Giles opened the bottle and sneezed.

Cher
Uninhibited (Eau de Toilette)
Rating: 4.83 $30 for 1.5 oz.

"Too subtle." Cher? That's what Giles said. Overstreet thought Uninhibited—which finished in a ratings tie with Taylor's Passion—"mineral-like, with a finely delineated citrus-like quality. What Meryl Streep would have worn in Out of Africa." Linn envisioned the perfect Uninhibited candidate as a "yuppie college student trying to romance a BMW salesman for a better deal."

Sgt. Joe Friday licked his lips.

Elizabeth Taylor
Passion (Eau de Toilette)
Rating: 4.83 $27 for 1.5 oz.

Even though they sniffed from nondescript, unlabeled bottles, two panelists detected a scent that seemed tailor-made for Liz. "Violets," said Overstreet, who thought the fragrance "outstanding for a juvenile." (Maybe it should be renamed National Violet?) Linn called Passion just the ticket for a woman planning "a get-together with her ex-husband or ex-boyfriend"—also, perhaps not coincidentally, a perfect solution for Taylor. Never-satisfied Seinfeld thought he was "taking an elevator ride with Ivana Trump"; Sgt. Friday, in a burst of enthusiasm, licked the hand that sprayed him.

Paloma Picasso
Paloma Picasso (Eau de Toilette)
Rating: 3.5 $35 for 1.3 oz.

Alas, Paloma Picasso might have fared better were it marketed to men. "Too butch," said Bergman. "I don't know what woman would wear this well." Full of "rascally charm and brashness, and noble like the aroma of licorice," ventured Overstreet. "It's masculine and Brut-like." Linn thought she detected an after-shave effect that could be put to good use: A woman "could wear this on a date with a doctor because he could relate to the hospital smell." Sgt. Joe Friday, ret., just stared.

—Craig Tomashoff in Los Angeles

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