By Roger Wolmuth
October 05, 1987 12:00 PM

It’s more than an accessory, more than a handbag, more than a new dress. It’s even more than…well, I shouldn’t say jewelry. That would work against me.

Elizabeth Taylor, describing her new perfume

She was late, of course. Forty-five minutes late, to be picky about it, but then, who was counting? Hardly anyone at Robinson’s in Beverly Hills, where Liz Taylor, 55, had come to hawk Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion, her new line of sprays, powders and pricey ($165 an ounce) perfume. “The traffic was awful,” said Liz, who arrived wearing amethysts and diamonds to greet her long-suffering fans. “I mean, I got caught in the worst traffic jam.”

Small wonder, since Liz’s appearance had attracted 2,000 fans to this, the first stop on her nine-city, 30-day promotion tour. To publicize Liz’s shift from showbiz to eatvbiz, Parfums International Inc. had budgeted a $10 million launch campaign featuring the actress in her first-ever product endorsement. Though Liz has long spurned offers to advertise cars, furs, lingerie (including the caftans she wore in weightier days), she finally decided to test the toilette waters, where fellow celeb perfume pushers Linda Evans, Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren have already made a splash.

And so there she was, mingling with the masses at Robinson’s and taking questions from the audience. “How do you like being in the business world?” queried one patron. “Well, I don’t know yet,” admitted Liz, smiling. “I think I’ll enjoy it once the checks start coming in.” Taylor has said she will receive a substantial percentage of Passion’s profits.

“Where on my body should I put your perfume?” asked another.

“Every place that you feel is important to smell…nice,” cooed Liz. And so it went.

Four days later the show went on again, this time at Macy’s in Manhattan. “What’s going on, a free Grateful Dead concert?” asked one bewildered youth, caught in the crush of would-be Passion buyers and matronly “Lizalikes” dressed in Taylor-esque gowns. For those in the crowd of 5,000 willing to ante up $200, there were specially packaged bottles of Passion and an invitation to tea with La Liz herself. For Taylor, there were trumpets to herald her arrival (“I never go anywhere without trumpets”) and a mere eight minutes in public view from a second-floor balcony. Next stop: Filene’s in Boston, where shoppers once again peppered the star with questions.

“I see by my supermarket counter that you are marrying Malcolm Forbes,” began one Beantown local, referring to the 68-year-old publisher who has been Liz’s playmate for the past few months. “Your supermarket counter? What a strange place to get married,” answered Liz. Gushed another shopper: “I know it sounds foolish, but I had the adolescent pleasure of throwing myself onto your limousine in 1964.” “That’s a pleasure? It sounds extremely painful to me,” noted Liz.

She may feel the same way about her roaming aroma tour. When it comes to buying and selling, after all, Liz knows a good deal more about the former. “When she was en route upstairs for the private teas, she saw the Liz Claiborne department and went shopping,” says a Filene’s employee. “Here we had 7,000 people waiting to get their hands on her, and she slips away from the security guards to shop. By the time she was done, she had two huge boxes of things. We gave it all to her as a gift.”