The Smelling of a President

“Dipset and Iceman 2016!”

Once, during an election for mayor of Newark, a little girl made an astute correlation between political power and the electorate’s nose.

At the start of the 2005 documentary Street Fight, an uncompromising look at New Jersey politics, a young girl meets the dynamic mayor-to-be Cory Booker with tremors often reserved for teen idols. When pressed for comment by the documentarians, she states dreamily: “He smells like the future.”

Hope. Fortitude. A nice bouquet.

The presidency is the most powerful position in the free world, but the man who holds it is still a man. So far, at least. And men stink like sweaty cheddar lathered with a peeled onion.

George Washington was elected at a time when routine bathing was thought a source of ill health, which explains his reliance on Caswell-Massey No. 6 (crafted from orange blossom, bergamot, rosemary and “28 aromatics”), the historically clean scent also preferred by John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln (in soap form).

John F. Kennedy’s cologne choice proved as quixotic and varied as the vaginas he frequented. Again Caswell-Massey can lay claim to presidential preference with his reported choice of Jockey Club, a lively citrus scent that flies in the face of what I know about the smell of barns. Evidence also connects JFK to the use of Creed’s Original Vetiver, that conservative but fruity mix of  cedarwood, ambergris and Chrysopogon zizanioides, though that may have been as a pre-amphetamine popping senator; perfumed rumors of a more salacious sort suggests the 35th President favoured Mäurer & Wirtz’s 4711, and with its persuasive topnotes of petitgrain and neroli. No wonder his alleged teenaged mistress Mimi Alford says she allowed him to deflower her in the White House.

The scent chosen by the Commander-in-Chief not only signals confidence to the voters but to opponents in the high-pressure, perspiration inducing cockerel waltz that is foreign policy. Imagine how many more Soviet Socialist Republics Stalin would have pushed into UN membership at the Yalta Conference of 1945 if Roosevelt preferred Hai Karate. Or how profoundly Khrushchev would have triumphed at the Kitchen Debate of 1959 if Nixon cheaped out and used a dab of rosewater to conceal the odour of his flop sweat:

(Both men enter the Kitchen Exhibit at the American National Exhibition.)

Nixon: I want to show you this kitchen. It is like kitchens all across America. Housewives can take advantage of technology with this dishwasher—

Khrushchev: The Communist system makes no distinction between men and women.

Nixon: Well, I think it is a significant improvement on the lives of those brave women who stay at home, cook dinner, and want to get their dishes spotless.

Khrushchev: You seem very interested in how well the dishwasher works.

Nixon: Well, it’s a marvel of American ingenuity—

(Khrushchev leans in for a sniff)

Khrushchev: Can all Americans afford that flowery kind of perfume?

Nixon: Do you like it—wait, perfume? It’s not “perfume” exactly…

Khrushchev: Very pretty. Like your fancy dishwasher.

Nixon: It really is tough on grime and leaves my stemware spotless.

Khrushchev: Maybe you’d like me to show your shoe closet, Mary?

Nixon: We do have a motorized system that separates pumps from flats—wait, Mary?

Imagine a world where Nixon couldn’t use this press stunt to bolster his image and help secure the Republican nomination for president the following year. Terrifying, right?

Just as important is to consider what we, in lieu of an official record, must imagine what kind of cologne a President might have worn. It may unearth feelings of that leader’s legacy but more likely (sorry poly-sci majors) it reflects our thoughts on the man himself.

Lyndon Johnson: Mesquite Sauce

Richard Nixon: Aqua Velva

Gerald Ford: Leftover Aqua Velva

Jimmy Carter: Stetson

Ronald Reagan: Old Spice

George H.W. Bush: Vicks Vaporub

Bill Clinton: Drakkar Noir

George W. Bush: Lucky Tiger Bay Rum (a commemorative “Clear Skies” scent crafted exclusively for the 43rd President, likely redolent of banana peels and whiskey left to ferment in Geronimo’s skull)

Barack Obama: Envy by Gucci: carnal but fusty, like the binding of a Lady Chatterly’s Lover first edition

The delicate balance of the presidential race may rest on an olfactory dilemma—do you stick with the comfortable musk of the leader you know or chance an unknown scent? Nose pundits across the country have not yet determined Mitt Romney’s choice of fragrance: is it Bond No 9. Wall Street (with its zesty notes of citrus and commerce) or Stetson All American Cologne (a stripped-down, small-government kind of aroma)? When Romney was still a lowly presumptive nominee, odds-makers at The Heritage Foundation focused on his choice of pomade as vital to his electability but I think we can all agree that sort of sophistry, like phrenology or public opinion polls, has no place in a serious political conversation.

Unfortunately for Mitt, “Polo Future Reserve” by Ralph Lauren isn’t set to hit the shelves until next year. With basenotes of tonka beans and topnotes of a little girl’s adulation, this looks like the cologne to beat in 2016. Who knows—it may not even need a candidate.

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