With everything that Donald Trump and Co. have been accused of, from shady business dealings to colluding with Russia, it feels satisfyingly fitting that a porn star has managed to deliver the first strike.
“How ya like me now?!” tweeted Stormy Daniels after Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty in mid-August to paying Daniels $130,000-at Trump’s direction-to keep her quiet about her alleged sexual relationship with the then presidential candidate. Daniels has since been called both a feminist icon and an opportunist. Frankly, a case can be made for both. She’s remained steadfast in standing up for her legal rights amid a storm of national criticism, and at the same time, she’s monetized her newfound fame with “Make America Horny Again” strip-club appearances and-her latest venture-a signature scent called Truth, which was selling for $65 a bottle at its launch. As a former beauty editor and current political news junkie, I feel my Spidey senses tingle: I must speak to Daniels about her fragrance! I DM her on Instagram. I tweet at her. I even invite her to join my network on LinkedIn (yes, she’s there, along with four others of the same name). Crickets.
Finally, I connect with Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, through a friend. Ten minutes later, the most famous lawyer in America has responded: Though Daniels would love to chat about her new perfume, she can’t due to pending litigation with the president of the United States.
Given the name, one could hypothesize that it’s an eau de middle finger to the man sitting in the Oval Office-after all, he denied her story of the affair, crying “Fake news.”
Perfume and pending litigation go together like peanut butter and ketchup. But nothing is as it should be these days. Indeed, the buzziest new scent, Truth, isn’t from Estée Lauder or Giorgio Armani but from It’s The Bomb, a company better known for its waterproof vibrators and “deep throat spray.” While it will surely be seen by many as a novelty gift, Truth may, in fact, make beauty history, much in the same way the woman behind it has done for politics.
Given the name, one could hypothesize that it’s an eau de middle finger to the man sitting in the Oval Office-after all, he denied her story of the affair, crying “Fake news.” I explain my theory to It’s The Bomb’s former chief operating officer, Michael Ninn, who served as designer for Truth. The scent’s tagline-“Embrace your truth”-was Daniels’s idea, he says, and symbolizes “self-empowerment and self-realization and self-awareness.” Even though one of the early names tossed around was “Hush,” and an ad for the fragrance shows Daniels holding a finger to her lips as if to say “Shhh,” Ninn insists that the fragrance is not about calling out the president’s lies. “It’s about embracing who you are, no matter what battle you’re going through,” he says.
Rachel Herz, a psychologist and the author of The Scent of Desire, sees it differently. “There is no other fragrance down party lines in this way,” Herz says. “It is so overtly, directly political, in clear opposition to Trump.” In the not-too-distant past, celeb fragrances traded in aspiration. A spritz, the sell went, could impart a bit of J.Lo’s Glow, Beyoncé’s Heat, or Lady Gaga’s Fame (real fragrances, all). But the tornado around Stormy’s scent “isn’t so much about people who want to be like Stormy,” Herz says. “It’s more about supporting her fight against Trump.”
While on the phone with Ann Gottlieb, the legendary perfumer behind CK One and Marc Jacobs Daisy, I theorize that Democrats might buy a bottle of Truth, similar to the way pro-choice advocates donated to Planned Parenthood in Vice President Mike Pence’s name. It’s not exactly apples to apples, but Gottlieb gets where I’m going. “It could be viewed that any purchase for Stormy is an anti-Trump dollar,” she says. Herz suggests a different analogy: Buying Truth is like slapping a “Resist” bumper sticker on your car.
Except that scent can’t be seen. Even when inhaled up close, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to detect a particular brand. “That’s what’s so subversive and cool about it,” says David Seth Moltz, co-owner and perfumer for D.S. & Durga. “I think perfume has the ability, like any art form, to make social commentary.” In 2016, when Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” the fragrance brand posted an image to Instagram of a perfume bottle labeled “Nasty Woman.” “We’ve never gotten more likes on a perfume post,” Moltz says.
The image’s popularity is also real-world proof of a study Herz coauthored, published in the journal Perception in 2001, about the power of language on scent. In the study, subjects reviewed an aroma called “Parmesan cheese” far more favorably than when the same scent was labeled “Vomit.” Ditto for one called “Christmas tree” that was later relabeled “Spray disinfectant.”
“The words we use to describe fragrance have a strong influence on our perception of them,” Herz says. Which means it almost doesn’t matter what Truth smells like. People will buy it for what they think it represents. Still, you must be wondering: What does it smell like? Well, it’s soft, warm, and a little powdery, as if it wafted to your wrist from a sun-filled beach hut. It’s more comforting than come-hither. And that was a conscious choice, Ninn says, pointing out, “It’s not sexual, it’s sensual.”
Also intriguing is the scent’s gender neutrality. Promotional copy calls it a perfume/cologne. “That’s part of a wider development-the conversation of sex and gender,” says Kathy Peiss, a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. Daniels has shared with Ninn that she felt moved by the story of a gay man who ordered Truth for his lover, who was in the process of coming out to his family and coworkers.
Truth contains male and female pheromone oils, amber, woods, water peony, tuberose, and “a nautical base that gives it a summer ocean [vibe],” Ninn says. His hope was to make it smell “clean, like laundry and ocean air. It’s earthy. There’s a powdery top note from lotus and rose water that’s almost like a baby powder after scent. Like a rebirth. That’s what this is about-standing up for who you are, rebirthing your own message.” (Lest we forget Daniels’s day job, Moltz tells me that aquatic notes also smell a bit like the main chemical in semen. “Ozone materials have a connection to bodily secretions,” he says. “Someone who comes in from the hot sun is sweaty.”)
There’s a difference between fantasy and outright lying to people, and lying is not something I ever have or will do.
Gottlieb finds Truth reminiscent of Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, a flattering comparison, as this OG of marine scents has been on countless “best of ” lists and was inducted into the Fragrance Hall of Fame in 2011. “The top [of Truth]-assertive and decidedly feminine-is very different from the dry-down,” she says. “This could be a story about Stormy’s volumptuous appearance, which may well belie the person underneath.”
Judged by the juice alone, Truth could, ironically, enchant Trumpsters. Scentbird, a subscription service for designer fragrances, parsed data on the favorite fragrance notes of 250,000 of its subscribers to determine scent preferences in left- and right-leaning areas. “For Republican states, we see an overall theme of traditionally strong florals or musky scents. As for Democratic states, we see a preference for lighter, cleaner notes, like aquatics and citruses,” says Rachel ten Brink, the service’s co- founder and chief marketing officer. While she ac- knowledges the prominent aquatic aroma in Truth, “the dry-down notes are quite musky-almost powdery, not too modern,” she says. “Since the fragrance notes are more traditional, Truth’s scent profile will appeal more to Republicans [based on our data].”
A question remains: Will Daniels’s fragrance sell more than Trump’s? For the uninitiated, the president has three colognes to his name. Surely he’ll soon be comparing his and hers, perhaps even tweeting about the “failing Truth scent.” But that would be false. In fact, Truth is the fastest-moving product It’s The Bomb has ever produced, though at press time, the perfume was no longer available for purchase at ItsTheBomb.com, and no one-not representatives from the company nor Daniels’s press team-could confirm when or where it might be sold in the future. While the truth about Truth might be fuzzy, I hope it marks the beginning of a successful empire. I want Daniels to do well. I’m proud of her. As a woman. As a human. As she explained in a statement tied to the fragrance, “My fans know that while I may have created a fantasy for them to enjoy, I was always real. There’s a difference between fantasy and outright lying to people, and lying is not something I ever have or will do.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of ELLE.