Smells Like Stephen Colbert – by Nava

I discovered Stephen Colbert in a somewhat unlikely manner: it was in a required graduate class, “Critical Theory”, during which my professor invoked Colbert´s signature word, “Truthiness”. Mind you, this was in the middle of countless invocations of Freud, Nietzsche, Kant, Foucault, and Derrida; enough philosophical jargon to simultaneously curl your hair and short-circuit your brain. Being the “mature” student and feeling the need to set an example for my younger classmates, in addition to being a shameless academic butt-kisser, I watched my first episode of “The Colbert Report” that night, and have been glued to it and “The Daily Show” ever since. Both have been a balm to my tortured American soul, especially now when they poke fun at that country north of the 49th parallel – you remember; the one where I am persona non grata.

About two weeks ago, Colbert´s “WORD” was “The Sweet Smell of Success”. Apparently, there was a study done at the University of Liverpool involving men who did not shower for two days, and men who were wearing Axe body spray (known as Lynx in the UK). Women were asked their opinions of these men, not from having smelled them in person, but by viewing them on video tape. The results of the study showed that the women picked – just from viewing, not from smelling – the men wearing Axe body spray. The conclusion was that the Axe men projected more confidence. In typical “Stephen Colbert” fashion, Stephen Colbert found a few interesting things to relate to this study. He pretended to huff some Axe out of a brown paper bag claiming that it was “just like huffing money”, proceeded to spray it on a U.S. Treasury bill, and claimed that Axe could be used to deodorize bad debt to make it more attractive to fund managers. Lastly, he sprayed a healthy blast of Axe in the direction of his audience, saying that it would give the American people, and our downtrodden economy, a much-needed boost of confidence. The irony of the whole bit is that Axe stinks to high heaven, and all it really does is deodorize crap, preventing us from sniffing out what´s really going on.

Seeing this segment got me thinking about what all this really means. I went in search of the study and ferreted out the details on the website Here are some of the findings:

  • The research suggests that the effect may not rely on the sense of smell of those around the individual. Rather, the secret seems to lie in the increased confidence that the product gives to the wearer, who will then appear more attractive to others.
  • The study involved 35 heterosexual male volunteers, half of whom were assigned a commercially available deodorant product. The other half of the study group were assigned the same product but without the active fragrance and deodorant ingredients.
  • Questionnaires were used to estimate the men´s self confidence and self-perceived attractiveness before any product had been applied, 15 minutes after the first product application and then after 48 hours of use during which the volunteers substituted the test deodorant for their normal and did not wash.
  • After two days the volunteers recorded a short video introduction which was then rated for attractiveness and confidence by a panel of female participants. In this way the panelists never smell the volunteers and attractiveness is judged solely on appearance.

Coincidentally, I was reading the latest novel by author Siri Hustvedt, “The Sorrows of an American”, when this episode of “The Colbert Report” aired. In it, the main character, Erik Davidsen, a psychoanalyst, judges several secondary female characters by their individual scents. Although Erik Davidsen is a fictional character and the people who took part in the Axe/Lynx experiment are real people in the real world, it is still a conundrum worth grappling with: is it fair to judge others only by appearance or only by their scent? Am I guilty of this? Are you guilty of this? In the words of a public figure whose meteoric rise and swift decline some of us watched with clenched teeth and fists, “You betcha!”

Personally, I feel that certain scents can be capable of covering up dirty little secrets. Blasting the Axe or applying half a stick of deodorant in an attempt to cover up our unwashed muskiness is pretty lame, but necessary on occasion. To do it regularly is just plain wrong, especially if one has to interact with others. But, who among us has worn a scent in the hope that it will project a different side of us, someone we are not entirely comfortable being, and ultimately, to instill confidence? I´ve done it, you´ve done it, and I´m sure Caribou Barbie has done it. I hear she´s partial to coyote musk and moose dung, er, chili.

There is a segment of my scent collection that is quite capable of masking a multitude of neuroses. I have numerous decants and several bottles that don´t see the light of day very often, but there have been specific occasions when their presence is appropriate if not absolutely necessary. I find I gravitate towards big, bold florals when I attend weddings. I wore Frederic Malle´s Carnal Flower and Donna Karan Gold eau de parfum to the last two weddings I went to. If men are in suits and women dug the good jewelry out of the sock drawer and are carrying purses the size of postage stamps, I feel the need to conform; even if I´d rather be home sporting sweats, curled up in my favorite chair with a book and a mug of tea. Then there was my failed Mitsouko attempt at Bergdorf Goodman last spring. It wasn´t going to work no matter what the outfit or setting. And I am totally fine with that. Maybe we don´t identify with every scent we wear, but we do owe it to ourselves to be honest about what we love, and what we are willing to put up with. But, how much do we really care about what others think? I´ve never worn fragrance to a job interview or to classes during my later-in-life tenure as a student. I just felt it was inappropriate. However, I do wear fragrance around those members of my family and friends who know how much I love it. My best friend refers to me as the “Stinkwater Queen” regardless of what I wear, and her husband has made several less than diplomatic remarks over the years about my choice of scent. I don´t care.

When it comes to masking the stench of what´s wrong, either with ourselves, or what collectively ails us, we eventually need to come clean. Axe, Lynx or any other eau will always wear off, leaving us right back at square one. We need to get past the “Truthiness” in order to uncover the truth. And that´s the WORD…

UPDATE FROM MARCH: okay, maybe it’s my sinuses aggravating me, or the phase of the moon, or the sound of the dog barking endlessly across the street, but I’m pulling the plug on this post.  Full disclosure: I had to reread this post three times to see what people were upset about, which I guess says something about my own sensitivities, or lack thereof.  At any rate, I am, for the first time ever, turning off comments, and I have asked our bloggers to leave out any further references to politics, because I really, really hate moderating comments.  Sorry for the dustup.

  • Joy Rothke says:

    Dude, what is up with the Palin slams?

    As long as she keeps putting herself in the public eye and blaming everyone but herself for her failures, she’s fair game.

    After all, she’s not the “center of the universe.”**==

    • Vasily says:

      She may be fair game, but you need to ask yourself why you folks on the left keep obsessing over her (and over getting revenge on the Bush administration). I’m a conservative, and I don’t spend my days and nights obsessing over Obama’s victory and “getting back” at him. In fact, like most moderate conservatives I know, I’m willing to give him a chance and see if he lives up to his promise to bring all of us together. If folks want to get in shots at Palin, Bush, Cheney etc. do it at Daily Koz or – but keep it out of this blog. I’m sick and tired of seeing cheap shots on blogs that should have nothing to do with politics.

  • Erika says:

    Fragrance has this duplicitous ability to be warpaint and seductress: when I feel the need to become Boudica I arm myself with scent 😉 Husband says that when he smells Coco he knows it’s time to run for the hills…

  • Natalie says:

    Hmm, isn’t this sort of a glass-half-full-or-half-empty conundrum? Are we wearing perfume to boost our confidence, or to cover up our lack of confidence? And are those two things really any different? I don’t have the answer, but I can say that my f-you scent of choice is Bandit, while my current confidence booster is L’Air du Desert Marocain (I was worried about buying a full bottle, but slathering myself in it is really helping me get through a very, very rocky patch at the moment).

    Also, it’s really great to have you back; I’m thoroughly enjoying your cerebral approach to perfume. Canada’s loss is definitely our gain!

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Natalie. Sounds like you feel about L’Air the way I do about DK Chaos. Whatever gets you through, my dear. 😡

  • Nava says:

    Good for you! If hot rose sex at a funeral isn’t an affirmation of life, then I don’t know what is. :d

  • Disteza says:

    It looks like I’m the only one so far who doesn’t read anything else into my perfume? Perfume for me is all about what I’m feeling at the moment; other people can go pound sand. I’m the one who wore El Attarine layered with Rose de Nuit to a funeral, after all. Had nothing to do with the occasion or image, just wanted to see what would happen if I mixed the two (and it smelled like hot rose sex, according to my husband). I’m willing to believe that I have more interest in placating my own aesthetic desires than I do impressing other folks.

  • aelily says:

    I agree completely with both of Bryan’s points and with March’s comment about “presentation.” I don’t really accessorize; I am a creature of habit and typically wear the same jewelry/shoes/bag, day in and day out.

    I do however, chose a different perfume everyday.
    I have certain scents that only come out on important work days, to help boost my confidence (I lovingly refer to them as my “big girl scents” ie Jicky, Mitsuko, Madame X, Fifi… some day I will have to analyze the notes in all of them and see if there is a common theme). I have some scents that are comfy and homey and make me feel safe when the BIG BAD WORLD comes knocking. And I have some that make me feel sexy as all hell.
    And I revel in the fact that no one I meet that day will be wearing super exclusive import from London. (yes, I’m talking about you Le Labo Poivre 23!)

    • Nava says:


      Please see my comments in Shelley’s post above – I goofed up my responses. :”>

      There is definitely a connection between the scents you mentioned that is worth some analysis. Enjoy that Le Labo Poivre 23. I can’t wait to smell it. 🙂

  • Sweet Sue says:

    I thought we came here to get away from politics and celebrate a shared love of perfume.
    Can the negative comments about other women.

  • Shelley says:

    Am always pondering this question…though, my angle tends to be what do I want to augment/project, and not really what am I trying to hide.

    Though there are times when I might be playing with character, so it is not technically hiding, but is playing with truth…as March observed, there is a big question in What is Truth, and I choose not to tackle that today. (I’m spending a whole year exploring that with my philosophy classes, so I use a lot of my mind twisting energy there… (:| ;;)

    That said, one of the angles here is the issue of to whom you are presenting: others, or yourself. When I choose a scent, frequently part of the equation is how (I imagine) others will perceive it…’tis many layered, the development of meaning. (oooh, fragrance nuanced… :-b is so :-j )

    Today, I’m wearing Fem du Bois, because I both love it, and like what I think it projects in terms of complicated feminine…I can embrace Friday and trusted ones while keeping at arms length anybody/thing I feel the need to…

    • Nava says:

      Another creature of habit here, too. Same goes for fragrance. It’s rare that I wear the same one on consecutive days.

      Great choice and description of Feminite de Bois. It’s one of my favorites as well. And all this talk of Le Labo Poivre 23 has got me lemming it in a huge way!

    • Nava says:


      I meant what I said about Fem. du Bois. And definitely save the mind twisting for your classes. Good luck!

  • Liesl says:

    Dude, what is up with the Palin slams?
    During my late teens and early twenties, I owned lots of different perfume, but different kinds and for some different reasons than I do now.  I absolutely was trying to project an image.  My choices were so across the board that, looking back, I can say that I was first attempting to present an air of sophistication amidst the Love Spell and Calgon-scented gals around me, and second, that I had no idea who I was.  Life was tumultuous.  I frequently wore a perfume I hated because I thought it projected an idea of calm tranquility (Jacques Fath Yin.  Ewww.)  At 22, I decided to do some major overhauling and make some positive changes.  All that perfume got thrown out, along with a lot of other garbage.  I didn’t wear any for a couple years, until I was presented with a bottle from the man I would eventually marry.  My collection is steadily growing again, but for different reasons; I only own fragrances that either I or my husband love.  I’ve grown up, life is more fun than it’s ever been, and approaching 30, I have a much better handle on myself.  The funny thing is, one of my very favorite perfumes is one that I wore back in those chaotic times.  I finally bought myself another bottle a month or so ago. So what does that mean? Maybe this idea about myself that I’m trying to express is an accurate one.  Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Or maybe I just really like the way the stuff smells.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

    • Nava says:


      It has also been my experience that my taste in scents has changed as I’ve gotten older. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes long for the scents of my youth; when I go back and smell some of them they don’t affect me as they did when I first wore them. You have a great attitude which will serve you well when making choices – in fragrance and in life. 🙂

    • Vasily says:

      I don’t get the Palin slams, either. Hey, all you on the left, I’ve got news for you: you won the election. For better or worse, the world has Obama and Biden piloting and copiloting this plane called the USA. Give the Palin/Bush/Cheney/whoever hatred a rest, will you?? Jeez.

  • Kelly says:

    I prefer my perfume without unnecessary political mockery, thanks.

  • Louise says:

    I spend my days among about 1000 young men (high schoolers), half whom wear Axe or Axe flankers.

    It’s often unclear to me whether I prefer the Axe, or scent the boys are covering…usually sweat, but often a mix of various body smells and smokable drugs 8-|. I am not sure about the confidence angle-they all act cocky, and I know better :d/

    I do wear perfume for confidence…often Mitsy (I’m with March on that), but sometimes a “lady” perfume-BdI works well for me for parent meetings. Today is a comfort day-and wearing a gourmand/smoke number (Autumn Fire) by Neil Morris…feeling mellow :d

    Happy Weekend, all!

    • Nava says:

      My hat is off to you, Louise. 1000 high school-age males is quite the hormonal cauldron. You need all the confidence you can get!

      Have a great weekend.

    • March says:

      The stench of a thousand teenage boys… 8-x

      Feet. You forgot their feet. What is the deal with their feet?

      • louise says:

        I try hard not to localize odors :-&

      • Vasily says:

        I dunno, but a friend with two teenaged boys has said that when they take off their shoes, his eyes water. :-&

        • March says:

          When Diva’s teenaged boy friends are over here, I can often tell when I walk IN THE FRONT DOOR that they are visiting, because their shoes are in the hallway (we take ours off.) Although they’re making me reconsider that policy. 😉 OTOH … her boyfriend, the same age, I have zero idea what his hygiene routine is, but he doesn’t reek. And my feet are stinkier than my husband’s. TMI?

  • March says:

    I wear my fragrance as a disguise, a costume or a shield as often as I wear it as a smell. Power = vintage Femme. Confidence = Mitsouko. Sexy cupcake = Organza Indecence. I bet I use fragrance as a part of my “presentation” as often as, if not more than, the rest of my outfit — the shoes or bag that sends a message, the tee shirt that says I’m whimsical, the hair cut that says I care about my appearance, the red lips.

    But then we could go off on a whole ‘nother convo about truthiness and What Is Truth, and instead I have to get this spreadsheet done. 🙂

    • March says:

      PS LOVED Colbert last night, when he talked about Yo Yo Ma actually being president, and the swearing-in kerfuffle.

      • Musette says:

        Am I the only person (other than his wife) who thinks Yo-Yo Ma is just TOO HOT??? Soooo swoony, plying the living daylights out of that cello. Always have ^:)^ him and I always think of him in Guerlain Vetiver or JCE’s Poivre Samarcande. My scent choices for men are just lame in their predictability.

        I use scent to try to set the stage for what I want to happen. If I am going for Empress Musette, then it’s Mitsouko (and her ilk) all the way. Femme works for me in the reverse of how it works for you, March. I wear it when I want to feel cuddly, like a down comforter. My others, as I’ve posted many times, depend upon whether I need to force somebody into smoochiness or slay them with a flaming sword. If I’m wearing Jicky or Bal, you’d better not be in my way!8-x

        erin, I’ll confess right alongside you – there are days when nothing will do but that I spritz on Lemon Sugar. I usually don’t get that Pledge smell (when I do, it’s ‘to the showers!’ for me) and it’s a light, charming scent. My friends do tend to look at me funny when I do wear it, though.


        Such a pleasure to hear your voice. Glad to have you back!

        xoxo >-)

        • Nava says:

          Thank you Musette, it’s good to be back. 🙂

          I adore plain ol’ Fresh Sugar. I could huff that out of a brown paper bag anytime! :d

        • Shelley says:

          Yo, Yo Yo rocks. Loved that whole quartet…gotta give a big shout out to Anthony McGill, the clarinet player, who studied at the very same music school where you’ve heard my orchestra play!

        • Louise says:

          Yo-yo plucks my strings, for sure 😮

          • Nava says:

            Here, here! I’d like to volunteer for bow rosining duty.;)

            By the way, was that not a beautiful piece of music?

          • March says:

            It was, and I read some idiot piece of criticism yesterday that it was too derivative.

          • Musette says:

            Uh….NPR just divulged that they did the instrument equivalent of lip-synching. Apparently cellos and violins, etc, are not meant to play outdoors in freezing temps. Ya think?:-?

            Well, I don’t care if they synched it or not (neither does NPR, fwiw), it was a gorgeous piece. Just gorgeous!


          • Shelley says:

            Who knew? Wood contracts in the cold…
            …makes for bad tuning.

        • March says:

          Yeah, but you’re wearing NEW Femme as the cuddly one, right? It is warm cuminy goodness. Vintage Femme (at least my vintage Femme) has her killa heels on.

          • Musette says:

            Yes. You know I am still trying to reach detente with vintage Femme, though between you and Shelley and I am fast approaching the borders of Love (talk about mixing a few metaphors there…./:) I was going to wear the new Femme today but realized I had to snap the bra straps of a couple of accounts payable gals….can’t do that wearing Femme. Tried Apres l’Ondee…nope. Mits was just too cranky to even take out of the box today! Settled on Verte Violette. Some sharp green edges keep that violet in focus but it’s soft enough that it doesn’t stray into Shrikeland.

            That quartet was lovely and the clarinetist was awesome. They were ALL awesome….it’s just that Yo-Yo….well, there’s this incredibly sexy combination of awesome talent, incredible focus and laser-intelligence (one assumes)….coupled with a nicely grounded approach to life…….

            ….betcha his wife, though, just wants him to pick up his socks!;);))


    • Nava says:

      I must admit, I never thought of Organza Indecence as “sexy cupcake.” Glorious chemistry…:)

      I’m not up for a truth debate, either. My brain is taxed enough these days. :d

  • erin says:

    What a wicked smart, interesting post. Very thought-provoking.

    I have to admit in the last few years I had become addicted to scents that have a strong grapefruit note, as various studies have discovered that the smell of grapefruit makes men perceive women as significantly younger than their actual age. This obsession just happened to coincide with my freak out over my 39th birthday. Go figure. But in the two years since I’ve realized that *I* don’t actually like them. So I’ve stopped showering myself with twee fruity florals in the hope of fooling time and gotten back to wearing those fragrances I love. Maybe some small self-awareness is the great gift of maturity?

    My other confession is that I love the smell of Pink Sugar. Deeply unsophisticated, way too young for me, but I always feel like Templeton the rat from Charlotte’s Web when I wear it–remember the part where he gorges himself on the sticky leftovers that have dropped to the dirt at the fair? Can we call that abject appreciation confidence? Ah, what would Lacan say?…:-?

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Erin. I do believe that self awareness does come with maturity, and I so love the original “Charlotte’s Web” cartoon movie! For most of my life, I’ve thought the voice of all rodents sounds like Paul Lynde’s. Too bad he’s not around to lend his voice to this generation’s animated pixellated, whatever-you-call-them animal characters.

      I went through a Britney Spears Fantasy stage a couple of years ago. Pink Sugar always smelled like burnt sugar to me, but Fantasy was my carnival cotton candy of choice. 🙂

  • Bryan says:

    It’s always a pleasure to “hear” from you. I get a severe kick out of Colbert I must say, though I don’t get a chance to see him often. I’d like to say that it’s due to all the other things going on in my life, but, alas, I just have so much other tv to catch up on. :”>

    I find I reach for certain perfumes to lift my own confidence level. Who doesn’t. But what truly motivates me is the feeling of “uniqueness” in my selection. Knowing I have a unique, chosen scent that separates me from even my closest friends is, well, important to me. And my reputation for extreme tuberose scents makes me smile I guess.

    I love your posts and I wish you all the best in your continuing quest to cross our Northern border.


    • Nava says:

      Thank you Bryan. I’m happy to be back and I’ll surely keep everyone up to date on my border issues.

      You smell wonderful. 😡

  • Kristy says:

    I can’t blame those who didn’t shower for two days for being less confident than those spritzed with Axe.

    An aside: The Axe Proximity in Vetyver is the best smelling deodorant one is likely to find in a drugstore nowadays, and when I need some I may just pick up a bottle for myself.

    I am also a fan of Axe hair products – their pomade can actually straighten the waves out of my hair without me having to blowdry it. Nothing else does this. Plus, it smells like Comme des Garcons Hinoki!!! How great is that?

    Man, I can’t believe I just wrote two paragraphs full of good stuff about Axe. Here, take away my perfumista card….