"Factoid" is a jewel of the American word-hoard. Coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer to describe the tabloid falsehoods knitted around Marilyn Monroe like an overtight sweater, this neologism describes any lie that gains popular support despite the absence of corroborating evidence. Appearing on our news feeds out of the blue (and occasionally found roosting in "official" press releases), factoids possess just enough believability to coax a gullible public on board. We all want to be privy to our idols' deepest secrets-- what sort of story nourishes this impulse better than a fiction served up as fact?
Here's the fiction about Eight & Bob. A perfume-loving young aristocrat named Albert enlists the help of the family butler to create homemade fragrances so divine that everyone in his milieu demands free samples. One night on the French Riviera, he meets a college-aged JFK, who immediately starts huffing his pulse points. He gifts the lad with full bottle of his personal cologne and tells him essentially to stop being so goshdarned American. At this point, any red-blooded Choate graduate would have fed this uppity Gaul a grade-A knuckle sandwich. Instead, JFK meekly takes the gift home and writes his new friend a lovely thank-you note. After describing what a splash the aristocrat's fragrance made back home, he requests eight more samples plus "another one for Bob" (ostensibly his younger brother Robert). According to his biographer, the noble Albert springs into action, sending the butler out to find gorgeous glass flacons while he himself designs the packaging to match JFK's shirt.
If your bullshit meter isn't beeping wildly at this moment, you really ought to have the batteries checked. But wait! There's more!
Within months, Albert is swamped with letters from various members of the American glitterati requesting colognes of their own. Unfortunately, Albert's success is short-lived, as he dies in a car accident near Biarritz in 1939. His faithful butler continues filling orders by hiding the perfume bottles inside cut-out books to foil the Nazis. Now this incredibly storied fragrance has resurfaced, to be enjoyed by history buffs worldwide!
When I first read this legend, I thought to myself, My god, what a great Wes Anderson movie this perfume would make! (Too late. Wes Anderson's latest movie already HAS a perfume.) Looking for a second opinion, I shared it with my husband. "That's crazy," he said. "The story fits the details, but the details don't fit the story. Or maybe it's the other way around."
True. The tale of Eight & Bob is built on a bedrock of fact into which I'll soon delve. But it's those details -- overly specific, neither provable nor disprovable -- between which this story is strung like a clothesline.
Let's return to what's real. During the summer of 1937, 20-year-old John F. Kennedy spent two months roaming around Europe with his pal Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings and a dachshund puppy named Dunker. During their tour, he kept a handwritten journal which is now archived at The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. In 2011, a Simmons College MLIS grad student named Jennifer Quan transcribed and annotated the journal , adding a helpful point-by-point itinerary which places Kennedy and Billings in the Côte d’Azur for all of three days.
On July 29, 1937, the two friends drove five hours from Toulouse through Carcassone to the balmy Ligurian coastline. "Arrived at Cannes around nine (PM) after a drive of 350 miles and stopped at a fairly expensive hotel 35 fr(ancs)," relates young Kennedy. "The service is 15% which is really robbery." They stayed in Cannes for two nights, then headed up the coast to Monte Carlo, where they secured another night's lodging for a more economical fifteen francs. Having been turned away from the Casino (a predicament which could only have stung his family pride!) Kennedy reports that he had better luck at the Sporting Club, where he "broke even after giving them a scare". The following afternoon -- August 1, 1937 -- he and Billings crossed the border into Italy.
But what of Albert Fouquet? Nowhere in his journal does Kennedy mention that electrifying individual who made such a forceful first impression (or offered such absurdly generous gifts to strangers). None of the famous players in this story -- JFK, RFK, their father, Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart -- are alive to vouch for Fouquet or the courageous Phillipe. Outside of the Eight & Bob press release, you'd think they never existed. Factoid spotters, binoculars up!
Thankfully, the fragrance is real-- and despite all the shenanigans, it turns out to be an unexpected pleasure. Don't listen to a word they tell you about the eccentric Albert and his precious essences, or the "restoration project" which brought them back to life. This thing was made yesterday-- properly, in a nice, clean chemistry lab, and not by a dilettante holed up in a château . No attic-bound amateur would have known to lace zingy ginger and crisp lemon peel together so expressively, or to sneak in a touch of volatile anise to temper the rich oily effect of guaiac. The sandalwood that rounds Eight & Bob off is synthetic, of course-- but what else would you expect from a perfume with such an flimsy alibi?
In spite of this -- indeed, in spite of everything -- I like Eight & Bob. Of course it smells nothing like a fragrance from Kennedy's youth; it contains slightly too much post-'80s dihydromercenol to comfortably insert itself Forrest-Gump-style into a snapshot of bygone days. But who cares? After wading through so much PR sludge, it's a relief to find something so fresh and attractive waiting on the other side.
It may not be bona fide. But Lord, it sure ain't boring.
Scent Elements: Ginger, cardamom, lemon, bergamot, cedar, labdanum, guaiac, patchouli, sandalwood, ambergris, vanilla