Scent of a Nerd

Want to be a writer or just smell like one? Introducing my celebrity fragrance

  • Photo-Illustration by John Ueland for TIME; Perfume bottle: Sean Brosmith

    The ultimate goal of any career is to have other people smell like you. And while I contemplated many methods of accomplishing this, the only scalable one was to create my own fragrance. Until a decade ago, to pull this off you had to be seriously famous, like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Lauren or Cher. But now there are hundreds of celebrity fragrances, including ones from reggaeton singer Daddy Yankee, the wife of English soccer player Wayne Rooney and Japanese Vogue editor-at-large Anna Dello Russo. It's probably just weeks before TIME readers can choose to smell like Nancy Gibbs instead of me. I needed to act quickly.

    I called Kecia Coby, a consultant who has guided the personal scents of celebrities such as 50 Cent and Kim Kardashian, who has one of the top-selling celebrity perfumes in the country. I met Coby at her office in Los Angeles. After nearly two decades of reporting, I could tell just by looking at Coby that she was very, very pretty.

    Coby told me it would be the first of several meetings we'd have to create my cologne. This, I was pretty sure, was not how celebrities did things. I wanted her to make the cologne and for me to go on talk shows and tell people about how I made the cologne. But she insisted that both Kim Kardashian and 50 Cent were very involved, coming up with names, rejecting scents, asking for heavier caps. If I didn't truly know my cologne, I wouldn't be convincing when I talked about it. Coby had a way of making being famous seem a lot less fun.

    I went to Sephora with my lovely wife Cassandra, smelled a bunch of cologne and reported back to Coby. Apparently, I like soapy, woodsy scents and for Cassandra not to wander off through the rest of the store while our baby knocked over bottles. When I asked Coby why I was smelling stuff instead of market testing my readers' preferences, she said that if I'd been honest in my career, my readers would tend to be soapy, woodsy people too. Kim Kardashian's perfume smells sexy because she is sexy. Lady Gaga's upcoming perfume will smell like blood and semen because Lady Gaga is trapped in a male prison.

    Next, we had to decide what to call my cologne. This was tough, since all the good ones were taken: Kimora Lee Simmons' Fabulosity, Mariah Carey's Lollipop Bling, Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Lovers Sunshine Cuties Lil' Angel. Coby and I decided, after much discussion, to call my cologne Snarky, since that seemed a little more playful than my first choice, Joel Stein by Joel Stein.

    For our third meeting, we talked to Lisa Popoli, a senior account executive at Givaudan, the largest fragrance company in the world. She sent me five sample bottles, all of which smelled great. For more than a month, I tried on one each day and made Cassandra smell me, pretending to listen to her comments but really just recording whether she had sex with me that night. This went on for months until, unable to decide, I asked Kim Kardashian for help. "Fragrance is such a personal thing--it took me two years to develop my scent," she told me. "The idea is to create something that's a true reflection of yourself, so when you share it with people, it reminds them of you." Looking at the list of ingredients in the samples, I wasn't sure if my true reflection smelled like "clean aldehydes," "T-shirt accord," "juicy melon" or "skin musk," because I didn't know what those things were. I eventually settled on one with top notes of plum-and-citrus bouquet; a heart of plum, tobacco flower and heliotrope; and a dry down of tobacco accord, amber and musk. You might not think people want to smell like cigarettes, but Snarky disagrees.

    For Snarky's bottle, we met with Sean Brosmith, chief creative officer of Maesa Studio. At one point, when I was telling him about my interests, he very earnestly asked me, "What does nerd smell like?" After I suggested a 20-sided die from Dungeons & Dragons, Brosmith went to work. He came up with a design that looked just like a really swank 12-sided die, which is used to determine damage from a battle-ax, so it's a pretty cool die. You pull open the top of the die to reveal the little spray thing. "There's a humor element to that," Brosmith said. The bar to clear for humor in fragrance bottles is even lower than it is in TIME magazine.

    Snarky will retail for about $79 for 3.4 oz. (100 ml) and will be sold at high-end stores once I've found 15,000 people interested in me, Dungeons & Dragons and smelling like cigarettes. Which only sounds challenging until you think about all the people who want to smell like Kim Kardashian.