The fascinating story behind JFK's fragrance (which you can now wear, too)

Kennedy's fragrance
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The fascinating story behind JFK's fragrance (which you can now wear, too)
Eight & Bob
Eight & Bob
A photo dated 1950's shows John F. Kennedy with his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. 
Pres. John F. Kennedy working on board an airplane. 
This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are all sorts of events planned in Dallas, and there will undoubtedly be tons of coverage memorializing the tragic event. You can watch these things on TV and cry, can honor JFK by wearing the same fragrance he did.

Last winter I attended the Elements Fragrance Showcase, where I discovered Kennedy's fragrance, Eight & Bob, among all the other cool indie perfumes. (If you love off-the-beaten path fragrances, you can attend the next Elements Showcase in NYC August 19 and 20. Free samples! Meet perfumers!)

This fragrance has the best backstory I've ever heard: In 1937, when Kennedy was a college student, he toured France. While there, he did what any red-blooded American male does while on summer vacation on the French Riviera: He struck up a conversation with a strange Frenchman about the fragrance he was wearing. Turns out that the delicious-smelling Frenchman, Albert Fouquet, liked to dabble in perfume-making. According to Eight & Bob lore, Fouquet left a fragrance sample at JFK's hotel with a note that said, "In this jar, you will find the dash of French glamour that your American personality lacks." Burn.

When Kennedy got back to the States, he sent Fouquet a letter saying that all his friends back home loved the fragrance, and asked the perfumer to send eight samples and "if your production allows, another one for Bob." (Bob, of course, is Kennedy's baby brother, Robert Kennedy.) Fouquet complied, and labeled the samples "Eight & Bob," and a brand was born.

Apparently Kennedy's dad, Joe, passed out samples to some of his Hollywood friends, because requests from Hollywood nobility of the time–like Cary Grant and James Stewart–started rolling in. Then in 1939, Fouquet died in a car accident. However, Philippe, the Fouquet family butler, had often assisted Fouquet in his perfume-making, so he took over the orders. When World War II started, Philippe hid the bottles inside books that he cut by hand so that the Nazis wouldn't seize it. After the war, Philippe never made the perfume again. (And here it's a little fuzzy about what exactly happened to Philippe after WWII.)

Philippe's family recovered the formula and production process, and Eight & Bob hit the market again just last year, for the first time in over 60 years. It's currently sold all over the world, and is exclusive to Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman here in the US. The ingredients are a mystery, and that's how the family wants it to be. The only thing we know for sure is that it contains extracts of the "Andrea" plant, which is a nickname Fouquet gave to the plant when he discovered it on a trip to Chile. It can only be harvested in December and January, and only 7% of the harvest is usable, so that limits how much fragrance can be made. Perfume connoisseurs have identified the scent as a "woody vanilla," and it's definitely a unisex scent. "It smells very much like 1940. It's dapper," a brand rep told me, and this is accurate. I've been wearing it the last few days and it smells classy and, well, rich.

The perfume comes in one size for $195, and it's sold in a hardcover book that contains novel-quality paper. Inside, the book has been cut out and the bottle placed in there as a nod to Philippe's clever Nazi-outsmarting packaging technique. The perfume has just won two Cosmetic Innovator of the Year awards, and will have wider distribution in the US this fall.

The story sounds fantastical, but the Kennedy family has never confirmed or denied it, so I'm going with it. Forget about Lady Gaga and Katy Perry–wouldn't you rather smell like a Kennedy?

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