The first time I ever laid eyes on Ansel Elgort, he made me cry. I was watching him — or, rather, his character Augustus — die in The Fault in Our Stars, the movie that officially catapulted the then-20-year-old actor into A-list territory. The first time I ever met Ansel Elgort in real life, he was sitting by himself on a couch in a suite in New York City's Ace Hotel. I did not cry, and I was not concerned about his health.
Instead, we were meeting to discuss his latest gig, a world away from the tragicomic tale of two dying teenagers: The actor is the latest Global Ambassador for Ralph Lauren Polo Red's fragrance franchise, and the new face of the brand's upcoming launch, Red Rush. With the new scent, Ralph Lauren seeks to reimagine its existing, ostensibly polo-wearing demographic — and Elgort is just the man for the job.
"I'd wear this," I told the brand's head of marketing, Gino Luci, after taking a whiff of the bottle cap, 22 minutes before I was to meet Elgort in an identical suite seven floors above where I was sitting. Luci smiled. "[Red Rush] did prompt us to have a conversation about gender fluidity, because we are targeting a younger demographic," he told me. "This generation isn't interested in putting themselves in a box of, 'This is who I am.' There's more fluidity and openness." The eau de toilette (intended for men) does smell good on me (a woman), but, I imagine, probably smells better on Elgort. I never did get to find that out for sure.
Talking to Elgort about beauty is like talking to a 14-year-old about what they want to do with their life: vague, incidental, not exactly well-informed. When I asked the 24-year-old about the photo of him masking with his girlfriend, Violetta Komyshan, that made the rounds on Instagram earlier this year, he replied, "You're the third interview who mentioned that." Oh. "She just put it on me once. It was funny, so I took photos." His medicine cabinet is filled with her products, anyway, he explained, which means he doesn't have to buy much of anything: "I'll use her stuff. We just share everything." He doesn't really wash his face, either, but he does moisturize. It's actually the one and only beauty ritual he has while getting ready for a red carpet, right before rubbing some fragrance into his wrists and down his neck.
Elgort is nonchalant when it comes to his routine. He'll pull on a suit, channel Prince (or David Bowie — maybe even Freddie Mercury), rub some gel in his hair, incorrectly put on some cologne, then walk out the door. But just because Elgort chooses his fragrance du jour out of his small collection ("I don't have that many. If I like one at the moment, I'll use it," he explained) on a whim doesn't mean he can't recognize a good scent when he smells one.
His favorite? Well, that's too personal for him to tell a stranger. At least, that's what he told me, pensively looking around the room. He thought of a backup response, then another, then ruled them both out, then settled for a final answer. "I really love home-cooked meals, the smell of food in the oven," he told me. I said I prefer the smell of sizzling garlic and pasta sauce. He agreed, and said that there's nothing more comforting ("so comforting") than baked chicken in the oven.
But Red Rush's campaign doesn't feature a single breast of oven-cooked chicken — or any poultry at all, for that matter. The real inspiration behind the scent's woody, energizing notes of saffron, cedar, and Moroccan mint fits Elgort's public persona well. He's young, he's adventurous, he's deeply talented, and he loves a good butterfly-in-the-stomach moment. (The fragrance is called Rush, after all.) "I get butterflies all the time," he told me. "I try to live my life on the butterfly stuff as much as possible."
Watch the campaign featuring Elgort and model Alanna Arrington, and see for yourself why this not-your-father's-fragrance ad is different from everything else you've seen from the legacy brand. No wild white horses dashing through a meadow or four brooding men wearing blue polos on a sailboat — just cars, really fast cars... and Elgort driving them.