The Depps of Smell

The actor is getting paid a mint to do perfume ads. But he’s got those real old-cigar vibes.

A man wearing necklaces and a shirt open at the collar is surrounded by green wisps of steam.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images and Getty Images Plus.

On Friday, news arrived that Dior has signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Johnny Depp, so that he can “act” in more ads for its perfumes. (He’s been repping Dior Sauvage since 2015.) The company, undeterred by all the ugliness revealed during the Depp/Heard courtroom battle of 2022, is reportedly spending more on Depp’s spokesmodel services than any company has ever offered any actor to sell their men’s scents. (Sorry to Robert Pattinson! Sorry to Brad Pitt!)


The news prompted us to wonder something: Does Johnny Depp—on many days, a mess of a man—look like he smells good, to most people? Put another way, if you see Johnny Depp … what scents come to mind? Consider this our free brainstorming session for Dior’s next perfume.


Rebecca Onion: I believe Johnny Depp smells like one of those rooms that show up in memes about boys who live surrounded by trash.

Dan Kois: He does not smell like any Boy Smells candles currently on the market.

Heather Schwedel: Is everyone familiar with the concept of a tonsil stone? They are lumps of “calcified material” that form in the crypts of your throat that might get shaken loose when you sneeze or something, and they smell disgusting. Maybe like that!


Dan Kois: With all due respect: Jesus Christ.

Natalie Shutler: Ewwwwww wasn’t that the thing that happened with Ted Cruz?

Sol Werthan: The pic at that link just made me gag!

Emily Mulholland: Wet tobacco.

Derreck Johnson: Beer-soaked wood and dirty pennies.

Dan Kois: He definitely smells like Keith Richards. I assume that’s his goal.

Heather Schwedel: I am also reminded of a moment from this week’s Vanderpump Rules when a character is sitting at a restaurant and is afraid he smells so he starts rubbing a lemon slice on his armpits to help.

Holly Allen: Freshly-sharpened pencils and day-old salami.

Rebecca Onion: I definitely think there has got to be a smoked meat in there. The way that men (no offense, men!) get to smelling when they don’t believe in non-natural deodorant!


Dan Kois: Montreal brisket. Actually, probably over-jerked beef jerky.

Rebecca Onion: Does Johnny Depp smoke weed?

Jenny Zhang: I think probably.

Rebecca Onion: Oh so, he definitely does, and I really doubt he is the kind of guy who has switched to vapes and edibles. So he’s got that deep-down herb smell, somewhere in there.

Dan Kois: How “Depp Smell” Became a Potent Boogeyman of American Decline 

Isabelle Kohn: I feel like it’s old, smoked-soaked leather and poppers. And beads. What do beads smell like? Johnny Depp.


Cleo Levin: A scoby.

Rebecca Onion: With the exception of the tonsil stone, we are describing the components of a man’s smell that is disgusting to some and delicious to others. Maybe that’s just Johnny Depp for you?


Sol Werthan: This is extremely niche but if you’re ever walking down Market Street in San Francisco, sometimes you’ll catch a waft of some ineffable odor that smells like if fog went rancid, for lack of a better description. I think it’s got to be something from the sewage system but it doesn’t smell like poop. It’s like haunted steam. If you know, you know.

Heather Schwedel: An old shoe.

Cheyna Roth: He smells like Times Square in the ’70s—stale weed, old coffee, and discarded condoms.

Rebecca Onion: Definitely old coffee.

Derreck Johnson: Like a brand that isn’t around anymore. Like Sanka. He smells like vintage Sanka.

Cleo Levin: Or, at a certain time of night, how bars start to smell like bleach? He smells like the bar that was never bleached.