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Yesterday, news broke that Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt used his security detail to drive all over town in search of a lotion he fancies, which can apparently only be found at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Even within the big picture of his many scandals and ethical quandaries, much has been made of “Lotiongate.” For some reason, it feels particularly ... slippery. (Sorry.) Fine, you need the $43,000 phone booth for scheming. Total villain stuff, which I buy. But luxury lotion? That is the lavishly scented icing on top of the crap cake that is this guy. I had to know what exactly this magical balm was, mostly because there’s nothing I love more than a beauty mystery.
As Matt Yglesias at Vox pointed out, it could be a Ritz-Carlton branded lotion, which the hotel organization sells on its website for about $27. It features what sounds like a lovely combination of ylang-ylang (an oil derived from a tropical tree flower that smells very sweetly floral and is commonly used in aromatherapy), bergamot (a bitter citrus fruit grown in Italy), and jasmine (another sweet floral).
I think this is what you buy as a gift to give your mother-in-law at the last minute to make her think she’s getting something fancy. It’s like the branded polo shirts that upscale hotels sell in their gift shops. Ooh, I’m slathering on the Ritz-Carlton! I don’t think this is Pruitt’s lotion.
While I didn’t call up Sarah Sanders to confirm this, I can say with 99 percent certainty — based on all available information — that Pruitt’s preference is likely Asprey’s Purple Water Hand & Body Lotion. Asprey has partnered with the hotel to provide its Purple Water amenities to guests at “Ritz-Carlton properties around the world.”
There is a proud post about this on its website, and I also confirmed it with several helpful Ritz-Carlton concierges whom I spoke to in both New York City and the Washington, DC, area in the course of this journey.
So after Pruitt jumps off his first-class flight and into his taxpayer-funded car to visit the Vatican, he surely enjoys soaking in the Ritz-Carlton tub (I’m sorry for this visual) surrounded by the heady aroma of Purple Water products. This is likely the solace he seeks when at home in DC.
Asprey is a London-based company founded in 1781. It sells a lot of really expensive leather goods, accessories, and jewelry. Queen Victoria awarded it a Royal Warrant, which means it is authorized to make fancy things for the monarchy. It also once made a chess set for Ringo Starr. And, of course, it manufactures Purple Water, which is its signature fragrance.
According to the website, this is what it smells like:
Using only the finest essential oils, purple water has been created as a fresh citrus fragrance blended with spicy undertones to give it added strength and stature. Head notes of lemon, mandarin, and jacaranda give the initial zesty impact of light and freshness. Heart notes create character with orange flower and basil, while ginger brings a little spice to proceedings, reminiscent of the exotic heritage of Asprey. Base notes of vetiver root, pepper and musk bring an earthy, woody and timeless depth to the fragrance, and create images of Asprey past, of libraries full of books and croquet games on the lawn.
Zesty! Strength and stature! Spice! Earthy! This is a manly scent, okay? I had a few quibbles with Yglesias’s characterization of men who moisturize (it’s a segment of the beauty industry that’s growing in leaps and bounds, but that’s a story for another time), but the Ritz-Carlton-branded lotion definitely skews traditionally feminine. The Asprey one, however, is at least firmly unisex. The copywriter here does an admirable job of keeping it pretty androgynous; flowery it is definitely not.
And let me tell you, you pretty much have to be Queen Elizabeth to get your hands on this stuff. Okay, fine, you can order it on Ritz-Carlton’s website for a not-terribly-outrageous $37.50, but Scott Pruitt probably wants it when he wants it. But in DC, turns out it’s not easy to get.
I called the Ritz-Carlton outposts in DC, Georgetown, and Pentagon City, Virginia, and spoke to concierges at all three. The DC Ritz doesn’t have a gift shop or a branded spa; it sends guests to an Equinox sports club on the property. The Pentagon City hotel doesn’t either, so the only place that Pruitt’s detail could pick some product up would be the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton. But even then, there is no gift shop to run into; you would need to go to the spa shop to purchase Asprey products. The concierge did mention to me that they also sell Ritz-Carlton bedding there. Perfect for Pruitt’s new/used Trump hotel mattress!
To further complicate things, there are only three Asprey stores in the US — New York City, Miami, and Beverly Hills — so that’s out as an option. It also doesn’t seem like any department stores or other retailers carry the brand.
It was pretty damn hard to find in New York City too. I had to fight through rush hour subway humanity to make it to the Madison Avenue location, only to arrive five minutes after the shop closed. The next morning, I took the subway to the Central Park South Ritz-Carlton, which is, by the way, right around the corner from Trump Tower.
To faithfully reenact how I imagine Pruitt’s security people handled this, I did not call in advance. While that Ritz has a spa, it does not sell the Asprey lotion. The concierge helpfully suggested I go back to the brand’s store. So I power-walked 12 blocks to Asprey’s very chichi Madison Avenue location.
After walking past some handbags, purple china, and a backgammon board, I spotted the beauty collection perched on the checkout table. The woman in the shop did not blink when I asked for the lotion, but took my credit card and disappeared with it and a bottle of the liquid gold.
I should note here that it is in a plain plastic bottle without any outside packaging — points off for the plastic, but pretty environmentally friendly that the brand chose not to add more wasteful packaging. Anyway. When she came back, the lotion was bagged in a tasteful purple paper shopping bag. I paid $35 plus tax and walked out.
I hopped into a cab and immediately smeared some all over my hands and arms. After all that, here’s what it’s like: It smells like tastefully spiced lemons. After it sat for a few minutes, the spice softened into more of a musky lemon smell. It smells rich and unoffensive. It would definitely have appeal across genders. The texture is standard lotion — thin but not watery, white and creamy but not heavy.
So the lotion is nice and tasteful and whatever, but there are more exciting options out there, Scott. I really like Ellis Brooklyn’s Body Milk, and you can never go wrong with Le Labo. Or, you know, just do what normal people do and steal a bunch of the mini bottles the next time you travel.