Ten stories above the taxicabs crawling along Broadway, the star of Baby Driver is talking about fragrance—in his particular way. “I love the smell of gasoline and old cars,” says Ansel Elgort on a recent afternoon, slouching into the window banquette in an Ace Hotel suite. “I love when my hands get black from grabbing an old wheel that’s falling apart.” He’s a romantic, this one. He and his girlfriend, Violetta Komyshan—sweethearts since high school—have just come back from Paris, where they caught Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton debut. The whole fashion show circuit isn’t usually his scene, he says, “but that was a cool one. I was near Kanye,” he reports. “I felt his energy.”
Music is front of mind lately for the 24-year-old. After finishing up filming The Goldfinch—the adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel and due out next year—he’s back to the grind, working on tracks for a forthcoming self-produced album. In the meantime, his latest role seems to tick a lot of familiar boxes: fast cars, thrumming beats, screen-star smile. It’s all there in the campaign spot for Polo Red Rush, a new fragrance fronted by Elgort, which debuts August 1. The scent isn’t exactly gasoline and old cars, but the original inspiration comes uncannily close. Imagine yourself inside a Formula One race car, the perfumer Olivier Gillotin says in a French-accent clip: “The few seconds before the flag, the heart is pumping faster, the intensity is stronger, it’s focused—and then the first two or three seconds where everybody starts to pass in front of each other, it’s the most intense moment of the race.”
Bottling up that surge of clearheaded exhilaration led Gillotin to seek out something with “substantive freshness.” A blend of red grapefruit and red mandarin (created with a technology that lends extra longevity on skin) gives way to earthy saffron and Moroccan mint; along with cedar, there’s a drop of coffee. If the fragrance seems to reference traditional tropes of masculinity, is it out of sync with an increasingly gender-fluid world? “There’s nothing wrong with being masculine or feminine. I think it’s just the idea that people are allowed to be either one,” says Elgort, a collection of rings glittering on his fingers—which, just days before, sported a spectrum of nail polish shades. Asked how many times he’s been in Vogue, given that his father, the fashion photographer Arthur Elgort, used to bring his towheaded boy to shoots, the actor shrugs—and then starts up a pretty convincing vogueing spell, his arms framing his face with just the right fluidity. (He promises to watch Paris Is Burning.) Here, he talks about getting turned on to cologne in middle school, his favorite rock-climbing spot, and the value of taking social media breaks (never mind the 10.5 million followers).
Who introduced you to fragrance growing up?
My dad has that old-school cologne in those little glass bottles. He loves those kinds of fragrances. And the first time I started spraying colognes on myself, I guess it was because my brother, Warren, had cologne? We shared a bathroom; he was probably 16, and I was 12, in middle school. I can’t ever imagine being more obsessed with girls than when I was 12. The idea of being able to put on some magical good-smelling stuff—I might have put it on one day, and some girl might have said, “You smell good,” and I was like, From now on, I’m wearing cologne every day.
Did you become a frequent scent-wearer?
I was a frequent anything that would help me in the girl department. So cologne was one of those things, deodorant was another, not wearing the same pair of pants every day. I like someone’s natural scent. I always find it funny when a fan asks for a hug and then they say, “You smell really good.” Because I don’t wear deodorant [now], and I put on cologne maybe if I’m dressed up in a nice suit or something.
A New York Times profile last year suggested that if you were to ever add a fragrance to your portfolio, it would be called “Earnest by Ansel Elgort.” Have you ever considered such a thing? What would you call it?
It would have to do with stars or space or something. And I’d want it to be colorful and bright and inviting and sweet. I wouldn’t want it to be too squinty, too cool. I’d want it to make everyone smile.
Is there a scent associated with driving?
I love the smell of gasoline and old cars. I love when my hands get black from grabbing an old wheel that’s falling apart. As much as I want the world to move ahead—we should be in autos that drive themselves and solar-power charge themselves and that’s the future—I think that there will always be a love for cars, the same way that there’s a love for riding horses. I did a lot of training for Baby Driver, which was awesome; I was a fine driver before, but I’m from New York and I take the subway everywhere. It’s a lot of fun, driving cars—especially when it’s drifting around and you’re squealing the tires. When I’m in the Hamptons and I drive past a parking lot on the way home from town—if it’s raining, because that’s easier on the transmission and it slides—I’ll drive the car into the parking lot and just do donuts for a second.
You’ve wrapped filming for the upcoming adaptation of The Goldfinch. What was it like inhabiting that challenging headspace?
The Goldfinch was really tough—which is good, I think. If you’re playing a guy who’s going through a hard time, you kind of share that with them. He’s got a lot of secrets, he’s got addictions, and he’s got a lot of lies that he’s juggling. He’s not healthy, and he can’t sleep. He’s just such a mess—and that’s not me at all. I had to really stretch far to make it to him.
How do you keep yourself on the side of good health, then? Are you into all the adaptogens; do you meditate twice a day?
No, that would be nice! I try to stay active when I can, like playing basketball or rock climbing. I’ve been going to Brooklyn Boulders since I was, like, 15. I’m pretty bad, to be honest, for how long I’ve been doing it [laughs]. And I’ll go on little runs at the beach. I love the water, and I think it’s important to have some one-on-one time in your head. I think the healthiest thing you can do, too, is to realize that this is poison. [He picks up his phone.]
You’re huge on Instagram, though. How do you negotiate a balance?
Recently, I’ve taken a bunch of little breaks from it. I airplane-mode it. That’s why I like being out in Long Island; I’ll just turn it off. It makes things more simple. It’s less weight on you to be someone. I feel like social media is very competitive, for everyone—whether you’re a 14-year-old girl or a 20-something-year-old actor with millions of followers or a grandmother. Everyone is projecting who they are and who they want you to think they are. So if you look and you say, “Am I as good as that?”—that’s really tough. It doesn’t matter how many likes you get, either. It’s never enough, and I don’t mean enough like the number. A lot of people talk about being addicted to their phones. I think it’s going to be really important to take breaks from it.
Your vogueing moment has me thinking of your dance background. How has that physicality played into your work?
With Baby Driver, it worked out well for me. I wouldn’t have gotten that role if I wasn’t a dancer first. And when I do my [upcoming music] shows, I’m going to dance like everyone’s watching. It’s going to be crazy.
This article first appeared on Vogue.com