The only reason the very first Calvin Klein perfume took a year to be born was the fact that it had to be perfect and different from everything Klein ever smelled before. In fact, the designer disliked any form of perfume or cologne. He never used one himself and strongly associated any other fragrance with his school teachers and mother’s friends. He liked musk and imagined his future creation with a code name “Seventh Avenue” as “something floral but not heavy… that doesn’t hang like a cloud over a woman…”, but any further attempts to find the right formula mixed for him by the best noses of International Flavours & Fragrance (IF&F) lead to nothing – Calvin rejected every single concoction including a completely unique smell that everyone fell in love with. The latest creation was then offered to Ralph Lauren who introduced it as his first fragrance that very same year, while Klein and his team had to start everything from scratch.
The scent turned out to contain the most expensive oils in the world, which meant that the cost of production and retail price would be much higher compared to any other perfume sold at the time, but for Klein achieving perfection was worth breaking the rules.
He soon went against the crowd yet again refusing to buy cheaper stock cases and bottles. Instead, the smooth, “crying out to be touched”, oval-shaped crystal flacons were manufactured in France to guarantee the best clarity of the glass and perfectly fitted stopper.
The beautiful vial containing most precious gold liquid was then photographed by the one and only Irving Penn who was charmed by the sensual geometry of the bottle.
The job was done.
On 6 March 1978 Calvin Klein Ltd. launched their very first perfume called “Calvin Klein”. Sadly, it wasn’t as successful as Klein hoped and begged to be replaced with something more sensual, more day to night, more… unisex.
Obsession, the new oriental and spicy fragrance, a combination of mandarin, bergamot and subtle notes of jasmine, rose and neroli mixed with coriander, taget, armoise, amber and oak moss created by Rourge-Bertram DuPont and poured into blonde tortoiseshell, tantric sculptures and Indian prayer stones -inspired bottle was launched into production in 1985.
Accompanied by a provocative campaign directed by Richard Avedon and filmed by Nestor Almendros with the print ads shot by Bruce Weber, featuring Jose Borain (who was replaced by “kinder and gentle” Kate Moss in 1990s), the new fragrance was absolutely irresistible and made $30 million in whole sales in its first year.
It was followed by Eternity (the name was inspired by the eternity ring from the Duches of Windsor collection that Klein gave to his second wife, Kelly), a blend of freesia, white lily, muguet, narcissus and sandalwood. The serene black and white campaign was focused on fantasy and family and photographed by Richard Avedon.
CK be came in 1996. Contradiction – in 1997. Truth – 2000. Crave and Truth for men – 2002. Each became somewhat of an icon, a signature of its time and a scented memory for many.
Photo source: Calvin Klein perfume for women campaign Spring/Summer 1984, Calvin Klein Classic perfume campaign photographed by Irving Penn 1978, Calvin Klein by Calvin Klein perfume campaign 1981, Obsession campaign photographed by Richard Avedon 1985, Obsession for men perfume campaign photographed by Richard Avedon 1986, Kate Moss photographed by Mario Sorrenti for Obsession campaign 1995, Eternity by Calvin Klein perfume campaign photographed by Richard Avedon 1988