Dead Letter Office: Calvin Klein Crave- Growing Pains

Because I’ve been so interested in the trend of perfume brands reaching out to Millennials this year I’ve been looking back to find other times fragrance was designed to specifically capture a young market. It will not surprise anyone that a good example would come from Calvin Klein. For almost 40 years now this has been a brand all about finding appeal for the young consumer. In 1994, with ckOne, they were perfectly positioned to ride the swelling wave of cleanliness in fragrance long before it turned in to a tsunami. By 2002 they were ready to do it again with Calvin Klein Crave. Except this time, it was one of the rare fragrances for this brand to end up in the Dead Letter Office.

As the brand was looking out at their target audience they were seeing the beginning of the wireless age. Nearly every young person had a pager hanging from their belt while the early cell phones were just starting to penetrate society at large. Creative director Ann Gottlieb wanted to oversee the creation of a perfume which would capture this connected generation on the bleeding edge in 2002.

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Ms. Gottlieb assembled a group of four perfumers in Jean-Mark Chaillan, Olivier Polge, Pascal Gaurin, and Yves Cassar. The perfumers were given the brief I think all Calvin Klein perfumers are given, “make it young, fresh, sexy, and clean”. Except with the concurrent electronics modernity in mind it drove them to think a little more outside of the box than they might normally have done. What resulted was something that seems Calvin Klein but at other moments seems like the name on the label must be incorrect.

Crave opens with some of that unusual quality right away. The perfumers use a Calone-laden “fluorescent fresh accord”. There is so much Calone here that the melon-like quality of that aromachemical is also evident. To that the perfumers add a different fruity partner; carambola, or starfruit, which has a tart smell to it but not nearly as much as a citrus note would have. That actually turns the fruitiness of the melon and the carambola into its own sort of fluorescent fruit accord. To all of this there is a strong green counterpoint. The longer this lingers on my skin the sugarier the fruit gets and just as it is about to become Kool-Aid the perfumers unleash a spate of herbs as basil, coriander, and allspice come forward. For a little while this is a like a chaotic house party as the fresh of the Calone, the fruits, and the herbs whirl madly. Again just as it threatens to become annoying the base notes try and calm things down. Crave goes all woody as sandalwood and vetiver provide the calming effect needed while the typical mixture of white musks finish this off.

Crave has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume which lives life on the edge of irritating. If it stays on the right side of the line, as it does with me, it is a fun fragrance. If it falls on the other side of that line this is going to be an irritant. It seems the consumers were in the latter category as three years after launch it was pulled. It is still the quickest discontinuation for the brand.

There is a bit of cautionary tale in Crave for all of those brands trying to figure out what the Millennials want. Even an all-star team can miss the mark by trying too hard to cater to a perceived taste.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Calvin Klein CK2- Eau de Millennials?

Calvin Klein has always been a designer brand which has targeted itself for the current generation of twentysomethings to thirtysomethings. When that description fit me, in the 1980’s, a disproportionate amount of my wardrobe was from Calvin Klein and my fragrance was Obsession for Men. As the 1990’s approached the brand shifted again and the fragrance made for Generation X was called CK one, released in 1994. Creative director Ann Gottlieb collaborated with perfumers Alberto Morillas and Harry Fremont on one of the earliest most successful fresh and clean fragrances. CK one would be the flagship perfume of Calvin Klein for a couple of generations. Now Calvin Klein is angling for the latest generation, dubbed Millennials, with the new CK2.

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Ms. Gottlieb has tapped a new perfumer for this task Pascal Gaurin. CK2 is described as a “gender-free fragrance that celebrates the endless possibilities of modern connections between two people”. The ad campaign by photographer Ryan McGinley shows that those two people are also not restrained by traditional gender roles. This actually sets a fairly difficult moving target for the creative team to hit. To truly be a fragrance which appeals broadly it would seem you would need to shoot for a middle ground set up for mediocrity. What I found surprising was Ms. Gottlieb and M. Gaurin are willing to challenge some of the newest generation of fragrance wearers to see beyond the commonplace.

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Pascal Gaurin

CK2 opens with one of those challenging choices as a piquant wasabi accord is folded into a traditional opening of mandarin and violet. There is much I like about these choices if you’re attempting to be a “gender-free” fragrance. The fruit and the floral are kept very attenuated. Because you can’t really be too much of either. That is why the wasabi accord is so important here. It adds an odd grace note throwing the traditional slightly off kilter. I stress slightly because the wasabi is used as a modulator here meant to alter but not have a prominence to it. The same theory works in the heart as iris and rose give a very traditional floral bouquet. Just as in the top it is tweaked by the presence of another odd accord of wet cobblestones. The slightly aquatic and mineralic accord literally grounds the florals; keeping them from being too florid. The base is a very nicely balanced trio of sandalwood, vetiver, and incense. It is more of those clean woods which are so popular in mass-marketed fragrance these days and is the most familiar part of CK2.

CK2 has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is going to be very interesting to see if Calvin Klein has made an Eau de Millennials with CK2. I think there is enough different here, especially compared to some other high profile designer releases, that CK2 does stand out among its peers. When it starts showing up on fragrance counters in February I am going to be fascinated observing, on my next trip to the mall, to see how this target audience reacts. I think Ms. Gottlieb and M. Gaurin have given CK2 the best chance to succeed.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Marc Jacobs Decadence- Once More Unto the Breach

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There was a moment in time where I thought the Marc Jacobs fragrance collection was trying to do something different in the mainstream sector of perfume. 2007’s Daisy, 2009’s Lola, and 2010’s Bang were each an attempt to lure in a different perfume buyer with tiny nods to a niche aesthetic. I admired the ingenuity to see if there was a consumer out there for this style of mass-market perfume. Somewhere along the line this kind of thinking evaporated as the brand became a flanker factory with numerous Daisy, Lola, and Splash entries cluttering things up. All of these were so painfully pedestrian that even when they made the odd foray into something different like 2012’s Dot it just felt half-hearted. Over the last couple of months it looks like Marc Jacobs has decided to give it another try.

I generally liked the summer release Mod Noir although the name is a bit of false advertising. Bottom line was it wasn’t another flanker and it was definitely in the upper percentiles in the department store category. About a week after I wrote that review I received a sample of the new fall release Decadence. Because I had liked Mod Noir and the timing was right I tried Decadence right away. My first impression was this was very different than any of the other tent pole fragrances for the brand. Mr. Jacobs along with Ann Gottlieb were the creative team working with perfumer Annie Buzantian on Decadence. What they have created is the strongest floral in the line as they move away from the fruity floral and run headlong into floriental territory.

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Annie Buzantian

Mme Buzantian adds the niche like-flourishes in the top and the base. The top notes are iris, plum, and saffron. The saffron exerts enough of a presence to keep the opening from being a boring fruity floral accord. There is enough familiarity there for someone who is a fan of previous Marc Jacobs to find a safe place to start their Decadence experience. The triple whammy of orris, rose, and jasmine in the heart is meant to sweep them off their feet in a swoosh of heavy hitter florals. So often this kind of power is carried by a bunch of white florals. I like the change by Mme Buzantian as the orris bumps up against a spicy rose and slightly indolic jasmine. It doesn’t go as far as a typical niche release but it goes a lot further than most of the other bottles on the perfume counter. This is the tricky part to give a consumer something different without alienating them. From my perspective I think it is a brave choice which could go either way. The base is a very green mixture of papyrus and vetiver matched with amber. It forms a verdant Oriental accord for the florals to rest upon.

Decadence has 10-12 hour longevity and way above average sillage. A lighter application than other perfumes is probably necessary for best results.

It looks like Mr. Jacobs has not given up on his desire to try something different as with Decadence he is really taking a bold step outside of the previous oeuvre of the brand. He is doing a smart thing and putting this in a spectacular looking bottle which looks like a clutch purse complete with tassel. The bottle will drive some sales all on its own. I think many of those and others who give Decadence a chance will be surprised at the new direction for Marc Jacobs. I hope they like it because I would like to see more of this from the brand. I know they have my attention, again.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Coty.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Sarah Jessica Parker Covet- The Red-Headed Stepchild

When it comes to celebrity fragrances there are few that make the grade. One of the most obvious reasons is the name on the bottle has little or nothing to do with it. Depending on the situation that can free a creative team to take chances but more often it leaves them to just knock off an imitation of something already on the market. The celebuscents which I admire have almost always had the celebrity intimately involved in the creative process. The first perfume to prove this principle to me was Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. This was the debut perfume for Ms. Parker when she was at the heights of her Sex and the City fame. The whole process was covered in Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent. What came across was a woman who wanted the perfume which carried her name to be something better than mediocre. It was and still is a successful perfume on the market. I think Lovely is a great perfume but I like the second perfume Ms. Parker collaborated on better; called Covet.

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Covet came out two years after Lovely. The same creative director Ann Gottlieb was helping Ms. Parker and perfumer Frank Voelkl was picked to compose the perfume. Because of the success of Lovely I think the creative team felt they had a bit of leeway in trying something different with Covet. They would take that latitude and make something quite atypical for the state of the department store market circa 2007. Covet is like a mob of unruly kids all vying for the wearer’s attention. That amount of manic overly nuanced exposition wore most people out. I found it exhilarating. At the time it was the only thing in the mall that didn’t smell like everything else.

Time, and the consumer, has not been kind to Covet and it was discontinued about two years ago. Even though it has been discontinued it has been viewed as such a disappointment that you can find full bottles for less than $20 at almost any place that sells discount perfume. Which is why it is a Discount Diamond.

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Frank Voelkl

Covet opens on one of those unruly moments I mentioned. M. Voelkl takes lemon, lavender, geranium, a watery green leafy accord, and chocolate and turns them loose. It sounds like so many conflicting ideas it should just collapse. I’ll admit it comes close but I find this highly saturated opening fabulous. It never quite completely veers off course although I will admit it does drive on the wrong side of the road from time to time. This chaotic opening is what put many off because it is so weird, even eight years later it is still pretty weird. For the rest of the development Covet is relatively more straightforward as the heart is muguet and magnolia. The base is vetiver, woody notes and amber.

Covet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Covet has been consigned to being the red-headed stepchild of Ms. Parker’s brand meant to be forgotten and unloved. If you are willing to take a chance on something great and for the price why wouldn’t you? Give Covet a try you might find something that is a real diamond in the rough.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke