Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Obsession for Men- Where It Began

Everyone has their first. Like all firsts you never forget. It was fall of 1986 and I was in my local Macy’s men’s department shopping for work clothes. I had been in my first adult job for a couple years. I was shopping for new clothes because I felt I needed to find something more professional. I was in this mindset when I kept getting the hint of this wonderful smell. As I was flipping hangers on the rack there was a spicy scent in the air. On my way to the dressing room I noticed it was coming from a woman spraying a perfume on paper strips followed by spraying the air. As I was on my way to the register to pay, I detoured towards her. This was what I had been smelling. She offered me one of the strips. I fell down the rabbit hole. On my way to paying a bottle ended up with my new wardrobe. That perfume was what I consider to be my first “grown-up” perfume; Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.

Prior to that I mainly wore Ralph Lauren Polo but I had become tired of it; rarely reaching for the bottle on my dresser. That was a Christmas gift that even when I wasn’t tired of it, I wore mostly when going out, not daily. When I got Obsession for Men home it was what transformed me into a daily perfume wearer. It also transformed my shower as I bought the soap, too. I have worn Obsession for Men for over thirty years and I never have tired of it. Even today when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve come home.

When Obsession for Men was releases in 1986 it was meant to be the masculine counterpart to the very successful Obsession released a year earlier. The same perfumer for Obsession, Robert Slattery, worked on Obsession for Men. Both perfumes were riding the prevailing trend of Oriental perfumes prevalent at the time. What allowed Obsession for Men to stand out was Mr. Slattery used a lighter hand. Obsession for Men was never going to be described as a powerhouse masculine. This was a more refined take on what a man should smell like.

In the mid 1980’s there was a fear of making a male-marketed perfume too femme-y. That translated to floral ingredients being very limited. Lavender was one of the acceptable ones. Mr. Slattery would use the slightly herbal nature of lavender to construct a spicy heart accord around. The keynote was nutmeg which was the leader of the spice squad which consisted of clove, sage, and coriander. This was what caught my attention from across a sales floor. It is what makes me happy every time I wear it. Mr. Slattery forms a traditional Oriental base of amber, patchouli, myrrh, vetiver, and sandalwood.

Obsession for Men has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am on the final sprays of my third bottle of Obsession for Men. I have found reformulation has not exacted a toll on it. With all classic perfumes which have lasted this long it is a Discount Diamond. I’ve picked up new bottles for less than $25. That’s a good price for one of the best masculine perfumes ever made. Of course that’s what I would say about my first.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Nutmeg

Nutmeg is one of the smells of the Holidays for me but I also realize it is one of my favorite perfume notes for the rest of the year as well. If I really wanted to stretch this point to its breaking point I could say without nutmeg my perfume journey might never have begun. If you want to spritz a little nutmeg on here are five of my favorites.

It was the nutmeg that lured me over to the woman spraying strips with Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. The 1986 perfume composed by Bob Slattery uses nutmeg as the leader of the spices in the heart. I knew when I smelled it wafting to my nose it smelled different than other masculine designed spice perfumes. Mr. Slattery adds in clove, coriander, and sage along with lavender and myrrh. It ends on a traditional woody base of sandalwood and vetiver. It is that spicy heart which still appeals to me almost thirty years later.

The most famous nutmeg perfume is likely Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger. At first created as a little present for Ms. Malone’s clients it would be the perfume which launched one of the earliest successful niche brands. Like all Jo Malone fragrances, you get a lot of what it says on the bottle as ginger rides in on the shoulders of neroli and lemon to meet nutmeg embracing cinnamon and clary sage before ending on a sandalwood base note. Everything that is admirable and what made Jo Malone something of a trendsetter is on display right from the start.

Givenchy_Organza

Sometimes I want my nutmeg as a side to some white flowers. My favorite white flower nutmeg combo plate is 1996’s Givenchy Organza created by a committee of Sophia Grojsman, Nathalie Lorson, and Sophie Labbe. Organza takes a green sappy accord and dives right into a heart of luscious gardenia and jasmine. The nutmeg forms a spicy sweet woody base with vanilla and cedar. You might think white flowers can’t be tamed with nutmeg, Organza proves that hypothesis incorrect.

A fellow forum poster on Basenotes gifted me a sample of Frapin Caravelle Epicee. If Obsession for Men started the journey Caravelle Epicee was when I completely fell down the rabbit hole. I frequently describe this 2007 creation by perfumer Jean-Marie Faugier as the hold of a Dutch East India company boat just after it is unloaded. Nutmeg and coriander are the first of many spices which form the olfactory spics ship. Thyme, allspice, pepper, and tobacco form the manifest. The smell of the wood of the ship is infused with patchouli. This is as close as I have to a single favorite perfume.

Carner Barcelona Rima XI composed by perfumer Sonia Constant is one of the softest spicy perfumes I own. It is a soft place to lay one’s head and allow nutmeg, cardamom, saffron, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, and mint to surround you in a spicy haze. You almost don’t notice the equally quiet jasmine and sandalwood but they make Rima XI the complete perfume that it is.

This was bit of a journey down my perfume lover’s memory lane with the scent of nutmeg accompanying me.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles that I purchased of all the fragrances mentioned.

Mark Behnke