Monday, October 8, 2018

Calvin Klein Obsession for Men: fragrance review

Back in the old days, when Calvin Klein was a bona fide designer house and the fragrances weren't made by Coty, the churning of smells was set on the decidedly loud end of the spectrum, and on the rather creative side as well. This was the decade of Dallas and Dynasty, of shoulder pads that pushed you over on the ladder to the corporate top, when women started to bring back home the bacon in earnest ("and fry it on a pan") and when the tip-toeing of perfume wearing in public spaces was only considered far-fetched dystopian sci-fi.

Obsession (for women, 1985) and Obsession for men (1986) were the natural products of such a period. Loud, brash, gold jewelry statement, knock-your-socks-off scents, full of the inherited warmth of their French counterparts (the success of the Opium perfume by Yves Saint Laurent fresh on the collective memory), but very American in their stylized presentation. And who could forget those infamous advertisements with the naked bodies standing atop a hammock in black and white, shot by Bruce Weber? Ann Gottlieb, creative director for Klein fragrances and responsible for countless commercial hits for countless brands, had demanded "sexy with a touch of raunchiness" and possibly, as it has been argued, got the balance reversed. But that's not a bad thing.

The person credited with the creation of Obsession for Men, a certain Robert Slattery, unaccredited for anything else, got the raunchy and sexy in spades by relying on the tension between trustworthy materials: mandarin on top contrasting with warm amber on the bottom, nutmeg and cinnamon spicing it up, giving a certain piquancy which recalls a man-made space somewhere in the late 80s, early 90s; gregarious, evening-time, where people smoke and drink freely, and where confident men in lots of aftershave prowl for the casual encounters of the evening, their own clean sweat mingled with the adrenaline of the flirting. It was a happier time, a less controlled time, and a time when anything seemed possible. Or, perhaps, it was a time when we felt ready for anything.

Obsession for Men in its current format feels watered down and lacking that density which sealed its unmistakable presence, but it still is a great trip down memory lane.


  1. i used to wear the "obsession" for men when i was in high school. i wore quite a few men's versions of scents. i think i had the women's version too? i have smelled both "obsessions" recently at a shop counter, and felt they had changed...they seemed, as you say, watered down. and the amber in the women's version especially seemed cheapened somehow, and it smelt like plastic or rubber to me. not at all as i remembered!

    1. I don't how the system managed to eat my comment and leave me thinking I had replied, but it did. So sorry for that.

      It is indeed a pity that those 80s powerhouses have been thinned into weaker forms, because it was their brash confidence that was their winning asset, but we will have to do with what's left, I suppose.
      If they have changed them even more in recent months, then I guess we should be onto greener pastures and leave it to our innermost memories to retain what can be retained...


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