Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obsessive Compulsions

When Calvin Klein came out with Obsession and Obsession for Men in the 1980s, his reputation as a sexual provocateur was consolidated beyond any reasonable doubt. He had started with hinting at it through his infamous Jeans commercials featuring an underage Brooke Shields sineously asking "What comes between me and my Calvins?", to which the answer was of course "Nothing!"; but the perfumes had the potential of allowing so much more!
So today we're devoting space to a brilliant marketeer and the beautiful and disturbing connotations emerging from an admittedly legendary duo of fragrances.

In some cases the experiment was bordering on the paedophilic, earning Calvin a ban in the US with the following commercial which naughtily used the tagline "Love is child's play when you've known Obsession". But this only raised awareness of the brand, boosting sales. It was so infamous in fact that it got satirized on Saturday Night Live as Compulsion, hence the title of today's post.

And in some others, it took a turn for the utterly poetic, borrowing passages from literature accompanied by black and white artistic videos.
First from F.Scott Fitzerald and his The Great Gatsby (chapter6), in an ad directed by David Lynch and featuring Heather Graham and Benicio del Toro in 2001.

Or from D.H Lawrence, from Women in Love, again directed by David Lynch in the same year.

And then, there is this very funny reference to Obsession for Men in a very sweet, very touching, endearing little film, The Sum of Us, starring Russel Crowe, John Polson and Jack Thompson :
click here to watch the hilarious clip
Two potential partners who happen to be gay and share the fragrance one of them loves. And two dads respectively with funny quips about Obsession for Men: one unaware of the son's sexual identity and disapproving of the cologne, another good-naturedly accepting the lifestyle and raising a brow on excess...
But let's not spoil the fun (and a second scented reference towards the end!). Please watch for yourselves!

Clip of 1985 commercial of Obsession originally uploaded by beegib. Clips from 2001 uploaded by austinstar and spdelgado respectively.
Clip from the film The Sum of Us originally uploaded by Osloairport on Youtube.


  1. Helg you are brilliant - now those commercials will never leave me. I remember seeing them now, though I would never have been able to recall them on my own. I also now remember snogging a musician in college who wore Obsession, and wore it well... ah, the capriciousness of memory! ;D

  2. Anonymous13:11

    Sometimes I forget all the afford and time invested in the making of adds, and all the subliminal content that's a big part of the branding process.

  3. Oh man was the first one ripe for parody. Heh. Funny thing about Obsession it is constantly compared to one of my holy grails Must de Cartier, but I can't stand Obsession, it may have one of the biggest hiney musks in it that I have every smelled.

  4. Risa, aww, you're too good to me! Funny how memory works, huh?
    I see...A dearly beloved wears one part of the Obsession duo wonderfully and makes me dream...

  5. Indeed advertising and marketing can be elevated to art. The Shrine has been interested in it for a while.

  6. Jen,

    the first one sort of attracts me: although I can very well see how it would be satirized.
    I don't really think Must and Obsession are that close, to be honest: one has a green element over the orientalised base, the other is powdery amber straightout.

  7. I got a HUGE kick out of your exhaustive- dare we intimate, obsessive?- exploration of this one !

    I remember fodly the SNL spoof- it was brilliant !
    And all the commercials.
    Sum of Us was a dear film- it flew under the radar for many, I suspect.

    Wowzers, girl.

  8. Glad you did, dear I!

    SNL has many brilliant segments, it's a guilty pleasure when I get clips.

    The Sum of us did flow under the radar for many, it being from Oz and a small budget, character-driven film, but it is as you say: A little gem.
    No wonder you, of all people, like it.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine