Monday, September 1, 2008

Secret Obsession by Calvin Klein: fragrance review

We had announced the news of the upcoming Calvin Klein fragrance back in May and with it a few musings on how these things work as well as commentary by its new face, sexy actress Eva Mendes; who (to her credit) had contributed a few words on body perception and beauty.
Now the fragrance rolled out to actually test it and the proof is in the pudding, so here we are doing a review of it, if only because we had always been great fans of the original Obsession, especially the one geared towards men.
"Secret Obsession explores the secrets that lie between love and madness. It's about being taunted with illicit thoughts and compelled with seeking pleasure.
The fragrance is an intoxicating floral oriental weaving together hidden fruits, exotic flowers and a sultry wood signature for a provocative and addictive sexiness.
Sultry. Addictive. Exotic."
The fragrance is presented as a floriental, created by Givaudan perfumer Calice Becker and art-directed by Ann Gottlieb who is responsible for many Calvin Klein successful launches. To me however it registers as fruity-spicy-woody, much like the latest Lancome feminine fragrance Magnifique, with which it shares many facets. Poised between Sensuous and Magnifique, along with its congenial sisters, it heralds the new vogue in feminine fragrances: namely, woody, duskier notes.

The initial impression of spraying Secret Obsession is rum-like boozy with an alcoholic hairspray blast petering out quickly, plummy and ripe but not overtly sweet (a good thing!), especially compared with the overall sweeter Magnifique.
In Secret Obsession there is a distinct phase in which the resinous, intense aroma of mace provides a welcome surprise as the fragrance opens up on the warmth of skin. In the first century A.D., the Roman writer Pliny described a tree, Myristica fragrancs bearing a nut having two separate flavors. Nutmeg is one flavour coming from the kernel of the fruit and mace is the other. Mace comes from the outer, "lacy" reddish covering of the Myristica tree fruit, but it has a more delicate smell in comparison with nutmeg.
On the contrary, floral notes do not register much, which is surprising given the intense character of the flowers listed (orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose). If I were hard-pressed to put my finger on one, I would offer jasmine or the similar, denser note of ylang ylang, but in no way is this especially pronounced in the scheme of things, nor classical in treatment. Its creamy manipulation takes its cue from Songes by Goutal, but whereas the intense ylang ylang and natural jasmine of the latter contributed to a narcotic, intensely heady feel of being on an exotic island's orchard, in Secret Obsession we are met with a postard from the tropics that bears the handwriting of a past love. Perhaps like the gold-flecks of Fragile by Gaultier are meant to represent the confetti remnants of tuberose festivities, we are left with a trail of something past, instead of a presence of the here and now.

The overall effect is tanned skin, cocoa-buttyric, pleasantly cedary-woody, much of it accountable to Cashmeran* and is less loud than the oriental monochromatic amber of the original Obsession by Calvin Klein or the fruity megaphones of Euphoria, but perceptible.
Secret Obsession has a linear development that doesn't change much as you wear it: the initial scent becomes warmer and duskier, but doesn't change significantly over time. I wouldn't necessarily deem it too sexy or provocative and would prefer to see it in a body oil concentration where its shady character would shine.

The advertising takes a page off the usual Calvin Klein style: provocation, even if leading to negative publicity, is ultimately good publicity. Censors in the US have banned the commercial and the brand has decided to fight that decision.
The furore caused by the commercial didn't raise my eyebrows: just a beautiful woman, actress Eva Mendes, wriggling in bed naked, supposedly only clad by a few drops of Secret Obsession; it's rather well-made, if you ask me.
"It really taps into the secrecy of a private moment - where it's clear that Eva is having illicit thoughts," Lori Singer, vice president of global marketing for the brand at Coty Prestige, tells WWD. "It's somewhat up to interpretation - because of how it's shot, and what you see and hear, and what you can't see and hear. You hear her voice, talking about having a sexy secret."
Judging by the advertising concept, Marilyn Monroe is still a very influential icon, if the notion that a woman wears nothing but perfume in bed can be traced back to her own statement of opting for Chanel No.5. However those were conservative times and such an oral, and nota bene non visual, statement had the tantalising advantage of making people imagine Marilyn preparing for a lover who would get to profit from her alluring presence laced with a few seductive drops of a fine fragrance. This kind of mythos cemented the reputation of No.5 as not only elegant and prestigious, but also as a weapon of attraction. Those times, however, are over for better or worse.

The main difference I perceive with the current advertising for Secret Obsession is that Eva is implied to be alone in bed: there is no hinted lover about to emerge behind the lattice, thus making the images take a rather auto-erotic turn which might have caught censors off-guard.
Personally I fail to see how a soupcon of nipple is provocative or contributes to moral destruction, especially when bombs are let free to explode on prime-time TV news and shows. Such sort of selective censorship reeks of hypocricy to me. But perhaps my European eyes have become jaded, living at a place when clothes drop unhesitatingly at the drop of a pin on national TV without the programme earning the label of X-rated, while violent scenes and films often equal delegation to the after-hours zone.

In any case, the Fabien Baron directed commercial is available for your perusal, so you can judge for yourselves.

Eva Mendes- Secret Obsession Banned Commercial

Official Notes:
Top: exotic plum, mace, rose Damascena
Heart: French orange blossom, Egyptian jasmine, tuberose, plum, woods
Base: cashmere woods*, burnt amber, Australian sandalwood

In the interests of disclosure, I received a free sample of the new Secret Obsession by Calvin Klein. No, not the bracelets they were advertising to bloggers! An actual decant (ie.hand-poured juice from a bigger bottle into a smaller one). Yes, you heard this right! Not a commercial carded sample, not a full bottle either (probably because I specify to anyone who asks that I need financial details so I can actually pay; that pretty much makes several of them vanish into thin air! The Calvin Klein people to their credit didn't.)
How to get hold of your own?
Click here or here (and scroll)for your free sample of Secret Obsession.

Secret Obsession has just launched in Europe and is out on September 15 in the US according to the official info, available from major department stores in a brown glass bottle like a turtle's face, which tapers towards the top featuring an amber cap, sort of 70s retro.
Eau de Parfum 30ml/1oz, 50ml/1.7oz and 100ml/3.4oz. Satin Body Lotion and Satin Shower Gel in a 200ml/6.7oz tube each.
We're taunted to check out everything on it by searching "Secret Obsession Calvin Klein" on Facebook under the Pages tab and to visit the official Secret Obsession site.

*Cashmere woods or Cashmeran is a IFF patented, complex aromachemical that provides a beautiful, velours note with diffuse nuances of earthy-wood and spicy notes (pine, patchouli), fruits and flowers (heliotrope, red fruits, apples and jasmine) and is softly musky-vanillic. It's featured in Ysatis, Amarige, Michael, Lacroix Rouge, Perles de Lalique and many more.

Clip via celebriNet2/ Pic of nutmeg courtesy of Bottle pic via Osmoz


  1. As the fragrance is already in store in Paris I sampled it too. I also find the spicy note very important here and I think there is something in the background that can be traced to Youth Dew Amber Nude (still have to find that note!), a sticky resinous note, almost honey like.

  2. I will have to try this more than once. The first time I wasn't too impressed -- I expected more from the name, I guess, and I didn't notice the turtle look in the store. I'm not sure I'd want to own it if I can see that in the store, though a turtle has a good meaning in Native American Indian lore.

  3. Anonymous12:41

    I am very curious now. I am an absolute plum and mace lover and i have also high hopes for the sandalwood note in it (the australian kind... ah?). If it's a bit similar in character to the spiciness of the original Obsession i am caught here.

  4. Anonymous14:01

    Thanks for this review. I loved Obsession back in the eighties but then overdosed and haven't touched it since. However this take intrigued me enough to try it on a card strip and I really enjoyed the plummy note which reminded me of Delrae's Bois de Paradis. I shall try it on skin next. (Dona)Nicola

  5. Octavian,

    the spice is perhaps its best feature, gives an edge. (It's rather good that it's done in a non-too-sweet way). At first my expectations were not very high;
    this new "woody" trend is rather nice for a change.

    I agree with you on the parallel with YDAN: it seems to me that that aspect has been successfully influencing many contemporary fragrances to a greater or less degree. I am looking forward to your pinpointing what it is exactly.

  6. Karin,

    what an interesting aspect you bring: yes, turtles are supposedly lucky! (in Chinese folklore too if I am not mistaken) I should have included that in the review.

    It's not groundbreaking or "sexy" in the classic perception of the term, despite the advertisements: it has a couple of pleasant twists though. Do try it again.

  7. N,

    it's very different from the original Obsession, make no mistake about it. Whereas that one was sweet, ample and like a rich alto voice in its amberiness, this is a raspier, spicier and shaded bass.
    The plum and mace are very perceptible! The sandalwood not really (the Australian does smell very different than the classic Indian variety, going by the essential oils I have experienced). It's worth checking out in any case: you might well like it.

    BTW, somehow I believe the background is rather composed of new aromachemicals that provide this hazy "buzz".

  8. Nicola,

    thank you for your experience and you're very welcome.
    The plumminess is something I first truly enjoyed in beloved Parure (and Femme too) and ever since I like to find it in whatever I can.

    It does deserve a trial on skin: like I said, I find it would perform best of all if they made it into a body oil. It would be a very sensual idea. Maybe their next product in the line, if it proves successful? We'll see.

  9. I tried this the other day but feel I need to try it again as I couldn't quite put my finger on my thoughts.

    I am in complete agreement about a body oil, I hadn't thought of it but it's just that sort of fragrance that would work in an all over way.

    My initial response was that it was not really anything like obsession as you say- which I was surprised about.

    I liked that is wasn't floral or sickly heavy at all.

    Was it a bit like tiemppe passate without the salt or am I getting a bit ahead of myself? the bottle being the same colour might be affecting what I think!

    They were playing a video of the banned advert in the shop I went to so they obviously aren't worried!

  10. Rose,

    thanks for recounting your thoughts!
    I agree with you: the controversy around the advertisement is fueling interest. And I doubt it's been banned anywhere else expect the US.

    Yes, it's not very floral not is it heavy. I like that it's not too sweet, most of all: With "sexy" scents that's a constant danger! LOL
    Perhaps the cedary base of TP is what is doing the deja vu trick: I need to compare side by side (I do like TP!)

  11. This is the short form of turtle:

    "Many Native American Indians believe that many years ago everything was covered by water and that the world came to be formed on the back of a turtle. They call the world "Great Turtle." When you honor the turtle you are treating the earth with respect. When you do not take care of the earth you are hurting the turtle. The turtle represents the earth and nature. "

  12. That's a precious concept, Karin. Thank you!!

    How wise, how savant and how infinitely needed these days.

  13. Anonymous15:23

    Very interesting breakdown and excellent writing, thank you. I think I should test this on my skin before pronouncing it "another Calvin Klein".

  14. Anonymous17:23

    I am astounded to see such hypocritical minds, there is nothing provocative in the commercial unless nipples are not something natural that all women have. Then again, it might go against femininst opinions on objectifying the female form, but most do it, not only Calvin, I don't see the point of the controversy unless it's intended to boost discussion on the product.

  15. Thank you Sue, you flatter me.
    It would be oversimplistic to diss something because of the brand name, I feel.
    Do try it, looking forward to your impressions.

  16. Aline,

    hi! Like I said maybe the controversy is boosting sales, so they're playing into well-known territory.
    As to feminist issues, I would like to see similar treatment of men, but it's a fact that it rarely happens: men and women alike like to see women for some reason (?!)Or so we're being told.

  17. Anonymous13:44

    First, I admit to being a 70-year-old male, so those details might influence my view, but I find a soupcon (can't find the proper "c") of nipple far more provocative than a vue prolongée. In fact, I find the same applies to my reaction to perfume: just a hint of fine scent from a passing woman creates a longing.

    I do agree on your views of censorship, but I wanted to suggest that much of the in-your-face, extended nudity can produce ennui.

    Your blog is beautifully written.


  18. Anonymous10:05

    In last British Vogue one can see an advertisement for this perfume where the bottle definitely do not resemble a turtle, but by the position in the image in relation to the model, resembles something entirely different.. Well, for me it is over the edge esthetically! The story told by the picture is too obvious, lacking that surplus of meaning that would nourish one's curiosity! At least I think/feel so

  19. Thank you Bob for your wonderful compliment and your interesting comment!

    You have a good point that a little bit (couldn't find the proper c with cédille either!)is more tantalising than the whole 9 yards.

    What a romantic view of fragrance: a passing whiff from a woman you cross on the street...lovely.

  20. S,

    thanks for your tidbit on the ad prints. You mean a pair of breasts, I deduce, right? ;-)
    Hmm, yes,it's a little obvious. Not provocative, but they could have treated it more imaginatively.

  21. Anonymous22:37

    I was a bigger fan of Obsession body lotion than the perfume itself. I decided to go back to it recently. The silkening body lotion isn't quite the same. If I loved the original Obsession is there a similar fragrance you'd recommend? thanks.


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