Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Calvin Klein Beauty: fragrance review

I am reminded of the Greek term for "beautiful" while contemplating the concept of the new Calvin Klein feminine fragrance, Beauty. The term is όμορφος which literally translates as "of good shape". Contrary to just a lucky roll of the genetic dice, nevertheless, the Greeks have another word to describe someone who impresses our aesthetics with their comportment and appearence, both: ωραίος. This term etymologically comes from the phrase "of its time" and further signifies someone that is in equilibrium, in harmony with the surrounding world: Clearly being ωραίος requires some degree of intellectual and aesthetic effort, contrary to όμορφος! And yet I can't really say that Beauty by Calvin Klein is either. It's pretty (effort number 3 to describe aesthetic value!) and will wear well on many wearers, but in view of the above it fails to instigate either the sense of awe that a DNA-induced Royal Floss would or the grudging admiration a witty and wily leading of the cards in a whist Grand Slam would produce. Beauty is the equivalent of a computer solitaire game; it passes the time pleasantly and that's it.

Supposedly the fragrance was created to support Calvin Klein's clothes collection, with no aspirations of outward seduction (contrary to Euphoria or Obsession which play their intentions face up on the table). Thus Beauty has been promoted as a scent for mature women who choose fashion from the CK line and enjoy his familiar style and minimalistic brevity. To incarnate these, the creating team chose the calla lily. Now calla lilies are not especially renowned for their potent scent (other varieties are prefered, more on which on this article on Perfume Shrine) so perfumer Sophie Labbé turned her attention to ambrette seed for a little intimacy (it's a natural source of musks), jasmine for a floral heart and cedar for a Laconic, dependable base; or the "neo-lily" as the press material would want us to believe. Briefly speaking, Beauty by Calvin Klein doesn't really smell of any of these components. Probably because these are fantasy notes meant to evoke a feeling rather than a photorealistic representation. Its intent is to follow the path of best-selling Beautiful by Lauder, minus the stigma of "old" which an 80s fragrance would risk producing, and to capture the attention of late 30s-early 40s women who secretly love Daisy by Marc Jacobs but find its "just washed my hair & put a plastic flower on it" contraption too young for them. It's also intended for an audience who shy away from the "dirty" indoles (molecules naturally hidding in white flowers) ~an idea which incidentally Jacobs also tackled with his chaste Blush~ and those who are wary of offending people in the office space, yet want something that has a hint of feminine personality; not another brief splash of eunuch citrus or a super-clean musk that passes as fabric softener... In those regards Beauty succeeds.

The scent of Beauty by Calvin Klein overall projects like a soapy fresh, peachy and somewhat green tuberose/jasmine in the mould of Do Son by Diptyque or Voile de Jasmin by Bulgari with the requisite "clean musk, clean wood" drydown with only a hint of vanillic sweetness: the concept of a fresh floral jasmine scent with a wink of synth lily . Only whereas the charming rural iconography of Diptyque and its Vietnamesque inspiration provided a plausible excuse for a timid, beginner's tuberose lost in the bamboo shoots of the jungle, the much more impressive (and yes, urbanely elegant in its brushed aluminum) bottle of Beauty ~fronted by model/actress Diane Kruger no less~ predisposes for more, so you're kinda left hanging there... You can find an inexpensive and pleasant jasmolactone-based fragrance similar to this one in Sonia Kashuk's Gardenia No.1, as well as in several body products and shower gels advertised as boasting fresh jasmine or gardenia notes ~the latter also based on jasmolactone molecules (you can also detect the accord in Labbé's own refined "gardenia", Cruel Gardenia for Guerlain's boutique exclusives). So, it all depends on whether you like the CK bottle enough to purchase. In this card game, I'm afraid we've been redealt.


  1. I cannot argue with anything you say in this spot-on review of Beauty. That said, I was just so glad to find a CK scent I actually liked that wasn't targeted at interlocking naked teenagers that I was disproportionately impressed, not least by the bottle. I was perturbed to learn that Diane Kruger is only 34, while this scent is pitched at women over 40!

  2. Thanks for commenting Vanessa!

    You have a good point there and I guess it's something that the people at the marketing team on CK thought about long and hard. The campaign is classy. The bottle is perfection (it feels heavy, substantial and looks very cool indeed).
    Now as to the face...well, weren't wrinkle creams addressed to middle-aged women advertised by 20 year olds till very recently? That was even more incogruous, so I'm not totally perturbed.
    Personally I find scent classifications according to age in the mainstream media rather boring and predictable. I bet lots of younger women would also like Beuaty if advertised a certain way. It's certainly pretty, no doubt about that.

    PS. Hey, did you try the Korres in the end?

  3. Malena16:21

    Dear E.,
    Now, this really doesn't sound like something that I'd like, let alone wear...To be honest, I've a sample of "Beauty" but so far never felt like testing it as I already thought it would smell...well, bland - like all the newer CK fragrances. One disappointemnt after the other *sigh*

    I loathe everything clean smelling (in fragrance that is!), but I'm pretty sure "Beauty" will have a lot of fans that love the "white florals drowned in water with a tad of unskanky musk" effect.
    Why can't CK come up with something that makes a statement, just like "Obsession" used to do?! (I'm refering to the "vintage" version, the new juice smells somehow off.) I'm really tired of all these boring new mainstream "I don't wanna hurt anyone's nose" releases. Perfume is there to be noticed, it should be bold - at least to a certain extent!

    BTW, the bottle is elegant, but if I wanted to buy a perfume just for the bottle, Id go for one of the tacky Bond No.9s ;-D


  4. Hello Malena, so nice to see you!!

    It's not's just rather dull. It's pretty but in a sort of wall-paperish way. You enter the room, you vaguely notice something pleasant but can't really pinpoint it, unless of course you're a decorator by profession.
    I guess this is the desired effect; to produce a mood rather than a swoon. Swoons are dangerous conditions: they might get you pregnant, taint you with SDTs, they might end up staining your perfect "unmade-up" makeup etc etc. *end of sarcasm*
    Jokes aside, I think perfume has been renegated to this role in the last 15 years or so.

    Well, I expect many people who want a floral rather than a fabric softener scent will buy it just for the chance to have something a cut beyond the Philosophy line (who provide the "barely perceptible you can't even smell it youself" to a T and should be on every office personnel's favourite stuff list, LOL).
    I also think CK has deteriorated as a brand since Calvin left the building, which more or less is along the same lines you so aptly delineated. They used to have a specific provocative vibe (for better or for worse, it could go too far into the non classy) and they lost it. So, blandness ensues. Still, one could do a lot worse than Beauty I guess...

    Ha, I don't really like the Bond bottles. Call me weird, I find them too elaborate, too "stuffy"!But go ahead and grab them, more for you!!

    Hope you're well :-)

  5. Linda12:59

    Hello! I'm back, firstly to say thank you for your erudite reply to my comment from Monday's post, and secondly to say that I really agree about CK Beauty.
    I was at first attracted by the heavy, classy bottle, but after a sniff, thought that yes, it's just pleasant, no more.
    Also, despite the fame and some lovely fragrances amid the Bond range, I agree about the bottles (I saw one in Harrod's which was covered with Svarowski stones and thought it was too bling altogether...)

  6. Anonymous13:34

    Re your reply to Malena above, "Swoons are dangerous"! Ohhh, so true. So much fun... and SO not appropriate for the office.


    I haven't tried Beauty, but I admit, somewhat shamefacedly, to really enjoying both Daisy and Cruel Gardenia. (I'm not buying CG - if I were going to shell out THAT much money, I'd want Vega instead. There's a swoon for you, or at least it is for me.) There are definitely times when a quietly pretty scent is called for, and I'll leave my L'Arte di Gucci, my Bal a Versailles, and my Carnal Flower at home...

    At least Beauty isn't one of those sugary fruity florals. Or a berrychouli. (Sigh again.)

  7. Hi E,

    Since you helped me with my cancelled order, I must admit I haven't gone looking for that particular Korres from other sources, nor have I tried any others from that line. To be honest, I got distracted by an Eau Duelle epiphany, flittersniffer that I am - or was!

  8. Linda,

    oh goodie, we can still be friends :-) I do try to respond to all comments; after all, negative ones have as much a right to be visible as positive ones.

    Glad we agree on this one! I always found ostentatious bottles too much of a visual distraction, to be honest. I really like simple, elegant bottles, preferably like the Lutens aesthetic (sparse...almost Spartan, if you allow the Greek interjection)

  9. M,


    Well, it's a relief it's not another fruitchouli, that's true, there seem to be so many. Or a sugary fruity (I'm really really fed up with those!). A nice, feminine, pleasant, wearable floral. Nice entry. It needed some spike to be proper perfume, but oh well. They didn't botch it.

    Now as to Cruel Gardenia: actually I DO own it (yup, shelled out the big bucks) and I DO love it. It's a delightful soapy floral musk and highly complimented. If it weren't for the (intentionally ironic, I'm convinced) named, people would praise this one more. It's definitely worth-while at least in decant form: I envision it as the perfect first date scent; obviously feminine, immediately pleasant, with a promise hiding behind, yet without any imposition on the receiving end. ;-)

  10. V,

    ah...I see. I will see what I can do to ask for samples here (if they do them at the store, of which I'm not 100% certain yet, you got some coming your way!) I can tell you that two out of three at least are real winners, very nice.

  11. I really regret buying it: cheap smelling and boring. Like all of my previous perfume errors, I use it an air freshener in my bathroom!


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