Saturday, February 12, 2011

Calvin Klein Eternity (1988 original): fragrance review

Think of 1980s perfumes and think of today: See a difference? A staggering 11.7% ratio of Iso-E Super (a synthetic abstract woody note) ensures that 1988-issued Eternity by the-then-Calvin-Klein-controlled house was on the vanguard of something that would be exploited to full effect several years later. It also justfies why Eternity doesn't exactly smell like Eternity any more, as Iso-E Super concentrations have been toned down in recent perfumery restrictions.
Sophia Grojsman, the renowned perfumer behind this, is no shy violet when coming to streamlining a formula down to a few core accords & ingredients which give a pronounced effect: Tonalide and Galaxolide (both synthetic musks) are also overdosed, and her other best-selling opus, Trésor for Lancôme, contains a huge amount of Galaxolide, accounting for the phenomenal tenacity (Synthetic musks don't budge off for days on end).

Calvin Klein wanted to capture a romantic vibe after the carnal lust of Obsession and its racy advertising, forseeing the 1990s return to the cocoon and the conservative values of family. Thus an iconic fragrance of the 1990s emerged, advertised in serene scenes of a family by the sea, fronted by Chris Turlington (one of the top 5 supermodels of the era). Was the seascape kissing romantic in that it stirred the unconsious of viewers into reminding them of Deborrah Kerr and Burt Lancaster sharing a passionate salty kiss in From Here to Eternity? Possibly. But the execution was much tamer this time, all preppy and "clean", in tune with the AIDS epidemic which necessitated a (public) cleaning up of one's sexual act.
The name was inspired by the ring of the Windsors, which king Edward VIII had offered to Wallis Simpson, and which Calvin had later bought at an auction for his ~then~ wife Kelly Proctor; it stands as a token of timeless promise of love and immortality: "As long as we're together, time can't touch us" the motto went.

The characteristic peppery heart of Calvin Klein Eternity evoking carnations is dusted with powder (heliotrope, musk) and fresh notes (citrus, greens, lily of the valley), making the fragrance fit for summer or winter, as long as you use it with restraint; it's quite potent! But the overall impression is removed from individual notes: Luca Turin calls it a "loud rose" and he's absolutely right: Eternity takes peppery notes reminiscent of spicy flowers (like carnation) and sprinkles them on top of an intensely soapy rose. In short, if you expect something like the retro Bellodgia by Caron, you will be disappointed.
To really feel the rose beneath the carnation however do an experiment: Take rose-affirmed Paris by YSL (also by Grojsman) and spray one on the one hand, the other on the other. You will feel it all right! After all, rose is Grojsman's favourite flower and she manages to amplify its message in almost everything she touches creating that "cleavage" accord for which she's famous, from Trésor for Lancôme (allied with apricot), Bulgari pour Femme, Nude by Bill Blass, and Jaipur for Boucheron to uber-niche S-perfume 100% Love. "Perfumers have signatures," Mrs. Grojsman said. "You can pick up a fragrance and know who the perfumer is by the way certain ingredients are put together. I'm known for floral accords, bottoms and cleavage."
Memorably, one of the lines I best recall involving the fragrance was featured in an American film involving a gynaecologist molester: his preferred scent on his women victims was Eternity; "it smells of clean sheets" was his (valid) explanation. Creepy...

Eternity proved such a popular concept (it's a best-seller in France of all places!) and name that a legion of flankers (Eternity Moment, Eternity Purple Orchid, Eternity Rose Blush, Eternity Summer and some I might be forgetting right now) have emerged over the years, tweaking the formula to serve the zeitgeist. It's still available (and apparently selling well) in department stores under Coty Prestige.

Notes for Calvin Klein Eternity (1988 original)
Top: Freesia, leafy green accord, citrus oils (mandarin), sage, narcissus, lily
Heart: Rose, violet, lily of the valley, carnation, marigold, apricot, peach
Base: Patchouli, sandalwood, heliotrope, musk


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the valuable information that you're sharing with us.

    I love perfumes. And I grew up in a family that really loves fragrances and perfumes. But I don't know the science and technicality behind smells and fragrances and perfume industry in general. That's why reading your posts is extremely educational.

    Excuse my ignorance, but I have a question: What's the difference between top, heart, and base notes?

    Best wishes
    el Shahlab

  2. Great reveiw, capturing every facet of this scent, including the technical side, which was new to me and of great interest. Also love the reference to Sophia Grosjman being no "shy violet", not least because of her liking the note!

    : - )

    I had a minor surgical procedure last year, during which the surgeon got chatting about the scents his wife wore. When he mentioned Paris and Tresor in the same breath, I was able tell him that they were created by the same hand. Which wasn't bad going for someone under the knife, I thought!

  3. Funny; I smelled this for the first time in at least a decade the other day. I must say I still really like it, and not just for sentimental reasons. I was a teenager in the US when it came out. It fit perfectly a certain wholesome, all-American, overly-clean vibe; it was very, very novel, I remember well. (Can't imagine Eternity scent doing well in France at all; I'm in France regularly and have never, ever smelled it on any woman. But then again who'd ever have thought "Le Mâle" would ever attract so many straight men?)
    See you,

  4. Anonymous02:45

    Funny, it's been years since I smelled Eternity, but I remember not liking it when it was new. I should sniff it again the next time I wander into a department store (it doesn't happen often)... I look at that list of notes and think, "Now why didn't I like Eternity? Those should please me no end."

  5. It's been a while since I smelled a Calvin Klein perfume. Needless to say, I'm not impressed with his perfumes for either sex even though I own a 12 year old bottle of Obsession that still smells good. It's odd that I used to love his stuff in high school.

  6. Shahlab,

    I suspected as much :-)

    The difference would be one of volatility, assuming the perfume is built as a classical pyramid: top notes felt first (the more volatile elements, usually citrus or some herbs or some spices), then heart/middle notes being perceived (most floral notes, a lot of spices and some resins), then base notes which are the least volatile and sustain themselves the longest on skin/clothes (most balsams & resins, some synths, some woods, amber etc)
    BUT not all perfumes are built like that (the "arc" of the development) even if advertised with that pyramid "model" (still used because it's been so perpetuated via the press all these years): So one could very well smell the base notes right away; this is quite often the case in several modern orientals which do it on purpose (smell Eau de Merveilles, or L'Eau Ambree by Prada) ~in other fragrance families as well, as in Sartorial by Penhaligon's for instance. Or a perfume might be "linear", which means it's constructed in a way that its perception is steady throughout its "stay" on skin..
    Or still a perfume might be built upon two -or more!- contrasting elements which come and go at intervals, without adherence to what "should" be top or bottom: smell Allure EDT or Hermes Vetiver Tonka.

    It's all fun experimenting!

  7. Vanessa,

    thank you!

    In your case, you show the real cojones of a perfumista: encyclopedic knowledge of fragrance just short of counting backwards from 100! Kudos to you for being so brave.
    (and I bet the doctor was very impressed!!)

  8. Michael,

    hi there!

    It's as you describe it: scrubbed clean and novel (at the time) and quite American in its outlook. Which I believe is why it became so successful.

    Interestingly, the info on its selling status in France comes from market research stats, not personal experience. I agree with you that I don't actually smell it on anyone (while one can smell plenty of Lolita Lempicka or Hypnotic Poison or J'Adore, which are steady best-sellers for years). It might be that there might be a reason behind such stats, although I think we'd both chalk that thought up to over-scepticism on our part...
    Still, like No.5 which is supposedly a top-seller throughout the States, yet perfume lovers online say they very, very seldom smell it on anyone, it might be that Eternity gets sold in France but is not actually worn that much (plausible). Why it gets bought in the first place then, though, beats me! *scratching head*

    One fact that I can provide for sure, nevertheless, is that the CK fragrances do not suffer any loss of prestige in Europe, as happens in the States. They're considered on a par to any "designer" fragrances line, like YSL, Dior, Lancome etc. This is reflected both in the price as well as the placement in stores and in the "reception" by anyone who gets them as gifts: no one raises an eyebrow.

    I rather find that Eternity is a compliment-getter. Its spicy-clean vibe is well received if the wearer doesn't spray on too much.

  9. M,

    possibly that list of notes is rather misleading. Really, to me it's a melange of carnation, rose, soap and musks: they all read "spicy-clean" somehow. Notes lists are such a confusing matter.
    So yes, do give it a sniff next time you're at the department store, but do keep in mind it's been changed quite a bit (it's harsher somehow and the rose communicates as totally synth). The older bottles were better I think.

  10. Eld,

    if you're in the States I realise that there is a very pronounced loss of prestige for the brand which might account for a certain distrust. Not that some of the newer ones aren't complete swill and not interesting in the least...
    Obsession was my favourite as well. It's a well-made amber perfume, advertised memorably and delivering exactly what it implies. I hoard my old parfum bottle while it lasts.

  11. Thanks! It makes sense now :)

    Hermes Vetiver Tonka! Another one of my favorites :)

  12. I'm happy to have an older bottle of this stuff, a special edition, silver plated bottle they released some years ago. It's true that it smells quite different now. Thanks for the review. Happy Valentine's!

  13. Shahlab,

    glad it communicated well on the screen.

    VT: Ah, a most delectable scent, agreed! I suppose you've read this already?

  14. Brian,

    hello there! How are you?

    You're quite the odds & ends collector (and I mean that as a compliment): you have stuff nobody else has! I always chalk it up to your very individual style.
    Interesting aquisition and I bet it'd look great in a movie set. *giving you ideas, giving you hints*

    Happy Valentine's to you as well!

  15. Alas, PShrine, I probably have a lot no one would dream of wanting. Which means when I try to weed out (perish the thought, of course) I'll have a tough time with it. Some perfume bottles are so cinematic. Usually those I can't afford!

  16. Brian,

    I bet that what you deem as no one would dream of wanting could become desirable if someone started talking about them in a desirable manner (haven't we ascertained that some of the "icons" became icons because a few people elevated them to that pedestral?)
    Food for thought!! (and a parody!)

  17. Love Eternity sincé 1988.


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