August 27, 2017
Foreword: I had the opportunity to ask 2017 Fragrance Foundation Life Time Achievement Award winning perfumer Harry Fremont this question about the game-changing CK One:
Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief “What was the original brief for CK one? “
Harry Fremont: "The brief aimed to create a fragrance that reflected a sense of youthful rebellion, but also the feeling of togetherness. It was to be a fragrance for men and women – the first to be done on such a large scale. The scent had to communicate freshness and sensuality all at once. These are tonalities not always paired together. It is difficult to achieve something that is both open and provocative".
When people learn I write about perfumes, they usually start asking me for fragrance advice. One of the most frequent requests is for “something a little bit powdery, bright, like a cloud around you smelling powdery, just out of the shower”. Anybody having little knowledge in perfumery raw materials would immediately think of white musks, so starting from the “cheap thrills” my first suggestions are drugstore white musk fragrances. But as soon someone asks for a more expensive and fashionable perfume, my pick is always: Calvin Klein CK One.
Alberto Morillas and Harry Fremont
Composed by Firmenich master perfumers Alberto Morillas and Harry Fremont, CK One was a game changer both in terms of fragrance and image; it completely redefined the Western market perception about smelling clean. You know why?
CK One ad campaign 1994
Clean, that’s what CK One is all about. In fact it’s no surprise it was developed while Calvin Klein Fragrances was under the Unilever Group. After the ‘80s sexual powerhouse perfumes era and AIDS impacting so heavily on social behavior and fear of anyhting that smelled animalic, it was clear “sex sells” didn’t work the same way anymore. If they wanted things to stay as they were, things would have to change. The “anti-perfume” trend in fragrances trying to smell like nothing started and the grunge wind was blowing from Seattle, speaking of Generation X’s malaise wth the status quo and search for freedom, sexual equality and tolerance of differences.
Composed around the androgynous green tea trend started in 1992 by Jean Claude Elena for Bulgari (Eau Parfumée au thé vert), C K One ‘s “out of the shower” effect was achieved by a huge amount of hedione, dihydromyrcenol and the fruity radiance of galaxolide (the three form most of the formula together with iso-e super), CK One invisibly shouted its reply: everybody is Clean, whatever it means. The perfume itself is cleverly done as M. Morillas and M. Fremont play a big gun here. In fact speaking of clean smells, there’s nothing better than good old (and very unexpensive) galaxolide to do the trick as it has been ubiquitous to scent everything from laundry detergent to body washes since the mid-60s. That’s why CK One doesn’t just smell squeaky clean; its musk overload alludes to the essence of clean itself.
To make it chic and less obvious, they dressed this synthetic laundromat backbone with a cardamom and nutmeg spiced tropical punch of citrus notes, pineapple and papaya which added sparkle and some pizzazz to the ‘70s floralcy of the green tea accord making CK 1 a crowd-pleaser.
Kate Moss in the ad campaign
What particularly striked me, as well as its fluorescent-lit supermarket detergent aisle smell, was the very first 1994 pervasive commercial which of course played a key role in the success of the perfume.
Filmed by Steven Meisel in black and white, it featured people from different ages and races, androgynous young models dressed in no-logo casualware talking, kissing and playing music, followed by a young Kate Moss briefly introducing the the sheer satin glass bottle designed by Fabien Baron. What is really important in the commercial is a total white background. This immaculate aura surrounding everybody was so piercing to the eye you could almost smell the dry cleaning freshness of dihydromyrcenol as metallic and sharp as Cobain’s Pennyroyal tea unplugged version.
I remember thinking back then it looked exactly the opposite of the social issue advertising for HIV that was going on on the Italian TV. Also filmed in black and white, it featured people with risky sexual habits being potentially infected by the virus and so marked by a red halo.
Left: Model Jenny Shimizu
Red versus white -risky versus safe, sensual versus clean smelling or better; now sexy IS clean smelling and part of a socially aware urban tribe. Unisex sexy and multi-ethnic CK One's image can be summed up by the androgynous Japanese model Jenny Shimizu, one of favored Klein’s muses. Understanding this simple juxtaposition. ahead of the times, empowered by big advertisement investment, CK One was a colossal commercial success followed by plethora of flankers and imitations.
“If you know who you are, if you dare
if you don’t accept who resists to you
if you live your life as you like
if you prefer love to routine
if you love to share
if you don’t want to be what you are not
if you think conformism is flattening…CK One by Calvin Klein, a new fragrance for a man or a woman”
Notes include: bergamot, cardamom, citrus, pineapple, papaya, green tea accord, violet, nutmeg, rose, hedione, amber, musk, cedar
This review was based on the original edt (1994) issued from my personal collection.
-Contributor Ermano Picco, Perfume expert and author of La Gardenia nell’Occhiello
Tower Records, East Village, 1983 photo Dith Pran New York Times ©
Editor’s Note: When CK One burst onto the scene in the USA, not only did it have groundbreaking advertising it also was marketed unlike any other fragrance. Not just the dichotomy of heroin chic, gritty, street imagery vs. fresh musk scent. CK One was also sold in stores where Gen Xers shopped, like Tower Records (sadly closed). I took note at my job in marketing for a large jeanswear company at the time and partnered with Glamour Magazine and Jane Cosmetics to roll out "shop with in shops at mass market department stores"-Michelyn Camen, Editor-in Chief
Do you remember or wear CK One?