CK One: From Scent to Apparel in 16 Years

When CK One came out, it was marketed as “the world’s first unisex fragrance,” which of course it wasn’t. (Colognes like 4711, which have been around for centuries, have long been worn by all.) Today, Calvin Klein calls CK One “the original ‘shared’ fragrance that inspires the confidence to be yourself and encourages you to connect with others.” Hmm. Insert cynical comment here.

But the decision to sell CK One as a unisex scent was huge in a market full of rigid categories. It felt transgressive. By all accounts, it was a huge success: industry lore has it that it was the biggest fragrance launch ever, and that at its pinnacle it sold 20 bottles per minute at retail.

Now, more than 15 years after its launch, Calvin Klein is turning CK One into an apparel brand. This is odd because the CK One name is no longer hot. In fact, Calvin Klein tried to create a “sequel” to it in 2007. Ever heard of it? If you have, I bet you forgot about it.). And Calvin Klein is no longer with the company that bears his name. So why wouldn’t it work again?

It’s simple. CK One as a whole package—ads, concept, bottle design, fragrance—all perfectly hit the consumer mindset. It was androgynous at the right time, edgy but endlessly inoffensive, and it came in a bottle as generic for its time as the original Chanel bottle once was. In short, it was totally new. Rehashing CK One, either as a new fragrance (CK in2u Her and Him launched in 2007 to mixed reviews) or as apparel, is doing what marketers of movies and music and fashion have been lazily doing for too long. It’s remaking, remixing and re-launching old ideas. Doing this well is just as difficult as creating something completely new, but it’s been an all too common shortcut lately.

CK One needs no updating. I hadn’t smelled it in years, and only remembered that it was everywhere for a while—now I know why. It’s pretty damn good. It starts off a little citrusy, with hints of lemon and grapefruit that quickly pass to a fresh (but not at all sporty; more soapy-clean) light and totally inoffensive floral with bits of what must be amber, musks and oakmoss giving it some weight.

It reminds me of what people on one of the fragrance forums wrote when someone asked what scent they ought to wear on an airplane. This person was looking for something light that wouldn’t smack fellow passengers in the face. Many people suggested Thierry Mugler Cologne, an excellent choice (some say it was designed for those who don’t really like fragrances), but CK One would work just as easily. Besides, both Mugler’s Cologne and CK One were created by the same perfumer, Alberto Morillas, a Spaniard who also did the brand new Bulgari Man. Morillas excels at the light and understated.

So what would a CK One apparel collection look like? Would it be unisex like the fragrance? No doubt the geniuses who cam up with this plan didn’t think much about that. To them, it’s a brand with a long enough history to capitalize on. I expect it will launch to the same sort of fanfare that CK in2u did: a mild flutter and then a fizzle before being forgotten. Meanwhile, CK One, the fragrance, remains.

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2 Responses to CK One: From Scent to Apparel in 16 Years

  1. aprilxyzco says:

    Wouldn’t a CK One apparel collection basically be the best of the Gap? They could likely re-use some of the CK One ad photos for the clothing line — black & white, mostly jeans, tees, tanks.

  2. Yes! Precisely. Only basics.

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