NEW YORK — CK has gone PC.
Calvin Klein, whose fragrances have generally been associated with all kinds of sexual overtones, has now come up with a scent so politically correct, it is non-gender specific.
It represents a dramatic departure for both him and the fragrance industry, since the fragrance is described by company officials as the first major scent aimed at women and men alike.
Due to be introduced in October, it is called CK One.
The “CK” ties the fragrance to Klein’s lower-priced lifestyle fashion and accessory merchandise, lines that carry his initials rather than his name. The “One,” says the company, refers partially to the changing gender roles in today’s world.
“People are striving for individuality in this decade,” said Sarah Williams, head of the CK One marketing team. “But as opposed to the Eighties and the ‘Me Generation,’ this generation is about ‘us.”‘
Citing results of focus group studies, Williams said the younger generation’s attitude is, “Let me be who I am. But I am still part of a group.”
Kim Delsing, president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics — the Unilever subsidiary that is Klein’s fragrance licensee — was emphatic in stating that CK One is not a “unisex” scent but rather a “shared” fragrance.
“People don’t want a blurring of the sexes,” she said. “They don’t want genders combined. The word ‘unisex’ takes the sex out of it, and we will not do anything with Calvin Klein’s name on it that is not sexy.”
Considering the fragrance’s positioning, along with its pricing and utilitarian packaging, Klein executives expect to attract younger and more value-conscious consumers who might not have been able to afford the designer’s fragrances in the past. They also hope to appeal to the traditional Klein fashion customer.
The CK One line initially will consist of two fragrance and two ancillary items. There will be two eau de toilettes, at $35 for 3.4 ounces and $50 for 6.7 ounces. Delsing noted that 3.4 ounces is usually the company’s large size.
The CK price points are dramatically lower than Klein’s other fragrances. The 3.4-oz. Escape, for instance, is $55 and Escape for Men offers the same size for $45.
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“Everyone today is concerned about value,” said Klein. “My customers who buy the collection clothes see the line and ask about price. That made me get into the CK idea. No matter how well off they are, they don’t want to show it and they don’t touch anything unless there’s value.”
Klein said part of the CK concept is to aim at younger customers, but he expects older people to also respond to it.
“Women in their 40s and 50s wear CK clothes,” he said.
In addition to the two fragrance items, the line will include an 8.4-oz. skin moisturizer at $20, and a 3.4-oz. body massage product for $15.
Delsing said the company hopes to add a $25 travel spray after the launch.
CK One’s pricing was applauded by Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation. Noting that Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers also had helped set a new, lower pricing plateau, she said of CK, “It’s exactly on target. The future of the industry will be based on different levels of pricing.”
Another New Age element is the environmentally friendly packaging, which Klein designed in collaboration with Fabien Baron.
The outer carton is recyclable cardboard and there is no separate fluted liner. The lining material is compressed into the inside of the box.
The glass bottle has a plain aluminum top reminiscent of the cap on a bottle of mineral water, and the ancillary items are in aluminum packages with no outer carton.
Asked what inspired the packaging design, he replied, “It reminds me of a rum bottle.”
He said his “dream” is to have “a whole stable of fragrances that can be packaged in this bottle.”
The company will include a pump dispenser in the fragrance carton to give the purchaser a choice of pouring or spraying.
Although the launch plans have not yet been made, Delsing said the company wants to merchandise the fragrance on freestanding self-service units adjacent to both the women’s and men’s fragrance bars in department stores.
CK One will be rolled out faster than past efforts.
Typically, Klein would launch a fragrance in 700 doors, then gradually expand throughout the company’s 2,200-door distribution. This time, the scent will go immediately to the bulk of the distribution.
“We will roll out in three months what has taken three seasons in the past,” Delsing said. “We’re going to be big everywhere, fast.”
Although Klein officials declined to make a projection, industry sources say the company is aiming for a first-year volume of around $20 million. That is in line with Klein’s other fragrances, the men’s and women’s versions of Escape, Eternity and Obsession.
The most radical departure from Klein’s previous efforts is the scent itself.
There have been past instances, mostly in Europe, where men’s scents have been adopted by women. Christian Dior’s 1966 entry, Eau Savage, is an example. But what sets the Klein fragrance apart is that it is the first major introduction to make a point of appealing to both sexes “from the very first, when we approached the fragrance suppliers,” Delsing said.
CK One also differs from body splashes. “It has more character than a splash,” said Ann Gottlieb, the consultant who helped develop it, “and it’s more sensual.”
In addition, the concentration of essential oils — at 10 percent — is richer than in the typical splash.
The fragrance, developed by Firmenich, has a “bright and sparkling top note that dries down to a gutsy base,” said Gottlieb, who also worked on the other Klein fragrances.
The top note combines bergamot, cardamom, fresh pineapple and papaya. The heart contains hedione high cis, a highly refined aromatic material that approximates a key element in jasmine. Two musks combine with amber in the drydown and a green tea accord contributes to the signature.
Delsing said Klein’s past fragrances have been “big, signature fragrances that have tended to enter a room before you do.”
In the case of CK One, however,”by nature, it is meant to be softer and more intimate.”
Delsing added that when the fragrance was being developed, the suppliers were told that if the formula had to lean one way or the other, it should be heavier on the masculine side. Delsing said “the crossover would be easier” with a masculine accent because of the growing trend in recent years of women buying men’s fragrance for themselves.
Luring men to CK One “clearly will be the biggest challenge,” she said.
Klein, who describes the scent as light, fresh and modern, said the line is not overtly feminine and should not turn off men.
“There is no perfume in this line,” he said. “A man doesn’t wear perfume.”
The large size of the bottles is something that might appeal to men, he indicated.
Delsing thinks she has an edge with the pool of willing male customers the company has accrued with its trio of men’s fragrances, scents that are in the top five of many department store rankings.
Although the advertising campaign has not been finished, Delsing said the company will run its first spots on network TV, rather than relying on the more scattershot co-op arrangements.
“We can get our message out there with better clarity and quality,” she said.
The scent is “relaxed” enough, as Gottlieb says, to be used lavishly. So much so that the company thinks it’s necessary to put explanatory notes in the cartons urging consumers to splash it all over themselves.
“If we don’t educate our existing customers to expect something different, they could be disappointed,” Delsing said.
“This is distinctive, but it’s not big and bold. It will stand up against any eau fraiche out there.”