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EXCLUSIVE: Calvin Klein Unveils Defy, Its First Stand-alone Men’s Scent in a Decade

Calvin Klein Defy is poised to generate $78 million in first-year retail sales across North America and Europe, with the fragrance expected to reach the top 15 ranking worldwide, according to Coty Inc.

LONDON — Calvin Klein is launching its first stand-alone men’s fragrance in nearly 10 years, and it’s suited to these topsy-turvy times.

Called Calvin Klein Defy, it is aimed at Millennial males, many of whom are feeling introspective, vulnerable and fearful of failure, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the project was in development well before COVID-19 hit, the Coty Inc. team behind Calvin Klein Fragrances was already getting signals from its research that Millennial men were grappling with more complex emotional and psychological issues than older — and younger — generations.

Now, as these Millennial men return to work and to their social lives, Coty is hoping to have a hit on its hands.

The beauty giant said it is looking to generate $78 million in first-year retail sales, with the fragrance expected to reach the top 15 ranking worldwide.

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“It’s being geared up as a new icon within the Calvin Klein portfolio,” and will be a new fragrance pillar, said Joanne Bletz, global senior vice president of Calvin Klein Fragrances, in an interview.

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Coty has tapped the 34-year-old Richard Madden, the Scottish actor and Golden Globe winner, as the face of the campaign. Calvin Klein Fragrances worked with The Style Council creative agency, while the still-life photographer was Thomas Legrand.

Madden, who has featured in “Game of Thrones,” Disney’s “Cinderella” and the TV series “Bodyguard,” will be starring in the upcoming superhero film “Eternals” opposite Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani and Gemma Chan, and is currently filming the Citadel series from Amazon Studios alongside Priyanka Chopra Jonas

The global ad campaign, which shows Madden seated on a rooftop dressed in Calvin Klein jeans and a white T-shirt, launches July 1. “It’s been an exciting opportunity to partner with Calvin Klein on this new launch,” Madden said.

Bletz said Coty is confident that Calvin Klein Defy, will resonate with men across the world, “driving further global demand” for the brand’s fragrances.

Coty has partnered with Twitch on the launch, asking consumers to take part in a “tournament” where they can battle against top streamers for a chance to win prizes. The tournament will be followed by a virtual after party.

Bletz said the choice of Twitch was key, as its a social app as well as a gaming one, and a place where men are having meaningful conversations.

Marketing will run across TV, digital and social platforms while retailers such as Macy’s, Ulta, Boots and El Corte Inglés will carry the scent. Calvin Klein Defy will begin rolling out in North America, Spain and the U.K., and in 2022 will expand to markets including Italy, Germany and other countries in Europe.

Coty is also optimistic about travel retail — which has taken a beating due to the decline in international travel — and foresees a pickup in that market in the first half of 2022, when international air travel is set to return in earnest.

The fragrance comes as an eau do toilette, with prices ranging from $49 for the 30-ml, to $114 for the 200-ml. There is also a 50-ml size, priced at $70, and a 100-ml costing $88.

This is Calvin Klein’s first major men’s fragrance since Encounter, which launched in 2012. It also follows a major transformation at the company.

When Encounter was launched, Italo Zucchelli was men’s creative director of Calvin Klein Collection, working alongside his women’s counterpart Francisco Costa.

Both men would eventually make way for Raf Simons, who joined the brand in 2016 as chief creative officer, and who worked closely with Coty during his short tenure. Together with Coty, Simons launched Obsessed for Women and Obsessed for Men, which hit counters in 2017.

The scent was a modern interpretation of one of the biggest fragrance blockbusters — and ad campaigns — of all time: Obsession. The new iteration, Obsessed, was Simons’ baby, and he made the project one of his first orders of business upon taking the top creative spot.

Calvin Klein Unveils Defy, Its First Stand-alone Men's Scent in a Decade
Calvin Klein’s new standalone men’s fragrance, Defy. Image Courtesy of Coty, Inc.

Simons left Calvin Klein after two-and-half years (he is now co-creative director of Prada) and the company shuttered both its 205W39NYC high-end collection business and its Madison Avenue flagship.

Calvin Klein now has a very different creative structure: Earlier this year it hired Willy Chavarria as SVP of design for Calvin Klein North America and Global Essentials apparel, men’s.

The company also hired Heron Preston in a creative consultancy role to develop Heron Preston for Calvin Klein, including sweatshirts, hoodies, underwear and denim.

Last year, the company took on board Jessica Lomax as EVP, global head of design, and Jacob Jordan, global chief merchant and product strategist.

Calvin Klein Defy is a fragrance for its time — and for its Millennial demographic, the largest group of fragrance consumers right now and a new audience for Calvin Klein.

Calvin Klein already has other generations covered, according to Bletz. Gen X, which is easing into middle age, favors Eternity (and its ad campaigns starring Christy Turlington Burns and husband Ed Burns) while Gen Z can spritz itself with CK Everyone, a unisex juice that launched last year and aims to channel inclusivity, community and freedom of expression.

These Millennial males are decidedly different from their seniors, and their juniors, though.

Bletz said when Coty started its research into the fragrance, pre-COVID-19, it picked up on “the struggle of the male consumer who was transitioning from the norm” and from the traditional ideas of success.

She said Coty was seeing a man “more willing to embrace his emotions,” one who had a “profound need to succeed interior-wise, rather than in the material sense. There was a deeper sense of introspection — and that was freeing for them.”

Coty double-checked that initial research at the end of 2020, and found that “these self-doubts — and the need to overcome them — were only amplified by COVID-19. So the message of the fragrance was even more relevant than it was a year ago.”

Madden, she added, “embraces the spirit of who we’re trying to express. He’s a rebel with a cause. He has a vulnerable, yet strong, side — and his characters do, too.”

Coty has attempted to distill those ideas into a fresh, woody fragrance, a blend of citrus, bergamot and fresh lavender absolute. The heart is vetiver oil which, according to Coty, is responsibly sourced from Haiti, and provides a “vibrant earthiness and rugged texture,” while the base notes are amber.

The juice was created by Anne Flipo, master perfumer, and senior perfumers Pascal Gaurin and Loc Dong of IFF.

The minimalist glass bottle is a blend of curved, rounded edges and sharp linear lines, while the cap and carton nod to Calvin Klein jeans, with matte, textured blue denim details and silver branding.