PRINT February 1995



THERE THEY ARE, Zoe, Ione, Sofia, and Donovan. They’re not wearing their ski goggles but there they are, winding around all the little round tables of the Odeon, sweeping glances off the crotch-level heads of other notable but less recognizable patrons. They seem to bump into each other, their strides a jumble of soft hip-checks and eyes that slide around to their ears so they can watch themselves wind the concourse. But this is the wrong commercial.

the wild One, the male One, the female One

Only the Nancy Boy Donovan does CK1—Donovan, who’s with it in an ambisexual, ambidextrous, ambient, Jean Nate kind of way. All is one, the only one stars Donovan and Jenny Shimizu, who has a crew cut and a tattoo of a woman with her thighs wrapped round a wrench. When she crouches on the ground like a purring cat, her breasts are barely visible, and she looks real good to everyone. One for all. What does it all mean? asks Quentin Crisp of the violet-scented intonation, who knows very well.

CK1 is an essentialist utopian fragrance. It is a one-for-all, all-in-one, all-is-one, at-one-with-the-world spiritual conglomeration. In CK1, women wander around topless by folding their arms across their chests. Men have smooth, flat, undefined bodies. RAISE BOYS AND GIRLS THE SAME, says Jenny Holzer, and for a 30-second moment Calvin Klein agrees: “I’m thinking about oneness. I’m thinking about two halves make a whole. I’m thinking about numbers.” Counterrevolutionary (in terms of Klein’s formerly insistent masculine or feminine posture). CK1 is male and female joined together in a complete package—or heterosexuality dressed in homosexual clothing.

While the advertising campaign seems to celebrate a kind of androgyny, and while Klein might be thinking about John Rechy’s novel Numbers, he really isn’t counting on the association, which might dissuade teenage boys—the last untapped perfume market—from splashing on Calvin Klein’s blend of oneness. Unwilling to risk big ad budgets on a campaign that singled out young boys at the expense of any other market, he is marketing CK1 on the side in Tower Records stores. In the throb of metal and imagined mosh, a boy might be enticed to anoint himself with a fragrance that might unify him with an image he has been conditioned to resist.

CK1 is a coy coed locker room scent. It may be the spawn of an Eternity ad that had a very short shelf life: Is it me touching you or you touching me? Would you still love me if I was a man? Unlike Eternity, CK1 is about self-pleasure, self-adoration, abstinence instead of abandon. There are no fiery reds, no brocade pillows. Though Klein has always been associated with homosensual imagery, this new product, the first mainstream unisex scent, enables a homosexual doubling to invade a heterotopic bathroom: “One clear choice.” “Clarity, not clutter, in your mind, your world, and on your shelf.”

These youths with sleepy stares, strutting around their own lean, baby-powder bodies, inhabit an antiseptic (disease-free) marshmallow-white chamber that is a body double for the space of Richard Avedon’s portraits, currently regular in The New Yorker. In the TV ads, Steven Meisel’s appropriations of era and aura use edits to reproduce Avedon’s overlapping frames, and black and white to evoke a stark bohemian rhapsody. Where Avedon’s collections usually freeze faces of heroic accomplishment, Meisel shoots the speedball ennui that has replaced glamour and invention as the new shine. His blatant pastiche manufactures an alienated yet buoyant community in a provocative guise of early Jim Morrison poses. In these ads, Meisel uses a scene rather than a scenario to frame Klein’s scent. How does it feel to be me? is replaced by How does it feel to be with us?

This is not Escape, not Eternity, not Obsession. This is CK1, a cornucopia of postpubescence wafting about in contest with a waning interest in almost everything. This is not Kate, I love you, I love you Kate, that stalkers’ vignette—fragile Kate with her tingle of freckle coming and going, on her way to becoming but never being prey. In Meisel’s CK1 shots she plays not-sexy, plays Kate Moss, Johnny Depp’s girl, before he rocked a room in the Mark Hotel. As pretty Johnny, who really is prettier than Kate, did the “perp walk” for his adoring fans (walking like Jimmy Dean in Rebel, like Sean Penn like a pretty thug playing the role of Johnny Depp), Kate played the girlfriend, her supermodel stature momentarily erased. Kate, I love you, I love you Kate: whether or not she believes this, she wears CK1 as well as she wears everything else.

Collier Schorr is a writer, editor, and artist who lives in New York.