Thursday, June 19, 2008

vintage perfume ad of the day: Calvin Klein Obsession

He put an Olympian in Times Square, a chiseled statue of muscle in bronze, towering over traffic and pedestrians in his tightie-whities, like a closet queen's dream-perversion of the fifty-foot woman. More recently, he pulled the same trick in Hong Kong, going even larger this time. Calvin Klein's ad campaigns have referenced homemade porn, street junkies, and the convoluted mating rituals of the genetically superior. Of all the eighties lifestyle brands (Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, et al), his used Bruce Weber most extensively, making the portly photographer of perfection a household name. Together they made anorexics out of fledgling sissies the world over. The ads for Obsession have been much maligned--the parodies on SNL became more famous than the spots themselves--but they were iconic and influential, permeating culture insidiously. They were exquisitely shot, impeccably coreographed, and totally, deeply silly. This one has something to do with a little boy who might be a girl (Klein's or Weber's remembrance of things past?), pining for the woman he or she might become, an athletic, all-American tomboy played by South-African-born supermodel Josie Borain. In an interview published this month, Borain, one-time CK favorite, offers a window onto the 80's scene for which this Obsession ad serves as something of a time capsule: ‘I remember it was at the peak when Reagan was in power and New York was cooking. Property was riding very high, the financial market was making millions and millions – people didn’t know what to do with their money. There was just so much money all over the place, and some of it trickled over into my pocket...’ The Obsession campaign, right down to the name, captured that moment of narcissism and entitlement perfectly. The ad in question plays out like Greek Tragedy, complete with supermodel chorus and spare, Aristotle-on-the-Parthenon-steps settings. Though its references to underground gay iconography were destined to fly right over the heads of the general viewing public, as with most CK ads the uncomfortable suggestion of something illicitly creepy came through very clearly. Now that Klein's creative control has left the building, we're left with six-packs and prespiration, and just how brilliantly conceived and executed some of this sublimely ridiculous top down design was becomes a little more readily apparent.

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