CK One Shock for Him (Calvin Klein)

The house of Calvin Klein has, in my estimation, one of the worst all-time track records in fragrance history. here's an abbreviated rundown (to spare myself from actually reviewing the scents) of its timeline:

1978 - CK releases their eponymous rosy chypre for women. It's a hit, but sales eventually stall and it's discontinued. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1981 - Calvin is released as the masculine follow-up. Considered a conservative and spicy fougère in the tradition of Azzaro Pour Homme, with lower-grade materials. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1985 - The company makes up for lost time and releases a notable fragrance called Obsession. This classical oriental has plenty of bombast and anachronistic qualities, and it sells quite nicely. Now reformulated into a bit of a blah.

1986 - Obsession for Men is the appropriate sequel, and the only "masterpiece" ever released by this company. It isn't all that different from the original, except it's better. Much better. If you can find vintage bottles, buy them immediately.

1988 - Now officially on the perfumista's radar, CK throws its newly-minted heft and taps the talented Belarusian nose Sophia Grojsman for its first foray into the world of modern fruity-floraldom. The result: Eternity. It's a major hit with the ladies, especially college girls. But its crude fruit and screechy rose haven't stood the test of time. Several flankers are spawned.

1989 - The brand's second most-famous scent, Eternity for Men, is released. It was then what it is today: a sweet chemical spill that no mop can sop. Several flankers are spawned.

1991 - The nineties are entered with genre-defining shrillness in the form of Escape. Its blaring sweet 'n fresh composition fits nicely into a league of like-minded oddball aquatics from this period. Many on Fragrantica seem to find Escape similar to Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I feel Escape was aptly named, as it suggests exactly what I should do whenever it's around. This scent is currently relegated to discounters like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

1993 - Escape for Men is introduced. One could speculate that it's an essay on coriander, woods, and musk, but it really reads as an extremely rough draft of CK One. The pencil shaving drydown is so crude that I'd rather roll in a tub of graphite than wear it.

1994 - Reacting to the lackluster press about Escape, Klein buckles down and releases CK One, a unisex citrus musk scent that is as pleasant as it is dull. At least it still smells good, and to its credit CK One is indeed suitable for both men and women. Several flankers are spawned.

1996 - CK Be is released, and its existential name gets my hopes up. The scent, however, is utterly forgettable. Something about white musk, with some green spices thrown in for good measure. The company refuses to discontinue CK Be, so I guess its fans are keeping it alive.

1998 - Contradiction follows up the Big CKs. Basically a stale fruity floral with an overdose of eucalyptus. Sells just well enough to stay in the market, which means it must be doing pretty well. Does it inspire anything beyond a footnote? As the Czechs would say, "ne." But it does exhibit Klein's deftness in package design.

1999 - Contradiction for Men predictably makes an appearance. Its humongous fake lemon/lime top does little to soothe my already-jangled nerves. I hate those who wear it - namely my peers in high school - with a seething passion.

2000 - The brand finally eschews its formulaic fruity florals in favor of a green scent called Truth. It's evidently a pleasant scent that rubs critics the right way for a change. I have yet to knowingly sniff it, and cannot comment, except to say that I believe what I read. Still, after 20 years of crap, who cares anymore?

2002 - Truth for Men is released. It's a tropical green scent with a beautiful central accord of bamboo and melon. Unfortunately its longevity clocks in at under fifteen minutes. A pity. Sales fall short, and Truth for Men is now no more.

2005 - Euphoria is released, and fails to elicit any. Some find it similar to Angel, others to Obsession, and still others to both. Currently lost in the latest multitudinous crop of rich fruity orientals for women. I can't be bothered with the non-entity masculine version.

2007 - The brand does something uncharacteristic and releases a lone masculine, unimaginatively naming it Calvin Klein Man. I've never smelled Man, but apparently it's a fresh fougère that somehow manages to bungle violet leaf. Rarely seen anywhere but at Marshalls, for what it's worth.

2009 - Continuing its weird new trend, the company releases another lone masculine, CK Free. Widely considered a dull woody-fresh scent with nothing saving it. More complaints about poor longevity abound.

2010 - "Ladies, we haven't forgotten you." That's the message conveyed by the isolated release of the feminine Beauty. With a name like that, a masculine follow-up isn't likely. Beauty is little more than a competent clone of Hilfiger's Tommy Girl. A little cedar in lieu of green tea, a few extra drops of Iso E Super, and voilà! We have a throwback scent. It's better than most of the above, but only marginally.

Which brings us to 2011, and CK One Shock for Him. I'm unsure as to why it took them thirty years to come up with a good fragrance, but worthy things come to those who wait. Not that I've been holding my breath. It's also a mystery as to why the brand decided to make this unusual woody-spicy oriental part of the world's lamest flanker mill, and not give it an original name. Perhaps it reveals how out of touch with quality the suits at CK are - they didn't even recognize when they had something worthy of distinction. Curiously complex in scope, Shock opens with a bright pepper and patchouli, spiked with sweetly-herbal lavender. The composition is softened by the arrival of warm cardamom and pipe tobacco in the heart, which takes its time in developing. Eventually these well-defined herbs and spices are conjoined, and a little blurred, by a delectable vanilla note. An odd minty citrus note (possibly the usage of osmanthus with clementine or tangerine) keeps everything from becoming overly steeped. Quite possibly their finest fragrance to date, and much better than the original. A CK scent that smells good? Shocking!


  1. It is quite nice!

    I just bought a small bottle for my young teenage son. (He likes Egoiste. I'm not shellin' out Chanel prices to scent a kid who doesn't even drive yet.) The price on this one was right, and it's a lovely spicy-woody thing.

  2. As soon as I saw that you were reviewing Shock for Him, I was excited. "Ah ha! He's going to tear it apart and it's going to be hilarious!" I thought (I've only smelled Shock for Her which is a blight). I am indeed shocked that Shock for Him is good, but thanks for the pithy disparaging review of CK's history. It was quite funny, so at least one of my expectations was met. ;)

  3. You know, I tried Shock for Her today, and I totally agree, except the word "blight" may be too kind. Glad to indulge the thirst for CK bashing - anytime you feel a need for it, let me know, I'm always game.

  4. Contradiction for Men was a decent 3,5-4-star EDT as far as I'm concerned. CK One has somehow turned out a timeless unisex. Obsession for Men was reformulated so that now it smells better, only that it lasts shorter. Just my two cents. Kind regards.

    1. Good to know. With the exception of Eternity for Men, I don't think CK scents are unwearable. Generally just average to poor, depending on which. Agree though that Obsession for Men is good stuff. Their best, imo.

  5. Is it true that this was discontinued but re-launched (and re-tweaked) as Dark Obsession? Apparently they're very simlar but online opinions are typically divided... Love DO btw

    1. I think it was Obsession Night that was DC'd and reissued as Dark Obsession, but I'm not sure.

    2. Thanks for the reply and clarification, Bryan.
      Love this blog!

  6. Based on your excellent review here I bought CK One Shock for men many moons ago and truly enjoy it from start to finish!
    I like the odd design and concept because it looks like it fell right out of a comic book. As if the Joker took over the concept...

    1. It has a very memorable bottle, that's for sure!

  7. I had a bottle of Calvin in college (not sure the exact years, 1992 or 93?) and I loved it. A college friend used it and I had to have it too. (this was my 2nd designer frag after Drakkar). Anyway, yes it's long discontinued, though small sample bottles are still floating around eBay from a 1999 re-release. Now, if you're super curious and happen to be near the Bond No. 9 counter, check out Cooper Square. To my nose it's a very good approximation of what Calvin was. Now, to find a bottle on sale before IT gets discontinued. Everything good usually does..


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