Calvin Klein Man (Calvin Klein)

Calvin Klein has never made a truly great fragrance, except perhaps Obsession for Men, and that's highly debatable. However, the company has in recent times released some good stuff, things that aspire to be great, but merely stand on the shoulders of giants. Fragrances like Truth for Men, CK One Shock for Him, and Beauty all borrow from other brands and reinterpret popular designer themes. But I'd say the most misunderstood CK fragrance, the one that many aficionados, including myself, have maligned and neglected the most unfairly, is Calvin Klein Man. I know several respectable people who find this fragrance to be pretty awful, and having never smelled it before, I was content to read about it and write it off as another Cool Watery aromatic with synthetic violet leaf standing in for class. Then I tried it, and immediately liked it, enough to use a gift card to pick up a small bottle. Calvin Klein Man is really, really nice.

I'd like to start with the packaging. I have mixed feelings about the packaging for this fragrance, because its box seems pretty standard and thoughtless, with a plain, silver-framed color field of black, and pencil-thin silver letters that suggest "metrosexual" without even trying. It's boring to look at, boring to contemplate, just a terrible visual concept. If it were 1960, I'd be intrigued, but this sort of thing has been done to death since then, and if I see another sans serif font in silver or gold, I'm going to use some of my job's sick days and take an extended leave of absence from the world. Enough already, we get the message: you're hip. Except you're not. You're posing as hip, you're unoriginal, and you're played out. But then I open that boring-as-shit box and find a bottle that matches it completely, rectangular cap and all. It's a thin glass slab, black lacquered front and back, all straight, clean lines, and as I hold it in my hand and feel its expensive heft, all is forgiven. Somehow the continuity of Man's packaging saves it from banality, shows me that no, it's not fucking around, it's serious about following through with this visual concept, and yes, that concept works better for the bottle than the box, so I should quit complaining. Visually speaking, Man imparts confidence.

The fragrance itself is not what I was expecting to smell, AT. ALL. I can't emphasize that enough - this thing surprised me. It is an olfactory commentary on masculine perfumery since 1985, and touches on aspects of Green Irish Tweed, Cool Water, Fahrenheit, and Klein's own CK One, with vaguer references to the spicy Bay Rums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and pieces of Sport Field and Green Valley tucked in there as well. I'm not sure what caused my initial confusion, but part of the problem seems to be with the note pyramids published online. Basenotes and Fragrantica mention various notes, some of which I can detect, but many of which I can't, yet I smell content, complexity, something else happening in Man's construct. It goes through three distinct phases, with a fourth phase that is less distinct, but it's just the far drydown, so no biggie.

The opening of Man is a little misleading. There is an initial pungent blast of peppery violet leaf, cured bay leaf, rosemary, and a spicy-green element that I guess could be construed as "cypress," in accordance with Fragrantica's pyramid (which has a lot of votes for cypress). Anywhere from five to ten minutes after application on skin, this spicy greenness begins to transition into nutmeg, losing the "green" to simply become spice. For another five minutes, nutmeg dominates. But it's a fleeting effect, and the heart accord rapidly emerges, bringing sweetness with it. Violet leaf and violet appear, along with a mellow hawthorn note very reminiscent of Dior's Fahrenheit, but not nearly as tarry. The nutmeg never really vanishes completely, and holds these sweet floral elements in check, preventing them from getting too loud and cloying. In typical Calvin Klein fashion, Man remains fairly sheer and light, but it never wimps out. This violet/hawthorn/nutmeg phase lasts about twenty minutes, and then it turns into something else.

The florals abruptly coalesce into a denser package, picking up intensity, and becoming more violet-centric, with a creamy wood note underpinning it. This stage is the one that reminds me of Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water, although it doesn't smell like them in a direct way. It just reminds me of them. There's something a little aqueous and chemically fresh underpinning the sweetness, presumably to balance it out, which alone reminds me of CK One. But that sweet violet-like richness is from something called "oil of guaiac", an inexpensive material with a rosy-violet scent, distilled from the wood of the palo santo tree, which is found in parts of South America. This stuff is used in abundance in various soaps around the world, and is useful in stabilizing the rubbery aspect of rose oil, to make it sweeter and more aromatic - it's an adulterant in that regard. Its use in Man is bold and commendable. Without it, Man would smell hollow and overly simplistic. The presence of guaiac in the heart of this perfume gives it depth and complexity, with winey off notes, and a different sort of green-leaf freshness.

The far drydown of Man is a reminder that this is a CK frag, but its lifespan is pretty good for CK, clocking in at around five hours, maybe longer depending on the weather and how much is applied. There's an abstract white-musky freshness in Man's final stage that isn't anything to write home about, but it's okay. There's no dissonance, no unbalanced movement, no disparate effects here. It's a solid formula with distinct stages of evolution, and easily discernible notes. What isn't easily discernible is mainly aroma chemical stuff that this brand can't stay away from, materials that don't resemble anything in particular, but just smell clean, like Calone and dihydromyrcenol. I don't get any incense, mandarin, bergamot, or amber, so I guess my nose isn't attuned to the CK interpretations of those materials. I do get a bit of sandalwood in the heart, which again contributes to the GIT association, and I get a lot of hawthorn closer to the top, which cements a Fahrenheit impression. There's definitely an ode to Dior going on in Man. And you know what? I admire Fahrenheit, but I'd rather wear Man. Go figure.

If you see this, buy it. It's at Marshalls for under $30. It's worth it, and I dare say it's the nicest contemporary Calvin Klein scent on the market for men. I also applaud them for not acquiescing to the woody-amber trend of most modern masculines, and opting instead for an off-beat sweet-floral approach, which may be metrosexual, or may just be sexual, period. You decide for yourself.