One Thousand Scents

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Back to Basics: Calvin Klein Truth Oil Essences


Some years ago--maybe six, maybe ten--Calvin Klein released a limited-edition set of the women's version of Obsession plus four little roll-on vials, probably 10 mL each, containing the scent broken down into four categories, the theory being that you could augment Obsession with whatever it was about that fragrance that you particularly liked or felt like wearing that day. Though I can't even remember what the categories were (probably something like Florals, Amber, Woods, and Vanilla), to this day I can't believe I didn't buy it; it's doubtless because I wouldn't have known what to do with a 50-mL bottle of Obsession. But breaking it down into its components, although arguably contrary to the very idea of perfumery, was a sort of genius. I bet it was awesome.

Six years ago, the company did the same thing with their then-new Truth; a little boxed set of five oils that you could use to augment Truth, or use on their own as scents or bath oils. I didn't and still don't think much of the scent, but I could tell that there were elements to it that I'd love, particularly the luscious vanilla I could smell around the perfume counter, so when I spotted the set of five vials, I snapped it up. I figured I could make use of the things I liked and give away or chuck the things I didn't.

One of the things that I don't like about Truth was the lilac note, which has never, in my experience, been adequately captured in a composed scent. The luminous, hypnotic scent of lilac is one of the true harbingers of summer in this part of the world, and I'm physically incapable of walking past a lilac tree without grabbing a cluster of blooms for a sniff. Anything in a bottle invariably turns out to be a sad imitation of that.

Calvin Klein Truth was divided into its component parts: Citrus, Lilac, Bamboo, Sapling, and Vanilla. As I imagined, the lilac was fairly horrible, and I gave it away to someone who disagreed with that assessment. I tried to like the sapling, but it had a raspy, synthetic edge that I couldn't tolerate, so after a few attempts I just tossed it. (Actually, I emptied it down the drain and cleaned out the bottle for re-use.) The other three, though; they're really something.

The citrus is a brisk, indefinable blend of hesperidic notes with the sharper edges buffed away; it isn't so much citrus--no furniture polish here--as a colouring-book idea of citrus, but very pleasant for all that. The bamboo is an equally indistinct blend of green notes, the sort of thing that's usually found in green-tea scents such as Bulgari Eau Parfumée de Thé Vert. The vanilla--my favourite, unsurprisingly, since it's the reason I bought the set--is luscious without being cloying.

Each of the three on its own is a pleasant enough fragrance, and after wearing them for a while singly and in various combinations, I played alchemist and divided them among two bottles; one a nimbus of vanilla with just enough citrus and bamboo to make sure it wasn't overwhelming, the other the opposite, a little explosion of yellow and green notes with a discreet vanilla base. Calvin Klein should do this sort of thing a lot more often.

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