Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I Could Have Been a Fragrance Millionaire Jerry

AKA Calvin Kleinfleld

Smell my arm!

Actually, he didn’t have a chance. By the time Kramer came up with his idea, it had already been in the works for a few years – in real life, that is. Calone’s patent protection ended in 1989, and by 1990 the first Oceanic scent was on the market.

Some folks might be familiar with the 1992 episode of Seinfeld – The Pick – where Kramer’s fragrance epiphany gets swiped by a Calvin Klein marketing executive.

Kramer originally has the idea for a cologne that makes you smell like “the beach” in a previous episode – The Pez Dispenser – upon returning from a midwinter’s Polar Bear plunge. He calls it The Beach and pitches it to a CK exec who dismisses Kramer for a nutjob.

“Do you think people are going to pay eighty dollars to smell like dead fish and seaweed? That’s why people take showers when they come home from the beach.”

Next episode, it turns out they stole Kramer’s idea. He whiffs it on a supermodel. “You smell like the beach. What's the name of that perfume you're wearing?”

“The Ocean, by Calvin Klein”

That’s what it’s called – The Ocean. In the episode, that is. In real life however, the scent Kramer is looking for is called Calone (not a misspelling). It is one of the most important aroma compounds ever discovered, and represents not only an entire decade of men’s fragrance, but the advent of the “unisex” perfume market.

Calone is a tradename for a chemical that smells like the ocean. It was discovered by a pharmaceutical company researching benzodiazepine derivatives for anti-depression meds. When the researchers took notice of the chemical’s aromatic quality, they handed it over to a fragrance company to refine, and to name, and thus we have Calone – its chemical recipe hidden from the public due to intellectual property rights.*

Calone can be found in nature; it is a secondary metabolite of seaweed pheromone. However, it exists in the world of fragrance only as a synthetic compound made in a lab. Calone stands out, in fact, because it is the first synthetic chemical to be used in its synthetic form before its natural form (and to this day, nobody is trying to extract seaweed sweat in lieu of chemical synthesis).

Again, this is not to say that Calone doesn’t exist in nature, only that the fragrance industry in all its history has never used it that way. In fact squared, Calone was so new, and so unique, and so groundbreaking of a discovery, that it was given its own category amongst only four others in the total of all fragrance families. This, the Oceanic/Ozonic/Marine class of fragrance aromas, appeared circa 1990, and is known for its use in the new style of androgynous, “watery” scents of that time. (Calvin Klein’s Eternity and Davidoff’s Cool Water, both 1988, are prime examples, as is Giorgio Armani’s Acqua Di Gio 1996. And now, I can’t resist mentioning the original Wu-Tang fragrance of 1998 was described as simply a "Cool Water scent.")

Synthetic aromatic molecules are jackpot for the company who discovers them, but also for those down-the-line who can take advantage. It means they can make the same scent for a fraction of the price of the natural equivalent. In this case, the synthetic discovery had no natural equivalent – it was an entirely new smell. Heads went Calone-crazy and flooded the market. A tsunami, if you will. Calone is such a distinct olfactory representation of an era that its scent can reliably be referred to as “almost any man's fragrance since 1995 that comes in a blue bottle.”

And so with that, we should find it ironic (how appropriately Seinfeldian) that Kramer’s million dollar idea was about to become the scent of the decade.

Post Script:
I’d like to list some of the terms used to describe Calone, beginning with what Kramer would have called it:

The Beach
The Ocean
Sea Breeze
Marine-like sea spray
Ozonic (though ozone is odorless)
Dead Fish (but only Seinfeldian Calvin Klein executives call it that)
“generic guy smell” (later 1990’s)
“that androgynous smell” (earlier 1990’s)
CAS No 28940-11-6
Watermelon Ketone
(it doesn’t sound right, but Calone is related to a chemical found in melons)

*Discovered in 1966 by chemists from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, who passed on their discovery to the perfumers of Camilli Albert Laloue in Grasse - here the substance got its name - and yet it should again take 20 years (1989 ended the patent protection) for calone could begin its triumphal procession. With New West by Yves Tanguy the fragrance became famous. [source translated from German] Anyone who knows where to find the formal documentation of this, feel free to make contact.

As told by one perfume blogger via a lecture at the Osmotheque by Yves Tanguy (the perfumer, not the Surrealist), the first use of Calone was in New West for Aramis 1990, which was simply Cristalle de Chanel 1974 plus Calone. That’s it.

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