Calvin Klein Secret Obsession, Uncensored: X-tra Sensuous? {Fragrance News} {Perfume Ad}

I don't know if I have shared one particular Franco-American TV anecdote with you before on this blog, but it is worth retelling in the context of the "controversy" unleashed by Eva Mendes posing suggestively for the upcoming perfume by Calvin Klein, Secret Obsession. But first the context. As we all know, there are no-nos everywhere, the interesting part is that they differ according to the predominant cultural values that are exhibited or advertised by said-culture or sub-culture. In other words, certain things are done in the open and others recede in the background but it is safe to assume that it is not because sexually suggestive images are deemed improper for wider TV-consumption that America is a less sexually active country than others which would, officially, not bat an eyelash at the sight of Eva Mendes's nipple or backside and more generally speaking, soft erotic choreography staged by Fabien Baron to sell Secret Obsession...


Baron, who is originally from Paris, the city where you sell Camembert with the help of black lacy garters, and who is obviously stupefied by the narrow-mindedness and/or hypocrisy of TV execs is incensed and hurt and makes the point, which is one often made, that it is completely irrational to see TV networks ban a sexy perfume commercial in the name of public morality while machine guns can spit out their wrath and bombs explode all over mainstream programming (and high-calorie meals be force-fed at all hours of the 24/7 cycle to the nation).  He is right, it is completely coo-coo, but it's a choice that reflects the fact that sex is thought to be more shocking to family values than violence, the latter which can arguably ultimately have a cohesive effect on, not only family units, but the whole country. It is called the cement of fear. Sex on the other hand bespeaks of the couple rather than the family and for this reason contains an element of division, a potential fissure to family values. Hence, the No-Sex-Please-We-Are-The-Descendants-Of-Puritans attitude. But honestly, what is more indecent? To speak of sexual pleasure (not pornography) or to be complacent towards aggressive human instincts and trigger-happy representations? Baron, who has done many perfume commercials in the past (Guerlain Samsara, Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, Burberry The Beat and many more...) via his firm Baron & Baron, Inc. reacted to the TV ban of the advertising for Secret Obsession by saying,

"You must be kidding me. This country [the US] really needs a new president -- this country is so messed up," said Baron. "It's such a joke and it's quite upsetting, frankly, how hypocritical this country has become. It's OK for children to see people killed by guns? Spreading a little love right now would be a good idea.

"She is being a little sexy, but they are not provocative," added Baron. "They are really well done. The spot is really beautiful -- I really can't believe this is happening....I don't know what else to say." (via WWD)

This leads me to recounting one particular anecdote about watching the same documentary on the topic of Nevada brothels, first in Paris, then in the US (I have no idea how this happened, believe me, except to ascribe it to mere chance). The resulting contrast made for comedic material when it put me in the involuntary position of comparing the works of French and American censors who were definitely not asleep that day and were particularly detail-oriented. In one particular sequence that offered a striking oppositional relationship in terms of the dominant values expressed, you discovered what was deemed truly disturbing on each side of the pond. In France, what was thought to be disgusting to public morality and unfit to be seen on TV was the mercantile section of a soda-can that bore the brand name of a very famous tonic drink originating from the turn of the 20th century. It had therefore been feathered, but you could still guess what it was, of course. On the other hand and in a different part of the screen you could lay your now nearly-sullied eyes that you had promptly averted from the sin of product-placement on the furry pubis of a prostitute getting ready to enter a jacuzzi. Yes, the pubis was okay, not the Coca-Cola can. And then one day in America, I happen on the same sequence. And then it turns out to be a brilliant example of structural opposition: the Coca-Cola can was shining like a star with all its letters and pride-of-place reclaimed while that unmentionable part of the feminine anatomy that is best ignored by the sages had been made to appear to be viewed through a thick and foggy window pane. It did not really prevent you from guessing what it was, but at least you couldn't spend your leisure time counting the number of hair on the pubis. Good work!

In the end, the Nevada-brothel topic was relevant to both networks - because sex sells - but you just had to put certain meaningful limits: make it more decent or make it about the pure topic of prostitution at hand and nothing else.

Fortunately, the web exists and censored TV images look really good in the blogosphere, plus it probably won't hurt sales (although you never know...see the Opium ad with Sophie Dahl). Of course, there is an element of buzz-marketing to it, but the fact remains that these images were thought to be unsuitable for public viewing by a number of channels. So to get the full view, please follow this link where you can watch the uncensored commercial with Eva Mendes interpreting Secret Obsession.

I happen to think that the commercial is qualitatively good, which cannot be said of most of TV programming.

What do you think? Have you seen worse? Is this ad hitting a new low?

Via press release

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. the ad is great-looking, and hardly so racy that we americans couldn't handle it... but her voiceover makes me crazy! it's like she's drunk and can barely open her mouth - especially at the end of the spot - is that supposed to be sexy? and the copy doesn't make much sense, either - what is her secret, exactly, that between lust and love lies obession? that's a secret? they could've come up with a better segue into the name. oh, well. at least it's pretty.

    • Yes, it's a whole play on suggestion rather than evidence, which is of course much more dangerous than showing the goods and stating things plainly and flatly.

      Chant Wagner

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