80’s Perfume Ads and Camp: Calvin Klein’s Obsession

Calvin Klein's Obsession - magazine ad

In 1964, the literary and art critic Susan Sontag published an essay in Partisan Review entitled “Notes on ‘Camp'” in which she enumerates camp’s evolution as a distinct aesthetic category.  Sontag writes:

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious. (1)

Why aren’t perfume ads on television like this anymore?  These Obsession ads are so self-consciously ridiculous, and that’s what makes it great.  It’s pure camp à la John Waters and Liberace.

I leave you with SNL’s Kristen Wiig’s hilarious “Red Flag” skit.  If anyone understands Camp, it’s Kristen.


5 thoughts on “80’s Perfume Ads and Camp: Calvin Klein’s Obsession

  1. Those are so odd. Hard to believe they made it on to TV back then. I remember them, and I remember being really confused by them as a kid.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this yet, but have you seen actor Alan Cumming’s fake ad for the fragrance Christopher Brosius (CB I Hate Perfume) made in his name? The scent was originally released as “Cumming,” and it’s recently been re-released as…”Second Cumming.” Wish I liked the smell better. I thought it smelled like stale smoke and gingerbread. But the ad is bizarre and hilarious. It almost takes itself seriously, which makes it all the more disturbing. Here’s a link:

    And if you want some really weird fragrance ads, try googling Charles Bronson + Mandom.

  2. I totally agree with you about Cumming and Second Cumming. It was disappointing. I found Tilda Swinton’s perfume for Etat Libre d’Orange to be more captivating. I think he lives in my neighborhood (Soho) because I see him on the street all the time.

    I LOVE THE AD tho. Not sure how I feel about seeing him roll around naked in bed, but I think it’s pretty campy. You can tell he meant it to come across that way because he starts giggling at the end with that punchy line. Will check out Bronson and Mandom. I’m already a little trepidacious.

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