Celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, Calvin Klein’s CK One fragrance has come a long way since the brand’s iconic “heroin chic” ads of the 1990s. Adjusting to the digital age, the new breed of advertising offers a sexy, modern take on it’s original message.

The Calvin Klein CK One campaigns of the 1990s were some of the most striking and controversial of the decade, and have since become a piece of classic fashion advert history. CK was one of the first fashion brands with a clean, and minimal but edgy approach to a unisex fragrance aimed at Generation X. The first in a series of ads featured a then teenage Kate Moss, lensed by Steven Meisel, in simple black-and-white. In the recent 2014 campaign, the brand seemed to be capitalizing on nostalgia, and instead of looking forward, it was returning to its roots which created such a stir 20 years ago.

Raw and minimal sexuality are what the Calvin Klein brand is based on. Although interpreted in a way that appealed to the young consumer set, it captured the effortless nonchalance of youth at the time. This theme has remained present in all of Calvin Klein’s advertising work as it is the signature of the brand. In the mainstream media this aesthetic was interpreted and dubbed “heroin chic,” and Kate Moss was the poster girl. After the grunge music movement was beginning to fade, some elements were lingering in terms of fashion. Instead of extreme layers of flannel, the trend turned into monochromatic dressing but still with unkempt hair and minimal makeup.

From these suggestive ads a subliminal lifestyle was present behind them. It gave insight into a new type of marketing for the younger generation – relatability. By the mid ’90s the CK One campaigns became social currency. What other brands noticed as pushing the lines of sexuality, turned the Calvin Klein brand into one of the most successful and talked about in the decade. Sexually ambiguous models from all backgrounds were often portrayed, and united as one. This became the CK One mantra.

This newfound take on minimalism began to bleed into the video adverts for the brand. Featuring a wispy Kate Moss and newcomer Jenny Shimizu, alongside more obscure models that gave the line underground credibility, and a feeling of the nonchalant rockstar vibe that made the fragrance cool. In a philosophical context the “One for All” slogan provoked more thought to the current generation than before. These 30 second video spots quickly became just as iconic as the print ads that ran in every teen-oriented magazine, as with a billboard in Times Square. Thus allowing for maximum visual consumption and intrigue.

The street art world was also integrated with CK One, giving a sense of revival to an otherwise classic ’90s scent. Most notable was the “Shock Street Edition,” which featured packaging designed by graffiti artists such as Fabel and Miss163. A piece by New Jersey-bred graffiti artist KAWS portrays a simple product shot of the bottle, with his own illustrative style as a defacement, making a comment on the impact of the visual component of the bottle’s simplicity.

In the new millennium the campaigns began to take a different turn. The raw quality had gone through a glossier treatment to reflect the new digital age. The consumer was in charge now more than ever. One of the major contributions of the Calvin Klein brand in the ’90s was to change the perception of contemporary American sportswear. Not only was the brand marketing considered cool, but it was a subculture that everyone wanted to be a part of. The brand relaunched the CK One video series in 2011 with the same models-and-musicians template that the brand was built on, including Sky Ferreira, Lara Stone, Alice Dellal, Abbey Lee Kershaw, and Yuri Pleskun as new representatives of the line.

In the past 4 years the brand has become more than a bottle of unisex perfume from the 1990s. It has expanded into a clothing range with the same unisex spirit, offering one fit for denim and basics, with the underwear being the only gender specific piece in the new range. Kevin Carrigan, the brand’s Global Creative Director was quoted in an interview for i-D in Spring 2011, “There’s a lot of confidence in these young kids that 17 years ago, when the original campaign came out, was a bit more aggressive about androgyny. Here it’s more of a celebration of the individual.” A perfect comment on what the digital age has meant since the acceleration of social media and individuality.

We are celebrating the brand’s 20th anniversary, and it’s come a long way since the apathetic heroin chic tone of it’s inception. It has launched a beauty line, clothing, and a digital social platform with a racy tumblr to further the message of the original style. In keeping the creative direction within the in-house team, they are free to expand the realm of CK One for a new age, while never losing its core audience.

The most recent advert, a one minute video shot by Mario Sorrenti, features the new class – Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, artist Petra Collins, model Ali Michael, et al, in a very Calvin Klein setting: an apartment filled with beautiful people rolling around in their underwear and not much else. The hashtag #meforme is the slogan associated with the new era of CK One, a very millennial statement. Using the selfie obsessed culture and the point of view of the camera phone, we are voyeurs to raw youth. This new campaign takes the points from the past, and still creates a sexy, digital, grungy world that we all still want to be a part of.

Written by Lauren M Brown

Words by Staff