Calvin Klein Downtown ~ perfume review and quick poll

Calvin Klein Downtown, Rooney Mara advert

Downtown, the latest from Calvin Klein, is meant to "capture the essence of the confident woman." It's fronted by actress Rooney Mara, and it's geared young, although not as young as most: the target is reportedly women 25 to 35. Catherine Walsh of Coty explained the scent's marketing strategy thusly:

This group of consumers lives by its own rules. We’ve put together a superaspirational scent. Globally, consumers see downtown as a place they want to be. They identify it with youthfulness, edginess and cool.1

If you read yesterday's review, that probably sounds familiar. Young women who "see downtown as a place they want to be" is exactly the group that Elizabeth Arden Untold is chasing, albeit in a different way, or at least, Elizabeth Arden's idealized image of "downtown New York cool" sure doesn't look much like Calvin Klein's. Regardless, it's been an awful long time since Calvin Klein last managed to bottle youthfulness, edginess and cool — arguably, they haven't pulled that off since CK One in 1994.2 Downtown handily manages the youthfulness. Edgy and cool, maybe not so much.

Calvin Klein is calling Downtown a woody floral, and maybe it is, although the top notes are nearly candied enough to qualify for a more edible classification. The opening is a pile of sweet fruit, weakened slightly with an aquatic note (the notes: cedrat, bergamot, neroli, pear, watery plum, pink pepper, violet leaf, gardenia, cedarwood, incense, vetiver and velvet musks). Early on, a mild but persistent undertone of cotton candy keeps Downtown from stepping wholesale into pear shampoo territory, but it also keeps Downtown from smelling like anything you might imagine Rooney Mara, or indeed, anybody downtown, wearing with a black leather jacket.

The heart is the usual nondescript florals with the usual dollop of pink pepper. The base is pale and musky and soft. I would not go getting excited, either way, about the gardenia, or the cedar, or the incense, or the vetiver: "flowers" + "muted woods" + "velvet musks" pretty much covers what action takes place. It warms up with longer wear, and the sweetness does calm significantly, but Downtown is far too tame — it's awfully quiet after about an hour, and I found I had to apply it heavily to get any sense of the later dry down — to qualify as edgy, and it lacks the sultry vibe of the brand's last assault on this age cohort, Euphoria.3

Verdict: It's fine. If you'd told me Downtown was a modern designer fruity fragrance geared at a young audience, I'd think it had done its job perfectly adequately. Yes, it's too sweet for me, and no, it's not terribly interesting or unusual, much less superaspirational (really, isn't aspirational enough? do we need superaspirational?), but someone who likes sweet and who just wants to smell nice (and who finds Euphoria maybe too much of a presence) might find it just the ticket. Probably not perfumista-bait, though.

Poll: let your superaspirational side run wild — you look just like Rooney Mara, you're wearing the black leather jacket, you're downtown, doing cool and edgy downtown things.4 What fragrance are you wearing? Let's not make it too easy, so pick something that you can buy in a department store — no niche, no upscale Barneys or Saks exclusives!

Calvin Klein Downtown, fragrance packaging

Calvin Klein Downtown is available in 30, 50 and 90 ml Eau de Parfum and in a 10 ml rollerball and 250 ml Body Mist, as well as in matching bath and body products.

1. Women's Wear Daily, 5/17/2013.

2. In my humble opinion, the last time Calvin Klein managed even 'memorable' was with Euphoria in 2005.

3. Calvin Klein Beauty was geared a bit older than Downtown or Euphoria, CK In2U a bit younger.

4. Or you can check out the commercial for inspiration. Mostly, though, Rooney's day seems kind of dull to me — getting a coffee, listening to her iPod in the subway, taking a taxi. But she does dance in the street, cracks a few smiles, and holds some sort of superimportant press conference at the end.

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  1. Absolute Scentualist says:

    Hm. Doesn’t sound terrible but doesn’t sound aspirational, either. At least it probably wouldn’t kill you if you were stuck in an elevator with someone who took a bath in it. :)

    For the poll, I’d say Bandit. But then I think Bandit works in so many situations. Maybe Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection if I wanted something just as dangerous but a little more flowery.

    • Robin says:

      It’s really not bad. I don’t like the opening but the dry down is reasonably attractive.

  2. Katich says:

    Tom Ford Black Orchid. I know that scent can be divisive, but I can absolutely see it adding a feminine edge to your other edgy activities.

  3. morgana says:

    Cartier Declaration

  4. Omega says:


    • Omega says:

      I think you can get that in a dept. store, at least online? Idk.

  5. galbanumgal says:

    CD Eau Sauvage

  6. Emily says:

    Bulgari Black! Available at a Sephora near you.

    • Robin says:

      That was the first thing that came to my mind — glad to see it mentioned. My second pick was Hermes Eau des Merveilles.

      • Emily says:

        Oh, EdM makes sense.

      • Subhuman says:

        Ooh, Bulgari Black was my first pick, as well. It might be a little too snuggly with the vanilla and powder, but the brooding, muted darkness of it certainly fits with Mara’s image, IMO.

  7. Karin says:

    Cool Water!?

    • Robin says:

      The retro ironic choice!

    • Karin says:

      Weird answer. No idea where it came from! ;-)

      I can also imagine her wearing something super powdery and feminine – the opposite of the biker chick/masculine image. Maybe Love Chloe!

      • Robin says:

        Yes, that would work too. Downtown is just too plain.

  8. Thalia says:

    Oh, I would go right to Bulgari Black.

    • Thalia says:

      And I see I was beaten to it while I was composing! Second choice — Dior Homme.

      • Emily says:

        Haha, sorry about that! DH is a good pick — it makes sense here to borrow from the guys, I think.

      • Robin says:

        Ah, I can see Dior Homme.

  9. Racine says:

    I’ve tried downtown and just found it hilarious, fair enough I didn’t wait for the drydown..
    I see her wearing Terre d Hermes edt or Chanel 19. It’s she is ” edgy” enough for layering I’d suggest Terre edt+ JPG Classique edp. I did myself on a very cold day and everyone asked what it was so they can buy it!

  10. Thalia says:

    Or can you get Agent Provocateur at department stores/Sephora? I find it pleasingly dirty-smelling.

    • Robin says:

      Don’t know, but it’s not niche so it’s ok. Agree w/ pleasantly dirty.

    • Dilana says:

      I find it a little too dirty to run around town with, at least during daylight For me, Agent Provacateur is for the bedroom or a very hot date..

  11. VanMorrisonFan says:

    Aspirational = will be a partner at Goldman Sachs

    Super-Aspirational = will be Chairman of Goldman Sachs, take it private once again, then become a majority owner, all before the age of 40.

    I think all these fragrance companies read the same demographic trend reports and just rearrange the buzzwords or talking points.

    • Robin says:

      True. But I think what they’re going for is someone who doesn’t live downtown, but thinks it must be awfully cool to live downtown. And fair enough, that person might not *really* want to smell cool & edgy, but all the same, seems cynical to serve them up such decidedly pedestrian stuff.

  12. Abyss says:

    Can’t stop laughing at superaspirational.

    Anyway, my first thought was Black, but then I thought it might be a little obvious. Why not go for some unexpected contrast of an edgy leather jacket with superaspirational No5?

    Terre d’Hermes was a nice suggestion, though.

    • Robin says:

      Absolutely — and surely No. 5 is the mostest superaspirational anyway.

      • C.H. says:

        Hahaha both of you crack me up.

  13. JolieFleurs says:

    Yatigan or Creed’s Love in Black, or are they niche??

    • Robin says:

      Oh, like the idea of Yatagan. I guess Creed is sorta niche.

  14. Untitled Martin Margiela…

  15. Omega says:

    Or perhaps Bottega Veneta.

  16. Nile Goddess says:

    I’d be wearing YSL Nu, even in the reissued version.

    Maybe I’m getting old – I remember trying this fragrance a couple of weeks ago but I do not remember it at all.

    And this (unknown to me) actress does not help at all. Who is she – Keira Knightley on a shoestring budget?

    • Thalia says:

      She’s a good choice, actually — a better match for the concept than the fragrance itself is, it sounds like! She played Salander in the American remakes of the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo movies and was in Steven Soderbergh’s most recent twisty thriller, Side Effects.

      Noomi Rapace, from the Swedish original GWADT movies, would be even better! But the superaspirational girls probably wouldn’t recognize her.

    • Robin says:

      It’s not terribly memorable.

  17. Lucy says:

    I will try this, but it doesn’t sound like it will impress me. For my big city scent…Gucci Rush. Always has been, always will be. As long as Sephora keeps stocking it anyway. :)

  18. kindcrow says:

    I know what they are trying to get at, but I work downtown and most of the surrounding smells are unpleasant at best. :-0

  19. wondermelmo says:

    Bulgari Black my number one choice, baring that, Armani Code.

  20. Bejoux says:

    I think I might swing downtown in my black leather jacket and skinny jeans wearing M7 – I bought it for my DH just so I could wear it. Or maybe Madonna Truth or Dare – floral but with a medicinal edge to it.

  21. SuddenlyInexplicably says:

    Great poll idea! I pick Habit Rouge.

  22. PetronellaCJ says:

    Alexander McQueen Kingdom :).

  23. Dilana says:

    As for the poll, Ms. Mara doesn’t look very far on the edgey side, no tats, no piercings other than discreet earings, perfectly groomed. Actually, the kind of girl who shops for perfumes in Barneys.

    • Robin says:

      True — her most edgy feature is her general forlorn expression.

    • C.H. says:


    • kindcrow says:

      Then again, tattoos and piercings have become so popular/common that not having them could represent not following trends?

  24. antonpan says:

    John Galliano edp comes to mind. And Sahara Noir by the way.

    • SuddenlyInexplicably says:

      Sahara Noir is an excellent pick! That’s some good stuff.

  25. djron91 says:

    She’s a tough chick. I see her in Chanel Antaeus.

  26. PekeFan says:

    Chanel Coco?
    Cartier Baiser du Dragon to go with the dragon tattoo?

    Is Juliette has a Gun available at Sephora? Lady Vengeance would do nicely…

  27. Merlin says:

    I agree with Abyss on the no.5 – mainly for the chilly aldehydes! I also think a vetiver could work like Encre Noire and rather than Dior Homme which is a comfy oriental to me I would suggest Farenheit –

    • Robin says:

      Fahrenheit is another great choice. Looks like she’s either getting something older than 10 years, or she’s getting something masculine, or both.

      • Dachshundista says:

        Encre Noire! Great choice!

  28. C.H. says:

    Hm coming far too late to the game to propose Bulgari Black :) I will throw out some Diors instead–Hypnotic Poison or Dune? Something not for the faint of heart.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Dune is good! (Of course, I wear it, so take that for what it’s worth!)

    • Robin says:

      Another vote for BB :-)

  29. C.H. says:

    And just to add to the pile of JPG–Le Male also struck me as a possibility.

  30. jen says:

    Downtown? Wear some Cigar: men;s cologne that smells like its name.

  31. olenska says:

    For roaming around the contemporary mean streets, I’d go with Soivohle Leather Krem; for vintage NYC fun I’d choose Jolie Madame.

  32. Marjorie Rose says:

    I think our edgy youth in downtown Portland mostly smell like patchouli oil and b.o. Maybe a dash of sandalwood incense thrown in. Both available at a head shop near you!

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      But if you’re going for the proto-yuppie crowd, I’d say maybe some gender-bending MJ Bang on a lady?

    • Merlin says:

      Sorry to be OT, but MR, have you found anything out about your delivery?

      • Marjorie Rose says:

        No. FedEx did an “investigation” and concluded that it was delivered. I have called Barney’s, who will file a claim with FedEx. I’ve also been advised to dispute the charge on my VISA. Everyone seemed pretty friendly and didn’t treat me like I was trying to con them, so I’m feeling mostly optimistic. Someday, eventually, I will have my yummy scents!

        • Merlin says:

          All inconvenient – but it sounds like it just means a delay! Yay!

    • kindcrow says:

      I don’t live in Portland, but something very similar came to my mind!

    • Robin says:


  33. irisfreak says:

    SL Douce Amere is pleasant but edgy.

  34. ChocolatEyes613 says:

    If I was wearing a black leather jacket, and hanging out in edgy Downtown; I would probably wear Thierry Mugler Alien.

    Honestly, I do not find Rooney Mara, to be all that edgy. She seems to be more of a poser, than truly edgy…. not as big a poser as Avril Lavigne, but still a poser.

    • Robin says:

      Gosh, honestly don’t know anything about her — you’re probably right.

    • Dilana says:

      The young lady is actually the grandaughter of the owner of the Giants football team and the daughter of one of its chief executives. So she comes from money and the sports world .
      She does tend to dress for red carpet occasions in Couture Goth,(You, know the look, severe custom tailored black leather gowns with pale makeup, like she’s hoping to meet with Lord Byron’s and Mary Shelly’s ghosts at the after party).
      Which can be a kind of silly look. (Somebody lent you a pretty dress for a party, and you are young rich and beautul, so stop looking so glum)
      EXCEPT she’s done some brilliant acting in some very good movies. She’s was the Boston College student who told Mark Zuckerberg off in the Social Network,. and I’ll forgive any silly photograph or dress for that perfomance.
      if she is a poseur, well that’s acting.
      So why not let me imagine her in Fetish. She has the budget for it.

  35. GateGirl says:

    In my city, downtown is just plain ol’ Main Street. Not exactly edgy, unless you count the hipster-ish coffee shop on the corner. Or the gaggles of freshmen from the local college frequenting said coffee shop in their trendy Victoria Secret sweatpants and hoodies.

    One of the Juicy Coutures, Or perhaps Jimmy Choo. Or Hanae Mori, for a more feminine touch.

    • Robin says:

      That’s pretty much what it is in my town too.

  36. mutzi says:

    Is discontinued okay? I would go with Versace Dreamer.

    • Robin says:

      Seriously, did they discontinue Dreamer?!?

      • mutzi says:

        I’ve been told it was discontinued. I still find it online when I need a new bottle, but no stores in a 100 mile radius of me have it. I would be thrilled if they still made it.

        • Robin says:

          Interesting. I’m sure they don’t distribute it widely in any case, but hope they’re still making it.


        • Marjorie Rose says:

          Oh, I went looking for that to give it a proper sampling about a year ago. . . couldn’t find it in any of my stores, either! Seems like a good choice, though, based on what I’d heard about it.

  37. Blithie says:

    She’s wearing Clinique Aromatics Elixir that she borrowed from her grandmother because it doesn’t smell anything like what her friends are wearing.

    • Robin says:


    • nozknoz says:

      Yes, I was also thinking of Aromatics Elixir – definitely the most unusual perfume in the small department store near me.

    • theluscioushellcat says:

      Oh yes. A bold perfume. I’m circling back to it because I’m just so effing bored with all the frooty floral boredom in a bottle out there.

  38. Regina says:

    Great poll idea! I’m saying Hermes Kelly Caleche, especially if she’s dancing in the street.

    • Robin says:

      Yes, that would work! Actually, lots of the Hermes line would work.

  39. Rednails says:

    Kouros. She steals it from an elderly lover.

  40. sweetgrass says:

    I could go a few directions with this.. one would be Womanity, Chanel Coco (the original one, not the fruity stuff) could be the classy option, or I’d go over to the men’s side of the store and go with something like John Varvatos Vintage.

  41. missionista says:

    These days downtown is so pricey…so Bottega Veneta to channel the leather jacket, but also to reflect how gentrified downtown has become.

  42. monkeytoe says:

    I went shopping at Nordstroms: Kiehls Musk, unless it is too niche, if so, then Mugler Cologne.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, Kiehl’s will do. But I do love Mugler Cologne.

  43. garamascara says:

    Kenzo, Jungle Elephant, sometimes found at the discount perfume kiosk.

  44. kaos.geo says:

    Donna Karan Chaos…. nuff said! ;-)

    • monkeytoe says:

      If we get to shop at Neiman’s, I am choosing Sous le Vent or Dzing!.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, Chaos. Perfect.

  45. nozknoz says:

    I was thinking of Clinique Aromatics Elixir, which Blithie has already mentioned, or Estee Lauder Azuree.

    • mutzi says:

      I think the original Private Collection would also work.

      • Robin says:

        All good picks.

        • theluscioushellcat says:

          Let me raise a hand for lovely Aliage. It’s sporty but sophisticated.

  46. Nile Goddess says:

    I see my initial proposal of YSL Nu failed to make an impact.

    For me the night frag par excellence is Midnight Poison, But if you insist on niche I’d go for Messe de Minuit (gotta be incense) or Cuir Mauresque, my favorite SL

  47. solanace says:

    Prada Infusion d’Iris. It layers well with the leather jacket and is sheer enough for the young folk. Also, she is attracted to anything Italian. This girl (super)aspires culture and has good taste. She goes to all sorts of movies, art galleries and concerts, and spends a great deal of time at the library. In a few years, she will be getting her first Lutens.

    Superaspirational! You are the best, Robin!

    • Robin says:

      Prada Infusion d’Iris will work with anything, I swear it.

  48. Dachshundista says:

    What about SCENT by Costume National? Or too much niche?

    • Robin says:

      GREAT fragrance, and perfect fit. It’s certainly niche in the US but don’t know about their distribution elsewhere.

  49. CM says:

    One more vote for Bulgari Black…but I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Fracas. It definitely has presence and makes a statement.

  50. mercurygirl says:

    Emporio Armani pour Elle — the original, not the White or Red flanker.

    • Nile Goddess says:

      I actually liked a lilac flanker of Armani pour Elle called Remix – and it did have pear. But it’s sadly discontinued.

  51. bluegardenia says:

    Youth Dew! it’s rebellious and chic

  52. sparris says:

    Continually amazed at the disconnect between perfume ad imagery/copy and the actual smells they’re trying to sell us.

    I think I’d wear Penhaligon’s Sartorial for a nip downtown in a black biker jacket… Or Caron Yatagan but I’m not sure of the availability(online only here..).

  53. eminere says:

    Another cheap and tacky looking bottle.

  54. lebonconnoisseur says:

    I know many women find men’s fragrances a thrill to wear, but a most appropriate suggestion for your black-leather-jacket-gang-girl attitude is Tom Ford’s Violet Blonde.

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