Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dior's Fahrenheit

As I've mentioned before, most of my favorite fragrances didn't impress me much at first, taking their time to grow on me and reveal their fine qualities. But Fahrenheit, perhaps the only fragrance that I'd want to take with me to the grave (or at least carry some backup bottles of into the next few decades), positively repulsed me upon first sniff. It was tarry, peppery, smoky, leathery; it called to my early-20something mind an old man's armpit; and, upon more focused sniffing, an old man doused in gasoline and pine resin. And then lit on fire. I was dumbfounded, and as I sniffed my wrist throughout the next few hours I was amazed that Fahrenheit was, and still is, a bestselling fragrance for Dior. But something about its character, its audacity and distinctive profile, intrigued me. I made a mental note to revisit it at some point, and revisit I did. Several times. With each spray from the department store tester bottle, I was freshly gobsmacked by the first 10 minutes of it on my skin. "It's a chemical spill", I thought to myself. "Dior is selling a chemical spill in eau de toilette. They're geniuses. Who's buying this? And why?" But with each testing experience, I paid more attention to Fahrenheit's smooth, floral, leathery, musky drydown, which struck me as lovelier with each sniff. It got to the point where I'd walk into a store, spray Fahrenheit, then settle for something more subdued, more classy, more "me". And then I'd sniff my Fahrenheit-soaked wrist compulsively on the way home. It got stuck in my head. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I craved it for an entire week - its brash opening, its iconoclastic profile, its headstrong character and firm sense of self. It was exactly the kind of fragrance I needed at the time, the polar opposite of a comfort scent: Something to square my shoulders, force my chin up, and help me face the world. I broke down and bought a bottle, gave it a proper wearing instead of a hurried spray-and-sniff, and fell in love. Eventually, even the chemical spill came to be addictive.

The green notes in Fahrenheit make the initial impression; the florals (including a violet note straight out of YSL's technicolor Paris) offer a hypnotic counterpoint; and the woods and musk in the base round out the whole composition, a textbook example of Trying Something Different...And Nailing It. 1988's Fahrenheit flew in the face of the de rigeur aromatic fougére blockbusters of the era, offering an alternative to the man who wanted to stand out. The brilliance of Fahrenheit is that it still stands out, in an equally monochromatic market of bland masculines and sugary-sweet feminines. It makes an indelible impression and is worth its weight in gold. Try it, retry it if need be...and when the cravings come, settle for nothing less. A classic.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Calvin Klein's Obsession(s)

Most of my favorite fragrances didn't impress me much upon first sniff. It was only after I wore them for a week or so that their magic started to take hold and I fully appreciated their many facets. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of my favorites come from another era; today's fragrances, almost to a one, are designed to smell great to the prospective buyer instantly without any delayed gratification or subtle development. I smelled Armani Code and liked it straightaway. Calvin Klein's Obsession (1985), after spraying it from one of the 15ml minis that my local Zellers stocks like candy, smelled like "Department Store Fragrance Counter, 1991". A bit floral, a bit spicy, a bit warm and vanillic, and very, very familiar. I wasn't hugely impressed, but I'd paid for it so I figured I'd give it a few days to see if it grew on me.

And grow it did. It grew exponentially. It was the only fragrance I wore for a good three months. The bitter, spicy wallop up top, the rich, boozy floral heart and the vanillic, woody base became olfactory catnip to me. I sprayed it on my pillow and on bookmarks. Wearing it made me feel mysterious, subversive, and (yes) sexy. It stopped smelling slightly dated and started smelling like just about the Best Damn Perfume Ever.

Naturally, I got a bit worn out on it and started wearing other things, but I still come back to Obsession often and it never lets me down. The opening herbal/green/leathery sucker-punch is sort of a make-or-break moment; either you love its sharp bite or you recoil. (This is also the most "butch" stage of the fragrance, for the men in the audience looking to expand their fragrance selection. Obsession is a great starting point - nothing girly about this stuff.) Once the top fades, Obsession becomes softer and thicker, with an ambery floral accord that's smoky and almost damp. Notes of brown sugar, coriander, musk, and (I swear, though no list of notes proves me correct) chili pepper waft throughout. The drydown is mostly a mossy, woody, blessedly dry vanilla with a whisper of patchouli. The sillage is tremendous - more than two sprays and you can clear an elevator - and the lasting power is excellent without being nuclear. Despite its '80s connotations and many imitators, Obsession remains a well-crafted, luscious bombshell of a scent. It's also one of the few oriental fragrances that bloom beautifully in the heat of summer, at least on my skin - must be the green edge, which keeps it out of the dusty and suffocating territory occupied by the likes of Youth Dew and Shalimar.

Obsession for Men, relased a year after the original, initially struck me as hopelessly dated and obnoxious, a fragrance for a Wall Street power broker with shellacked hair and a looming midlife crisis. I first smelled it from a sample I got in a charity event gift bag two years ago and decided it was inarguably Not Me. My fragrance tastes being expanded these days, and my love for '80s powerhouse scents in full swing, I bought a mini of it a few weeks ago and was taken aback. Either it's been reformulated recently (I have no idea how old my first sample was) or I've become more accustomed to strong orientals than I thought I was; Obsession for Men strikes me as quite powdery, with a woodier quality than the women's version and much less heavy. It brings to mind spicy talcum powder, damp leaves and dried vanilla beans over a bed of smoky cedar and sweet musk, like a less cloying and synthetic version of Gaultier's Le Mâle. The sillage is good but not overpowering, and the lasting power is typical for a men's eau de toilette on my skin - about 4-5 hours. I like it, but it's not at all what I was expecting, and it's miles removed from the image conjured by its name and the associated scent memories of the '80s and early '90s. It's also not dramatically masculine - most orientals read as fairly unisex to my nose anyway, but Obsession for Men is particularly soft and easily wearable for women. In a blind sniff you may confuse the two Obsessions with their intended genders.

Both versions are ripe for rediscovery and renewed appreciation. Obsession is the perfect antidote to the candied-sweet swill currently dominating the women's fragrance market, and Obsession for Men is the perfect antidote to...well, just about everything happening on the men's side. Give these two hits of the '80s a fresh spin.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rochas' Femme (but first, a bit of rambling)

I recently did a "purge" of my burgeoning fragrance collection, jetting the bottles I bought unsniffed, gave a good try, but finally accepted as Not Me (and in the case of Zirh's Corduroy, simply Not Good), as well as the ones I like but simply never wear. I hate clutter, and I possess a latent Scottish gene that insists I don't waste my money on things I won't get good use out of. This tendency has only recently made itself known; my adolescence and early twenties were a whirl of impulse buys based on my whims, rave reviews, the weather, or a combination of all three, in all areas - clothes, DVDs, electronics, books, hair products, foodstuffs. Part-time income be damned, I spent, and spent it all. I can't do that anymore; living on my own for the past three years has necessitated a smaller disposable income, true, but lack of funds is only half the story; the buyer's remorse that would set in after yet another spur-of-the-moment purchase that I Don't Really Need and Can't Exactly Afford If I'm Being Honest About It got to be intolerable. I must be in some kind of survival mode, or something; necessities only, it could all end tomorrow! (Perfume apparently doesn't count, or it's now become a necessity. Ask me in a month.)

Regardless, de-cluttering my surroundings and possessions really does help my state of mind, and the clutter on my fragrance shelf stopped being quirky and simply started nagging at me. I can have a million pairs of socks, or messenger bags, or belts, and not bat an eye - I use those things every day, and none of them cost very much individually. But if I'm plunking down $60-90 dollars on a bottle of fragrance...well, I need to use it, which means I need to love it. Which means no more blind buys, unless it's an absolutely screaming deal or something vintage or uber-rare that sounds intriguing and probably won't cross my path again for a while, if ever. So, back into the box and onto my swap lists went:
  • the aforementioned Corduroy
  • another Zirh, Ikon, which I reviewed positively but which never really struck my fancy
  • a vintage eau de toilette of YSL's Paris, which was lovely in a soapy, baby powder way, ie. Not My Thing Whatsoever, and officially the most pervasive, scrub-resistant sillage monster I've ever worn; they simply do not make eau de toilettes like they used to, if YSL's back catalogue is anything to go by
  • Chanel's Coco, which I assumed would be a richer, spicier, more punchy version of Coco Mademoiselle; it ended up smelling too polite and "perfumey" for my male skin (aldehydes? damascones? scent memories of Mom's '80s orientals?), and I found I simply preferred the fascinating citrus-incense-cola wallop of Opium, Coco's '70s forebear that somehow hasn't aged a day
  • YSL's Rive Gauche pour Homme, a modern take on '70s aromatic fougéres with an enjoyably metallic barbershop vibe, but with the same thick, synthetic clove/cinnamon accord that's in Corduroy and renders two of my favorite spices flat and plasticky; I was mostly persuaded by the low price, and the utterly genius packaging that makes me wish every fragrance came in light-proof, shatter-proof, stylish and travel-friendly aluminum cans
  • Azzaro Pour Homme, which I loathed on first sniff (scent memory alert: Dad's Aftershave circa 1986!) and which I slowly came around to enjoying, then stopped wearing completely
  • Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy Girl, gorgeous fresh out of the bottle but too soapy and sheer for me in the heart and drydown; great for what it is, but I never feel moved to wear it
  • CK Eternity, which I found increasingly two-dimensional the more I wore it; I also reviewed this positively, which shows how utterly fickle my tastes are, so you should probably take every review on this blog with a grain of salt (or a truckload)
  • and finally, Rochas Femme, another blind buy after discovering my love for spice, animalic and leather notes, and after reading its recommendation as a surprisingly wearable fragrance for men
Aaaaaaand we've arrived!

Femme was created by legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska and released in 1944, and its backstory has been covered much more thoroughly and eloquently by other perfume bloggers, so I'll skip it here. It belongs to genre of perfumes that I have yet to fully discover and appreciate - the Prewar Classics - but that I'm itching to. It also belongs to a less clearly defined but equally beloved genre of fragrances that, shall we say, aren't quite squeaky-clean. These fragrances, which range from classic chypres like Mitsouko and orientals like Shalimar all the way to modern florals like Agent Provocateur and colognes like Eau d'Hermes, have an undercurrent of, as the perfume fanatics call it, "skank". Something earthy. Musky. Intimate. Sensual. Perhaps slightly fetid, even a tad...fecal. Usually just a hint, mind you, oftentimes not even noticeable upon first sniff, or if you're not paying close attention. But it's there. Femme is one such creature, and is often name-dropped in discussion of such skanky scents.

Femme isn't as offputting as all that, of course - this is a perfume, after all, and if the classic French houses put out fragrances that literally smelled of feces or armpit sweat, they wouldn't sell. Supposedly the original version of Femme was considered shockingly animalic and indecent (although beautiful) at the time of its release, but modern noses, being more jaded and unflappable, routinely describe it as simply a gorgeous floral chypre with ripe fruit undertones and a fabulous woody base. Rochas reformulated and relaunched Femme in 1989, and the perfumer in charge of the revamp, Olivier Cresp, added a strong cumin note to the blueprint in an effort to both modernize the fragrance and recreate the original's shock value.

It worked...the shock part, at least. Nothing about Femme smells modern, but the cumin truly is unexpected and initially alarming, even to my spice-loving nose. Cumin unfortunately reminds many Western noses of body odor and stale sweat, particularly of the feminine variety, but that's precisely the effect that Femme is aiming for - the scent of a Voluptuous Woman, most decidedly not fresh from the shower. The voluptuousness comes from Femme's plum and peach notes, which have an overripe, almost dried quality, as well as a leathery undercurrent that's most prominent in the middle stage. The overall effect is of stewed peaches and plums, sprinkled with sweet cumin and a touch of cinnamon oil. Rose and jasmine are the most prominent floral notes to my nose, and an occasional whiff of sandalwood lends an arid, almost soapy quality before the smooth, syrupy-woody finish. All throughout the cumin lurks, threatening to overwhelm the entire structure, but somehow it stays just on the edge without going over.

I'll admit that I'm still not entirely sure what I think about Femme, at least in its current eau de toilette concentration. I know I'm fascinated by it, I know the ripe fruits and spice tickle my fancy, and I know it's wholly unlike any other fragrance in my collection. But I almost never wear it. It's temperamental. Sometimes the florals and fruit are simply lovely, their elegance perfectly tempered by the raw, sensual edge offered by the spice and leather; other times, I can't get over the impression that I'm smelling a sweaty woman in an old perfume. A whisper of cumin can add a wonderful warmth and sensuality to a composition (see YSL's Kouros), but its use in Femme reeeeallly skirts the edge of decency. And yet, when I catch random whiffs of its sillage, I'm struck by Femme's rich, glowing loveliness, the cumin a mere background note to the plush fruit and spice. It's an extremely well-made perfume with a rounded "wholeness", a classic feel, and a distinctive character. I might have trouble with the idea of wearing it in public, but I have more trouble with the idea of not having it in my collection at all, to spray and bask in when the urge strikes (which has happened on more than one occasion).

Lovers of Femme seem to recommend the apparently sweeter, richer and less spicy Eau de Parfum over the eau de toilette, so perhaps I should give that one a whirl. Either way, Femme is off my swap list and back onto my shelf - a readily available relic of another era, and one that I'll hopefully claim as my own someday. Until then, I'll sniff that heady fruity-cumin rush and remember what uniqueness is.

(Oh, I put the Azzaro back, too. After the 40-minute mark it starts this drydown stage that's possibly the best I've ever smelled in a men's fragrance, and one of the best in any fragrance, period. Starts off bitter, harsh, and dated; ends up being what I wish every man naturally smelled like, including myself. Fantastic.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thierry Mugler's Angel

I distinctly remember the first time I smelled a woman's perfume that I loved so much, I wanted a bottle for myself. One of my female coworkers, a restaurant hostess, routinely overdosed on her perfume before each shift - you could smell her minutes before she entered the room. One night, while I was sitting at the restaurant's bar after a hellish eight-hour stretch in the kitchen, she breezed by, directed a couple to their assigned table in the lounge, and came back to the bar to chat with one of her friends who was sitting there with us. From the moment she entered the vicinity, I was transfixed by her perfume; sweet, gently musky, powdery, elegant, rock-solid, and just plain gorgeous. In my (slightly alcohol-tinted) state, I couldn't help exclaiming my love for the fabulous scent wafting from her body in practically visible waves, and demanded to know what she was wearing. It was Coco Mademoiselle, by Chanel. I made a mental note of the name, sought it out some time in the weeks thereafter to freshly sniff (and try on my own skin), and it remains in my mind one of the most well-constructed, purely enjoyable fragrances geared toward young women today.

What I didn't know at the time was that Coco Mademoiselle is, in essence, a drier, more floral, and slightly more elegant variation on the theme of Thierry Mugler's Angel, released nine years previous. Where Mademoiselle highlights girly florals sitting neatly atop a woody, clean patchouli base, Angel is a nearly sickly concoction of caramel, vanilla, candied fruit, and chocolate, undercut with a patchouli/incense streak so sharp and smoky that it borders on medicinal. If Mademoiselle is a watercolor, Angel is a Van Gogh. What a delightful shock it must have been to smell Angel upon its release in 1992, not only for its groundbreaking use of "gourmand" notes and sweet aromachemicals, but for its gleeful, mischievious mix of feminine and masculine, dry and diabetic. It's a tug-of-war from the first spray until well into the (endless) drydown, when the soothing vanilla eventually overwhelms the patchouli's bite and the two sail off into the sunset, content at last...until the next spray, when the tension ramps up all over again. It's a domestic dispute stuck on replay...replay...

Due to its parade of imitators and benefactors of its "inspirational" qualities (Mademoiselle being arguably the classiest), Angel no longer smells as bizarre as it undoubtedly did in the early '90s, but it's still a hoot, and that's all that matters. Quite unlike the slightly stiff Mademoiselle, Angel is all good times and belly laughs. Its cotton-candy goofiness is impossible to take seriously, but its musky anchor refuses to be dismissed offhand. It's the kind of fragrance that makes me think of my best female friends, earthy types with wicked senses of humor, dressed to the nines for a wild night on the town, good vibes flowing, not a self-righteous bone in their bodies, but always ready to dole out a cutting one-liner or smack a gropey jerk upside his head if need be. Angel makes a statement and leaves an indelible impression on all who come into contact with it; it's loud, heady, bawdy, and simply not for all tastes. But if you're one of the chosen few who feel Angel's mammoth groove, it's catnip - comforting and addictive all at once. Wearing it makes me smile, and I can't ask for much more from a fragrance.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yves Saint Laurent's Opium

If there's a scent more utterly anaethema to the modern definition of a mainstream feminine fragrance than Opium, I haven't smelled it, and frankly have trouble conjuring an image of such a creature. Like its fellow YSL housemate Kouros, 1977's Opium cuts a swath through the flotsam and jetsam of modern mainstream perfumery with its distinctive character and mischievous good mood. It stands and delivers in a market of neutered pleasures and watery non-scents. It's unlike anything else on the shelves, including its oriental forebears Youth Dew and Shalimar. It's a singular piece of wearable, avant-garde art.

And, if we're to believe the rumours swirling around the perfume blogs and fragrance discussion boards as of late, it's been ruined.

Yves Saint Laurent unveiled the revamped packaging for all Opium concentrations (the Eau de Toilette is pictured above) this past fall, and perfumistas and Opium-heads across the land feared that the juice may have been revamped (read: reformulated) along with it. And lo, reports quickly poured in from loyal Opium wearers who found the new Eau de Toilette unrecognizable, diminished to a fraction of its former self, cheapened and threadbare, lightened and freshened to match the bland bestsellers surrounding it on the counter. In what I can only assume is another example of Internet-fuelled hysteria, the kind that convinces otherwise independent thinkers that Kouros smells like feces just because every other review on says it does, these reports have been grossly overestimated (at least in my opinion). The new Opium Eau de Toilette smells the same to me as the stuff in the older bottle, which I've sniffed at department stores umpteen times and owned a sample of two years ago. Either my nose is busted, or Opium is still Opium. I'll choose to believe the latter.

Opium was the oriental fragrance that defined its era; one seems to come along every decade or so. Shalimar (1925) set the vanilla/citrus benchmark, Tabu (1932) added some skank, Youth Dew (1953) brought the balsamic resins, Opium dumped on the spice, and later, Coco (1984) and Obsession (1985) cherry-picked the choicest parts of the others, distilled them, and sold the result for a song. By the '90s orientals were essentially over, save for half-hearted attempts like Givenchy's Organza, although orientals are such failsafe crowd-pleasers that surely the next blockbuster is around the corner. With the passage of time, most of the classic oriental whoppers seem prim and genteel; Obsession has a nice kick, but its vanillic/woody sweetness eventually renders it slightly stuffy. Only Opium still has the power to shock and awe like it must have back in the day: bone-dry, spices cranked to 11, incense to beat the band, powdery florals and tangy herbs, a rock-solid structure and a perfectly haughty character, an anachronism and a landmark all at once. Opium jumps off the skin and fills the room with its oriental opulence and lavish taste, but (when applied sensibly) it neatly sidesteps obnoxiousness. The floral heart, particularly the carnation note, reminds me of Old Spice, and indeed it's Opium's crisp florals and lack of added sugar that make it a convincingly unisex fragrance, especially in today's market of floral masculines and cavity-inducing feminines. (I wore it to work one day this week and got compliment after compliment on my "aftershave".)

Like Kouros, different facets of Opium's structure are given slight emphasis each time I wear it: Sometimes the spices scream bloody murder, other times the syrupy resins and orange-peel sheen come through the strongest, sometimes it's all incense and woods. It's always loud, though, and for an Eau de Toilette the lasting power is unbelievable. Rarely does my skin hold fragrances for longer than 4-5 hours, but Opium's woody, smoky base is still detectable at least 9 hours after I've sprayed. Those of you with fragrance-friendlier skin than mine will probably get a good 12 hours or more out of it. I can't imagine how long the Eau de Parfum (or pure Parfum) would last on me, but I'm itching to try them. Although the EdT is great, the prospect of a richer, denser Opium experience has me swooning already.

For anyone who loves fragrance, Opium is inarguably a must-sniff, although if you're of a certain generation your olfactory memory is probably already inundated with it, so widespread was its use during its heydey. Even I find it distinctly familiar in that "Did my mom used to wear this?" kind of way. I've been meaning to ask her if she, or perhaps my grandmother or an aunt, wore it at some point during my childhood. Regardless, it's the kind of trend-setting, plays-by-its-own-rules fragrance that mainstream design houses simply don't make anymore, and that it's still on the shelves (and with its personality still intact) is a blessing. If you're a woman who's weary of the generic perfumes cluttering up the counters, give this one a try - or a re-try, as the case may be. And if you love orientals but haven't sniffed Opium, remedy this grievous error immediately, and don't be suprised if you fall under its spell.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Yves Saint Laurent's Kouros

Perched precariously on the edge between clean and dirty, fresh and musky, elegance and raunch, Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros is in a class by itself. A perennial bestseller nearly three decades after its launch, Kouros nonetheless carries a love-it-or-hate-it reputation unmatched in perfumery. It inspires rapture and repulsion in almost equal measure among both well-versed fragrance fanatics and the masses at large. Such a historically polarizing scent can be tough to judge on its own merits in the here and now, but having been neither alive during its early-‘80s heyday nor surrounded by its ardent fans in the intervening years, I have no recollection of ever smelling Kouros, and thus bring no baggage nor nostalgia to my critique. Which is probably just as well, since I don’t think I would have been able to handle Kouros until I’d had a few years under my belt. It’s not a scent for the inexperienced.

Many men’s fragrances claim, in their ad copy, to be the choice of the individual, the iconoclast, the pioneer, the rebel. Not surprisingly, few of them live up to such breathless descriptors; most, in fact, settle neatly into well-trodden categories of masculine scents (Fresh/Aquatic, Green/Woody, Smoky/Leathery, etc.) without ruffling so much as a feather on the way down. Kouros, blessedly, isn’t one of them. If such a distinctive scent must sumbit to classification, it fits broadly into the equally-broad category of aromatic fougéres, but calling Kouros a fougére is like calling Chanel No. 5 a floral - it hardly does justice. Kouros possesses the requisite characteristics of its mossy/herbal brethren like Azzaro Pour Homme and Drakkar Noir, but reaches far beyond them, sampling notes from disparate categories – the spiciness of orientals, the aldehydes of classic florals, the powdery sweetness of gourmands – and creating its own heady brew. This would be cause enough for celebration, but it would also be called Rive Gauche Pour Homme, and it would be settling. Kouros doesn’t settle – for elegance, class, sophistication, anything. It takes one final look around at its neighboring fragrances, considers them all a mite too clean, and ramps up the skank, thereby creating legend.

The singular smell of Kouros has been variously likened to that of: urine, cat urine, cat poop, men’s bathrooms, the deodorant pucks in the urinals of said bathrooms, semen, sweat, armpit odor…you name it, as long as it’s gross. To my nose, Kouros isn’t nearly as nasty as all that; in fact, upon first spray it strikes me as quite fresh, with a hint of citrus, some attractive spices, and a soapy undertone - Irish Spring ala Méditerranée. About 30 seconds later, an incense/camphor/disinfectant accord shows its face, reminding me of…yep, urinal pucks. But on top of the urinal puck is a sweet, creamy, talcum-esque note, dusted with cardamom and cloves. So…a urinal puck served up with a chai latté. Weird, but not entirely unattractive. And then something else happens: the guy serving us the urinal latté rips his shirt off and starts sweating profusely. His musky natural odor couples with the chai and urinal puck to create something intensely personal and bizarrely fascinating, and I suspect it’s this accord that so enraptures female fans of Kouros, who often cite the smell of fresh sweat on a man’s skin as the sexiest scent on earth. Something about Kouros brings to mind unwashed bedsheets, a day-after lingering musk, the subtle “skin scent” that makes women compulsively sniff their boyfriend’s sweaters. It’s not fecal or armpit-esque, but smoother, deeper, sexier, lived-in but not stale or sour. Such an abstract aroma is rare to find captured in a bottle, and even moreso in a mainstream, bestelling fragrance from a lauded design house. If the Kouros haters would soldier past its initial stages and ignore their first impressions, they might be surprised to find that rare thing: a truly sexy masculine fragrance, one that makes no concessions to (misguided) good taste. There is a place for class and elegance, and that place is most emphatically not the bedroom, at least if one is to have any fun there. Kouros has a pulse, lives by its own rules, and has no interest in hiding its less-than-spotless intentions. If Kouros’ reputation strikes you as horrifying, try it with an open mind and see if it doesn’t work magic. (And if you’re still in doubt, ask your girlfriend.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men

Like many older fragrances that inspired a million imitations, Eternity is somehow richer, less obnoxious, and more interesting than its copycats. The "fresh fougére" trend in men's fragrances basically kickstarted with this one, another innovative-for-its-time besteller from Calvin Klein.

Eternity is a clean (yet not soapy), green (yet not obnoxiously summery), and highly wearable (yet not dull) scent that smells instantly familiar to millions who sniffed it during its heyday. Its top notes are citrusy and fresh, like a mandarin orange smelled through a layer of damp leaves, while the drydown is a mossier, more leathery variation on the same theme. It's a rainy-day-in-late-spring scent, and it leaves a "green" impression throughout; you could swear there's actual chlorophyll in the bottle.

Eternity isn't terribly complex, but compared to its imitators (ie. half of every men's fragrance counter since 1990), it's intriguing, especially if you didn't grow up with it back in the day. My fragrance experience in the '90s, as a preteen, basically started and ended with CK One, so I've never been hugely familiar with Eternity. As I smell it for the first time in the here and now, it strikes me as that very coveted kind of old-fashioned fragrance - classic without being stodgy or too "cologne-y". The drydown really anchors that impression - whereas most "fresh" men's fragrances of today have little to no development on the skin (I'm looking at you, Lacoste Essential), Eternity has something to say past the first 30 minutes - not an impassioned speech, mind you, but a word or two that makes an impression. If you think the top notes are too obnoxious or insipid, wait an hour or so - the tail end of Eternity's development is downright classy.

Getting down to brass tacks, Eternity's lasting power is (fittingly) excellent with only moderate sillage, so you won't be detected from across the room when you wear it. Still, apply with a light hand - you'll be less likely to trigger '80s flashbacks for those around you of a certain age. Before plunking down $80 for the latest designer fragrance that attempts (and most likely fails) to jump on the Eternity bandwagon, why not just try the original? I like keeping a bottle of it around; when I'm in the mood for a "fresh" scent with a bit of backbone to it, Eternity hits the spot.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Zirh's Ikon

I always, always spell Zirh wrong when I type it. And then I'm flummoxed when my Google and searches turn up nothing related to "zihr".


I'm a proponent of a slightly older-school era of perfumery, the one where guys weren't expected to smell of public pool water, lemon peel, cucumber, fabric softener sheets, or any combination of the above. I have no patience for the very '90s trend of sheer, bland, aquatic, ozonic, "marine" fragrances for men (inspired by Davidoff's blockbuster Cool Water in 1988) that begat an army of faceless clones from every fashion house under the sun; a trend that somehow, against not only reason but the fickle nature of fashion - in one day, out the next - is still with us. I like a masculine fragrance that smells solid, structured, and grounded; affable, preferably unpretentious, with a memorable personality and something interesting to say. Spices are encouraged, as are sharp floral notes and leathery, woodsy bases. If it comes in a cool bottle with a magnetic cap that's fun to play with, great. And if it doesn't cost much, even better. I saw Ikon at my local drugstore without an accompanying tester bottle, but at $19 Canadian for 125 ml, I figured Zirh Ikon was a pretty risk-free blind buy. Even if I don't like a fragrance, I'll usually keep it around for reference, or if it isn't truly horrific, I'll use it as a room spray. Ikon shall suffer neither fate; it is good, wearable stuff.

Zirh is a New York-based men's skincare line, and they released Ikon in 2008. It's a woody oriental, and a bone-dry one at that. The top notes upon spraying are citrusy and slightly herbal, with a smokey background. The citrus soon fades and an incense/cardamom accord takes over, sprinkled lightly with black pepper and a dusting of clove. A slight burning cedar note is at play, too. The overall effect at this point is of clean, dry smoke, which continues on through the drydown as the incense eventually dominates the fragrance, with the cedar singing backup. Vanilla and amber are commonly listed notes in Ikon's profile, as is cinnamon; my nose adores all three, and detects none of them in Ikon. Maybe a bit of cinnamon if I really, really pay attention, and turn my head a certain way while standing on one leg.

The spices are great, the incense is welcome and the smoky woodiness is top-notch, but there's a lack of warmth in Ikon that keeps me from completely loving it. If the supposed amber and vanilla had made a proper showing, with perhaps a bit more cinnamon and pepper, this would have been straight up my alley - smokey and spicy but with a rich, velvet background. As it is, Ikon is well-made and atypical for a mainstream men's fragrance, at least in today's market. If incense and woods are your thing, Ikon is a must-sniff; I just prefer my orientals a bit more plush. (But bonus points to Zihr* for resisting the lure of the aquatic.)

*Dammit, I did it again!