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 Basenotes.com 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!