Estée Lauder Cinnabar, 1978

Posted on

Perfumer Bernard Chant?

Spicy, resinous amber perfumes are a feel-good genre in perfumery. The individual components (vanilla, benzoin, labdanum…) are like prefab bases and can single-handedly provide the blueprint for an Oriental perfume. The risk is the kitchen-sink syndrome.

Cinnabar’s topnotes juxtapose a bright, aldehyde/bergamot accord against a boozy amber mix, a trick learned from Youth Dew. The segue from citrus to sweet brings out the matte, rubbery side of amber, but it doesn’t jibe well with the vanillic undercurrent and the custard doesn’t quite settle. Despite aldehydic jazz hands the topnotes don’t have nearly enough torque to dig the spices out of the trenches. Little light escapes the cinnamon/clove event horizon and wearing Cinnabar gives me olfactory claustrophobic. It’s a quick journey from the topnotes to the perfume’s next and only other phase, drydown, which lasts from the 30 minute mark until about 24 hours later. Cinnabar does grow less dense as the half-lives pass but it never becomes any less opaque.

Cinnabar might have cribbed some tricks from Auntie Youth Dew, but it should have studied history more closely. The pairing of citrus/aromatics and balsams was the compositional coup of the 1920s. Shalimar and Habanita steered the pairing toward leather and Nuit de Noel and Bois des Isles went the cozy fur-coat route but they all share a similar design concept.

The perfumes of the 1970s and the 1920s had a lot in common. Aldeyhydic florals were chic as hell and bitter chypres were all the rage, but the voluptuous orientals were the shit. Cinnabar and its exact contemporaries Yves Saint Laurent Opium and Lancome Magie Noire reinvented animalsim via spice and opened the door to a new style of oriental perfume that Chanel put on the map with Coco, Bois Noir and Egoiste.

The identity of the perfumer of Cinnabar is not 100% certain, but rumor has it that it was Bernard Chant. For the life of me I can’t imagine that the perfumer of Cabochard and Aromatics Elixir didn’t know how to square the bergamot/amber circle. If he is in fact Cinnabar’s author, I have to imagine that the fault lies in reformulation. Chant was just too good to be credited with the murky version of the perfume available today.

The proof will be in the pudding. I’ve just found an unopened bottle of the original Cinnabar (“Soft Youth Dew”) on ebay and it’s en route. It’ll go head-to-head with a pristine bottle of YSL Opium that I recently found. More to follow.

 

(image, suzanneniccolls.wordpress.com)

  • Share

2 Comments

  1. MaggieToo says:

    Yes, please definitely do come back with your notes on the vintage Cinnabar. I’ve never sniffed it, and have long been curious about it. I own a set of 1980s-era scented insert cards for Cinnabar, the kind that the department stores used to include in their in-house credit card bills. I’m going to send you a message at your BN address and see if I can attach a scan of them for you.l

  2. Susan Smith says:

    The current cinnabar isnt close to the vintage cinnabar. I think you will find closer to what you are looking for in the older version if the top hasnt suffered. Its still pretty rich and dense. Ysl Opium is more lithe than Cinnabar.

leave a comment