Plagiarism lawsuits don’t seem to occur in the world of perfumery. This is good news for fragrance houses, else writs would be hurled left right and centre. As the exact formulae for perfumes are always very well guarded anyway (Estée Lauder phobically added the final 5% of ingredients herself behind closed doors to ensure secrecy), intellectual theft in the invisible, ephemeral world of scent would just too much for jurors, judges and witnesses to handle – the stench and olfactory confusion in a closed courthouse is easy to imagine.
Opium was a direct challenge to the insipid sport greens that were taking over the perfume world, and in its criminally erotic complexity, was daring, of the moment; dynamic. So was Cinnabar, which was undoubtedly a copy of Opium. But there are important differences, which I will come to. Opium’s mandarin/jasmine/husking tiger’s breath/amber-cinnamon template was copied and remodelled, redeveloped with varying success in a number of perfumes until its swansong in 1983, when Karl Lagerfeld released KL; this shed some of the weight of the heavier oriental notes, kept the lingering florality and piquant spices, but flushed the whole with a wonderful orange top note that surrounded, dazzled the perfume within; it was perhaps this format’s conceptual apogée.
Though obviously an ‘oriental’, Cinnabar was not a spice-laden camel on its weary back home to the souk, but a juggernaut pounding the highway to Orlando. The first assault – and it is an assault – from the thick, trusty bottle is a sinus-twisting rush of incredibly strong citrus-spice, delved rudely in a flawless, caramellized tang of orange, carnation and that ‘rich divorcée’ accord that is the base of all of Lauder’s creations from Youth Dew to Spellbound. These scents – such a mainstay of the Reagan generation – are not always to my taste, though I have to say they do mesmerize me, like the houses down the back streets of Beverly Hills – those fortresses of wealth draped in the U.S flag and Mexican vines; the darkness and silence of the living rooms hidden from sight in the blinding California sun.
Cinnabar packs the spices in and it packs ‘em in tight, over stickily suggestive balsams and woods that are bonded as a calyx, yet somehow not in the least bit sexy. I have vintage Opium parfum on the other hand as I write, and in comparison it is a carnal flower exhaling its last breath; lovers in a satisfied post-coital sleep. Its American counterpart can only imagine such abandon with stomach-clenched jealousy. Though a very well constructed fragrance (that I think probably yields more than I am letting on here), there is always something so zipped up, conservative and ‘gated community’ about Cinnabar; wigs, not hair: an unyielding pair of lovingly pressed slacks that somehow evinces frustrated, unfulfilled sensuality.