“Come on Earle, we’ll be late for the arraignment” : : : : OPIUM (Yves Saint Laurent) (1977) VS CINNABAR (Estee Lauder) (1978)










Plagiarism lawsuits don’t seem to occur in the world of perfumery, and this is probably 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 supposedly adding 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, and quite hysterical, to imagine.





















Opium was a direct challenge to the insipid sport greens that were taking over the perfume world at the time, 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 breathamber-cinnamon template – gorgeously erotic and overwhelming in vintage parfum – was copied and remodelled, redeveloped with varying success in a number of perfume imitators until its swansong in 1983, when Karl Lagerfeld released the seminal (at least in my opinion) KL; this delicious, eighties spice fest shed some of the weight of the heavier oriental notes in Opium, kept the lingering florality and piquant spices, but flushed the whole with a wonderfully sunset orange top note that surrounded, dazzled the perfume within; it was perhaps this genre of perfume’sconceptual apogée.















Conversely, though obviously very much still an ‘oriental’ and close to Opium in style, Cinnabar was not a spice-laden camel on its weary back home to the souk, but a juggernaut pounding the highway back to Orlando. The first assault of this perfume- 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 the vintage Lauder on my one hand and vintage Opium parfum on the other as I write, and in comparison the latter is a panting carnal flower exhaling its last breath; languid jungle lovers in a post-coital, satisfied sleep. Its American counterpart can only imagine such abandon with a fierce, 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; dressed up not naked: an unyielding pair of lovingly pressed slacks that somehow forever evinces frustrated, unfulfilled sensuality.














Filed under 'Orientals', Flowers, Spice

36 responses to ““Come on Earle, we’ll be late for the arraignment” : : : : OPIUM (Yves Saint Laurent) (1977) VS CINNABAR (Estee Lauder) (1978)

  1. Marie Shanahan

    Well, I probably like the smell of cinnamon more that I like most men (LAUGH OUT LOUD!!) – – so I’m gonna buy it anyway!!

    • ginzaintherain

      Which one? Opium or Cinnabar? Personally, I would love to go out for the evening with a woman who was rocking Cinnabar effectively. It is kind of amazing in a way…please let me know if you do and how it goes…(if it clears the room, for example!)

  2. I love this review of Opium vs. Cinnabar because you were able to articulate exactly the feeling I got as I compared the two. Cinnabar compared to Opium comes off like its trying to hard to be something it isn’t. It’s like some young, inexperienced girl trying to imitate a, seasoned-by-life’s-experiences, full grown woman.

    • ginzaintherain

      Thanks Renee: I fully agree with what you say. There is some softness, or a certain je ne sais quoi missing in Cinnabar…it is too fixed and hard somehow. Considering how much Opium has been attenuated though recently, I think the full on blast of Cinnabar still has some relevance…

      • Agreed, the newer reformulations of Opium can’t hold a candle to the Opium of the 1970’s. I forgot to say that I was comparing the vintage parfum of both scents when I made that comparison.

      • ginzaintherain

        Have never tried Cinnabar in vintage parfum. Can only imagine what it smells like! I found a very old, sealed parfum of Youth Dew and when I opened it it was of nuclear strength. Stunning! Grotesque!

      • I can attest to that (LOL)! I don’t know how far back your Youth Dew goes, but I have my Mom’s Youth Dew and EDP from the early 1970’s and one drop of that stuff is all you need. I have to say that no matter how many times I’ve given it a try over the years, I can appreciate it, but it has yet to really click with me.

  3. alabasterwrists

    My mum wore Cinnabar (she was a big Estee Lauder fan and had every single one of her scents) and our house had copious amounts of Opium samples (back then the department stores handed them out freely and generously). The former I did not care for and the latter I just never “got”. I think on a psychological level as a very petite individual of small stature I felt that I could not carry off such bold, spicy scents. However, out of obligation (as it was gifted to me by someone I loved when it first debuted) I did wear Opium’s “cousin”, the original Chanel Coco. After having read this post I decided to dig up my old original empty bottle of Coco and managed to eek out a small drop onto my alabaster wrist 🙂 .
    OH MY ……
    Perhaps it is my middle aged status or the fact that we have been subjected (since the 90s) to anorexic,clean, inferior quality, etc., etc. scents (even from the high end niche lines) but I have developed a new appreciation. In one succinct word:STUNNING. I would surmise that were I given the opportunity to revisit the original Opium I would fall madly in love and finally “get” what all the fuss was (and continues to be) about.

  4. ninakane1

    Youth Dew, thank you! xxxxx More on this anon. xxxx

  5. The way I always felt towards Cinnabar v Opium is simple. Cinnabar is the equivelant of admiring the stained glass windows at Notre Dame from the outside. One can easily admire the craftsmanship and beauty. Opium on the other hand is like admiring the same stained glass windows from inside Notre Dame while the sun is pouring through and all the colours come to life. You not only admire them, you are transported by them. You are in awe of the inherent beauty and amazed by what a miracle if craftsmanship they truly are.

  6. Laurels

    “Not the least bit sexy” sums up my opinion of Cinnabar nicely, despite its apparent resemblance to Opium. Of course, they’ve been gradually neutering Opium as well. Maybe I should revisit Cinnabar, and see if the tables have turned.

    • You should definitely revisit Cinnabar. If you are comparing the modern versions side by side, Cinnabar has more of its original oomph, whereas Opium feels as if it has had its wings seriously clipped. Opium, newer and older side by side, does not even match its former glory

    • The latter definitely has more balls. In its current incarnation.

  7. I have always preferred KL to both Opium and Cinnabar and still wear it in the winter. The various fan shaped bottles are favorites too. Loved your review.

  8. Lilybelle

    I love KL, Opium and Cinnabar, but I can’t wear them. They are overwhelming on me. But I love, love, love that orange-spice quality. You’re right about Cinnabar being zipped up. It has that Lauder American scrubbed quality, as does Youth Dew. In my maturity I’ve come to have an appreciation of the classic ELs, but there is no dirty animalic sexiness there.

  9. I think this richness and a similar vibe can be found in the original Mauboissin perfume and maybe more so in it’s mandarin centric flanker Histoire D’Eau.

  10. I had a vintage bottle of the pure Opium parfum as well as the eau de toilette. However, I still have the eau de toilette and just sprayed a little on my wrist. It immediately brought me back to that time in my life when I used to wear it. The power of smell to our memory is amazing! The eau de toilette has not turned and is still beautiful, but somehow I rarely ever use it. It is almost like the nostalgia that one feels when they look at an old photo of themselves at another time in their life—meaning much younger. The hopes and dreams one has when they are young are merely just memories now and a lot of us never fulfilled those hopes and dreams. But one spray of one’s perfume from the past brings back not only nostalgia but hope that dreams may still come true!

    • I know what you mean about Opium belonging to the past. That is also Luca Turin’s take on it, that it was perfection, but does feel outdated or something, as though we have all smelled it too many times (that is a perfect that just INVADES your nose and brain, somehow, it floods it, just like a drug).

      As for hopes and dreams, I literally never had any, which is possibly why this time in my life right now is the best, I would say.

  11. Tora

    You perfectly encapsulated that unsexy Reaganesque, gated community vibe of (yawn) Cinnabar. Opium, I am only just now beginning to rediscover, with pleasure, for only very private moments. I don’t want to scare the masses. Killin it again, Neil.

    • Like Gaga in her current with Tony Bennett black curly wig and seventies shimmering kaftan, I reckon that a dab here or there of vintage Opium could be just the ticket for an almost out of body experience.

      Hit the streets in it!

  12. Rich divorcée accord – love it! 😀

  13. Love “Cinnabar was not a spice-laden camel on its weary back home to the souk, but a juggernaut pounding the highway back to Orlando.” And yes, the “rich divorcée accord.” Vintage ginzaintherain.
    Just trying to think of some insipid sport greens of the era, and drew a blank. I remember at the time loving Hermès Amazone, Balmain Ivoire and – yes, an EL – Aliage, all of which were green; two, anyway, sporty; and none in my opinion insipid. I believe you, of course, and so do tell: which are you thinking of? Love the whole idea!

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