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.