Cinnabar (Estée Lauder)

Challenge for budding critics: write a review of Estée Lauder's Cinnabar without mentioning Yves Saint Laurent's Opium. Damn. Too late-- and maybe it's just as well. They've shared column space for so long, it'd be a pity to break them up now.

Geographically, both fragrances pretend to hail from the inscrutable East, though their passports admit otherwise. Genealogically, both ascend from Tabu's mighty taproot, though Opium cleaved more faithfully to family tradition. In contrast, Cinnabar seemed too modern, too American, a third-generation child dressed up in the folk costume of a country it had never beheld. Skeptical consumers sensed its shaky pedigree and backed away, and Estée Lauder abandoned the East for more domestic pastures.

But even in settled dynasties, fortunes rise and fall. At the time of its release, Opium seemed the obvious heir to the Tabu throne. Now that it has been deposed -- its magisterial bulk pulled earthward by the ropes of corporate lackeys -- Cinnabar (once the weaker and less promising child) perks my interest. The time could at last be ripe for its prodigal star to rise.

In Cinnabar, the basic notion of Tabu and Opium (and Youth Dew for that matter) shows signs of dilution, and not to ill effect. You could call it a summer version of any of these grand perfumes-- and being that all three are most appropriate for deep-freeze temperatures requiring layers of wool and fur, isn't it a relief to know there's at least one fragrance in the family that you can wear when the mercury hits seventy?

Cinnabar is indeed lighter, brighter, and cleaner than its predecessors, projecting the gauzy crispness of sheer silk voile on a hot August day.  Though still founded on a patchouli-spice accord ameliorated with vanilla and amber, it is also unabashedly fruitier than either Opium or Tabu, encompassing the tartness of yellow citrus as well as the honeyed sensuality of peach. Sandalwood and aldehydes combine to produce a delicious soapy-clean sparkle, while the warm-suede note of ylang-ylang keeps it from tipping over into sterility.

The contrast between Cinnabar and Opium extends into the images of femininity they evoke. If Opium paints the stereotypical portrait of a shadowy courtesan robed in crimson silk, concealed in eternal mystery behind a carven ebony screen, Cinnabar describes a dashing, sprightly maiden clad in Korean hanbok, her vivid, bell-shaped skirts swirling like a peony's petals as she rides a traditional kune (standing swing) at the spring Dano festival.  

In fact, it's that girl -- peach-cheeked, sparkling with life -- who raised Cinnabar in my estimation. At first I wavered-- sure, I liked it plenty; it's pleasant and easy to wear, but hardly original.  However, it occurred to me that spice is sorely lacking in the perfumes available to young ladies these days, and Cinnabar would make a perfect introduction for a newbie unfamiliar with the genre.  She might be too green to carry off Opium, Tabu, or Youth Dew... but Cinnabar is the breath of youth itself. 

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, orange blossom, aldehydes, peach, carnation, cinnamon, cloves, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, balsam tolu, amber, vanilla, spices, incense