The Mighty Cinnabar


Estee Lauder launched Cinnabar within weeks of YSL Opium coming out. The gauntlet was well and truly thrown down. That they are competitors cannot be coincidence with such a close time lapse between them and such unmistakable  similarities.

Cinnabar was created in 1978 and has become somewhat of a standby classic.  I don’t smell this very often on under 50s, which is a great shame .  I would love to see younger people seek out  fragrances like this and escape from the fog of modern fruity florals.

 Cinnabar has a lot to offer.  It is an Oriental Spice perfume, with other notes that make it chameleon-like in its adaptability.  On first spray it is loud, fresh and spicy before drying down into a talcum powder masculine scent .  But bear with it, as it soon changes again and becomes a delightful Incense fragrance with a hint of powdery orange and peach, and a definite loud-ish note of clove standing in the background.  This is serious perfume: it’s not playful.   I can’t help thinking of rather sombre females in dark suits, or elegant dames with pearls and no laughter lines.

On me I’m afraid it reminds me of a Toilet in a rather well to do house I visited years ago.  I can’t help it.  I smell a fragrance and a long forgotten memory just pops up and won’t go away.  I think the hint of Jasmine, which is often indolic, has made this hard for me to love, but easy to admire.  It also reminds me of a soap called Shield, used by a former adversary, which has kind of spoilt it for me.   Strangely enough, I found this so similar to Estee Lauder Youth Dew, now in its 60th year, that I am not entirely clear why they made two fragrances so very similar.  Yesterday I wore Cinnabar on one arm and Youth Dew on the other.   At one point they were so alike I thought I was going to have to write “This one is Youth Dew” on my arm.

Cinnabar is not for me, but I hope it sticks around as we need more classics like this.  It would be a tragedy if a beautiful Oriental were to be discontinued through lack of sales.  With today’s trends for the lighter more modern fruits and vanillas, I sometimes fear for the good guys like Cinnabar.

10 thoughts on “The Mighty Cinnabar”

  1. Dear Iscent (if I may be so informal)

    The Dandy is so pleased to hear a little, if not love, then at least admiration for Cinnabar.

    I so agree with you with regards to it being a sort of upright and unlined version of the more hedonistic Youth Dews and Opiums of this world.I’ve always thought of it as being a fragrance for diplomat’s wives or high end interior designers.

    It is a wonderfully crafted perfume – its structural integrity putting many of today’s releases to shame.

    I too hope that Estee Lauder will remain faithful (as it mainly and commendably does) to this classic as I would be heartbroken to see it go.

    Perhaps you know, with time, your respect might mellow into affection.

    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  2. With the appalling reformulation of Opium a year or two ago (actually, less a reformulation, more an evisceration), Cinnabar may be one of the last truly great beasts left in the jungle. The Estee Lauder range is a real favourite of mine. I adore several of their classic fragrances – Estee, Alliage, Azuree, White Linen – and some of their new ones – Bronze Goddess, Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang, Youth Dew Amber Nude – ol’ Luca Turin rates them highly too and says they are an often overlooked perfume house that has consistently kept quality high.

    Hey, here’s another one we both agree on liking!
    And I remember Shield soap too. So very 70s, with the aqua colour and stratiform layers plus the deodorant thing going on. Fitted perfectly with the coloured bathroom suite…

  3. I always thought Youth Dew and Cinnebar were evolutionarily combined in the eventual creation of Lauder’s full-fledged Cinnebar. Like they even combined the names into Youth Dew Cinnebar of something . . .

    1. Hi Bryan and thank you for dropping by. I can totally see why you would think that. I wore one on each wrist one day and they certainly have many similarities. However, Youth Dew just cuts it for me and smells less soapy on me than Cinnabar.

  4. Estee Lauder has changed the fragrance of Cinnabar!!!! I does not smell anything like the original. Why they would do that is beyond me. Don’t buy the new version

    1. Hi Jaquieds and thanks fro dropping by!
      Unless its changed since my review, then that’s the one I reviewed. I haven’t tried the vintage one at all, sadly. xx

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