My Favorite Things: Cinnamon

I thought I had covered all my favorite perfume ingredients in this column. Last weekend’s Pierre Benard Challenge showed me I had missed cinnamon. It is one of those spicy ingredients which seem made for fall. Which makes this a great time to share my favorite cinnamon centric perfumes.

Estee Lauder Cinnabar is the first example I found of the classic cinnamon and clove pairing. It will be mentioned again below. In 1971 perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant would use this duo as a retort to the uber-popular Opium. After a fizzy aldehydic opening the spices simmer over a base of sandalwood, patchouli, and incense.

Clove and cinnamon, you say? Perhaps the pinnacle of this comes in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur. This takes the spices with tangerine to form a spiced citrus accord that is ready to stand up to a fantastically balanced base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk. The spices particularly sing in the cooler weather. One of perfumer Maurice Roucel’s best perfumes.

Aramis JHL was a part of the burly masculine cologne tradition of the early 1980’s. Perfumer Bernard Chant would make a cinnamon centric version of that. When I wear this as the fruits spices and woods come together, I channel my inner wild and crazy guy. It can feel anachronistic but in the cooler temperatures of this time of year it feels timeless.

Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is the least mentioned of the great Series 3: Incense collection. Perfumer Evelyn Boulanger created the quietest of the five resinous perfumes. She spreads the spices out to form a layered opaque accord which is given more expansiveness through gaiac wood. It is so on trend for 2020 I think if these were released today it would be the biggest seller of them all. This is one of my favorite perfumes to spray on a scarf because it is at just the right volume.

Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile is one of my seasonal staples for the end of the year. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena composed this haiku in syllables of tobacco, cinnamon, honey, and vanilla. Another one on the lighter side which revels in its delicate balancing act.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued- Cinnamon

Ever since I started the Pierre Benard Challenge back in May it has renewed my awareness of the scents around me. That might sound odd from someone who enjoys writing about perfume, but I tend to focus on the perfume under my nose. That leads to me missing the ambient world of odors around me. One thing this effort has done is to make me look up from the bottle and breathe in more consistently. Earlier this week after being outside in the early fall weather with the dogs I entered the house to the comforting smell of cinnamon. It completed a connection which I had not explicitly understood as this being the scent of autumn.

The reason the house smelled of cinnamon is a lot of our fall pastry cooking requires lots of it. If I were writing this twenty years ago there would just be cinnamon. Except I discovered there are many varieties of cinnamon all of which have their own flavor and scent profiles. We have four different kinds in our kitchen: Vietnamese, Ceylon, Indonesian, and Chinese. Just like the perfume ingredient oud, terroir seems to make a difference.

When it comes to apple pie the Chinese cinnamon is our choice. We tend to use the tarter apples in our pies, so this sweeter type of spice is used to take some of that edge away. For cinnamon rolls we want the strongest flavor we can get and that is the Vietnamese type.  For my beloved snickerdoodle cookies it is the Indonesian cinnamon I mix with sugar to coat the dough in. For everyday use on my oatmeal or cocoa the mellow Ceylon cinnamon gives me just the bit of flavor I desire.

When I walked into the house this week there were two apple pies cooling. A cinnamon roll was waiting for me to have with my morning coffee. I thought this is the essence of autumn the humid scent of cinnamon from baking.

The perfume which gives me the same thrill is Estee Lauder Cinnabar. It has always been a fall favorite because of its cinnamon and clove heart.

I know for many it is the pumpkin spice mélange which provides the demarcation of summer into fall. In out house it is cinnamon which does it.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder Cinnabar- From the Ashes

I devote one column a month to perfumes which have crashed and burned to end up in the Dead Letter Office. When I started Colognoisseur this month’s Discount Diamonds entry was scheduled to be part of that series. Then like a phoenix, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, rose from the ashes three years ago. It sits right on the edge of my $50 limit for this column. It is such a great fall perfume I’ve decided to fudge my criteria just a tiny bit.

Cinnabar was born to three influential perfume personalities. Estee Lauder was hands on, as creative director, in 1978. She asked perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant to design an answer to the blockbuster Opium. Ms. Lauder wanted her own Oriental at a lower price point. They would form a softer Oriental which still retained a decent kick. Seems like a recipe for success. Except it failed. There are times when something permeates pop culture so thoroughly it removes all opportunity for competition. This is what caused Cinnabar to find its way to the discontinued shelf in the late 1990’s.

Then for some reason Estee Lauder, the brand, re-launched it in 2015. It is somewhat different than the original because of formulation restrictions. I’d really like to know who did the reformulation because I like it very much. It retains all of what I enjoy from the original. Just to be clear this column is describing the new 2015 version and not the original 1978 version.

Cinnabar is a simple construction of spices florals on top of a classic Oriental base. The modern version is the same with a lighter touch here and there which I only noticed when I had them on side-by-side. To my nose the differences are negligible.

It opens with what almost became a Lauder trademark of the time aldehydes and bergamot. There is a fizz across the early moments before the real business of Cinnabar appears. That is the heart accord of clove and rose. This is a big obstreperous accord full of 70’s attitude. It is balanced without going over the edge. It also really accentuates the spicy core of the rose. The currently available version of Cinnabar had to reduce the percentage of clove oil. The reformulator has found some neat tricks to get the volume back up where it was. The base is patchouli, sandalwood, and incense. It is the classic Oriental base, only thing missing is a touch of amber.

Cinnabar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Cinnabar can be found right around the $50 a bottle limit. It is an excellent choice for fall if you want to add a new spicy Oriental to your rotation.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke