Perhaps it should not be carrying the heavy train of all the preceding seasonal scents, but it is an integral part of most Christmas atmospheres, on a par with gingerbread. Cinnamon brings up the rear of this solstice procession naturally.
Cinnamon in scents is a warm and welcome note, but there is no getting around the fact that it is apt to smell like a candle or a room freshener. Cinnamon has become one of those things we spray from a can before a Christmas party. We tend not to take it seriously or wear it seriously in perfume, and there’s a good reason for that too – namely, the strength of the note. It can absolutely dominate a formula so that no other ingredient can get an olfactory word in edgewise.
In that sense cinnamon is kind of like mint. Adding the spice as a component sounds like a good idea, but in practice it huffs and puffs and blows every other part of a perfume down.
Still, cinnamon is a hard one to leave alone in winter, and it is an alternative to the ubiquitous ambers. So here are two perfumes, one uses cinnamon absolutely full voice, and one that uses cinnamon as part of a choir of scent voices. You might call them the fortissimo and the pianissimo of cinnamon fragrances.
Fortissimo is de Nicolai’s Maharajah. It uses cinnamon as a bridge note in the perfume between an extremely loud lavender, and a very beautiful amber coda. The cinnamon is the bridge of the perfume that binds the two disparate sections, very much like the bridge in a pop tune, and does that extremely well. Maharajah reminds me faintly of the old Jean Patou perfume Moment Supreme, which also starts with a distinct lavender note, but which uses rose and jasmine in the heart rather than cinnamon, however Maharajah is a no holds barred Oriental, and unisex really, although it is marketed as a feminine, whereas Moment Supreme was really a floral.
Together with Vanille Tonka, Maharajah is one of the few de Nicolais that transition to winter weather and this one does it elegantly. It also has that marvelous dry-down. If you think when you first spray or dab on this perfume, dear heavens, let’s run to the sink ASAP, hold on, sit still through the nearly toxic lavender fumes. They will disappear in about three minutes, then you will be rewarded with one of the loveliest spicy Orientals you’ve ever smelled which will get better with time. Old bottles have a lasting power on me of six to eight hours, but newer ones have lost some of that longevity on skin. So if you fall for Maharajah try to locate old stock if you can. I can’t say it too strongly, that dry down is spectacular.
The pianissimo of cinnamon scents is Worth’s Courtesan from 06. This one received relatively little love when it came out, though it was the work of Pierre Bourdon who had co-composed Feminite du Bois, and had also done Cool Water and Dolce Vita. The cinnamon in Courtesan is there from the beginning of the fragrance and accompanies the scent from top note to dry down, in a graceful spiral, rather the same way that cedarwood did in Feminite. Luca Turin found this a puzzling fragrance, but I think it was beautiful, and overlooked, and if you liked Dolce Vita, I believe it is a re-think of that fragrance, possibly a better option than reformulated DV.
To bolster my minority opinion here, let me point out that March of Perfume Posse loved it too. The delicacy of this scent and the way that it uses such a strident note as cinnamon in a muted, vertical way makes Courtesan really special. You can find it on Ebay now, or occasionally on line for not very much.
There you have it = twelve smells of the season. I wish you all a very Happy Holiday, and now I really have to go and eat all the fruitcake that was sent me by indulgent readers and relatives! (And get over this &$%#! cold….)