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sexta-feira, 12 de fevereiro de 2016

Gender Bender: Tabu by Dana (1932)

This is another in a series of fragrance reviews that asks, “How does fragrance transcend gender?” Leave a comment below for your chance to receive a sample of the current Tabu, shipped anywhere in the world, free!
Hello and welcome to “Gender Bender (click me to read others in this series)”, an exploration of aroma, gender and scented freedom. Though by no means do I personally prescribe to fragrance having a gender, sociocultural stereotypes about masculinity and femininity often prevail at the fragrance counters and are viewed as important distinctions for many fragrance fans. Join me as I explore some of my favorite aromas in my quest to challenge marketing rhetoric and address the question, “How does fragrance transcend gender?”
"Make a perfume a prostitute would wear."
Summary: A paragon of early 20th century perfumery that has been both imitated and reviewed by...nearly everyone, Tabu deserves at least one wearing by serious perfume-lovers if only to experience the rich, heady aroma of this controversial patchouli and benzoin oriental.
PerfumerJean Carles
Try this if you like: Earthy, ambery, spicy patchouli aromas; vintage fragrances; animalic fragrances; "incense" such as nag champa; sweet/syrupy aromas that remind one of cola or root beer.
Reminds me of: Better to write that the following scents remind me of Tabu: Lagerfeld KL Homme and to some extent Classic (for Men), YSL Opium, EL Youth DewTuvaché Tuvara, CK Obsession, and more than anything else, LushKarma...and any number of patchouli-themed aromas where resinous notes such amber or benzoin sweeten patchouli's otherwise herbal, grassy edge.
One Fragrantica reviewer offered, and I quite agree: "My boyfriend's remark was that it reminds him of a smokeshop with incense burning or a hookah going, or an aromatherapy hut at the renaissance fair. Sweet, slightly sweaty (in a good, interesting way), a little smoky, and DEFINITELY incense-y, on me at least. Reminds me of nag champa."
Pros & Cons: In terms of name and marketing, Tabu has to be one of the most confusing fragrances in perfume history. Legend has it that the design brief to the perfumer from Dana asked for "a perfume a prostitute would wear." Now, does that sound appealing to you? Imagine the response from post-WWI and great depression era consumers! Of course, this was a time when Jicky, Scandal and My Sin were all the rage. I would love to know even more of this fragrance's back-story.
Even more interesting is that Tabu has always been marketed using a painting referencing Tolstoy's most controversial text, a story of love, infidelity and murder. See the image below and check out Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata (inspired by Beethoven) and you'll understand the violin-shaped flacons. The main character of the story finds his wife in the embrace of a violinist whom she had been carrying on with and stabs her to death. Delightful. Hence the name Tabu, the fragrance of a forbidden affair. Look for the image of the lovers at the top left of the bottle shown below.
Moreover, Tabu has been bottled and rebottled so many times that one might wonder how different each of the iterations might be from one another. Many reviewers seem to note variations from decade to decade, likely because of the marked restrictions in some of the original perfume materials.
Criticized as being loud, heavy, revolting, old-fashioned and downright nauseating, Tabu is often associated by many with generations of older women who called it their signature. However, Tabu is also praised as groundbreaking, incomparable, rich, intoxicating, and addictive. Luckily, for a meager price, perfume lovers can try it out and come to their own decisions. Those who have never experienced it are truly in for a treat as they can develop their own ideas about the aroma without any historical or personal references. Patchouli lovers - this might be your holy grail.
Kreutzer Sonata by René François Xavier Prinet
As for its gendered connotations, I'll begin with an observation by one of our Fragrantica members, "OH dear, this scent just doesn't do it for me. I can appreciate that it suits some people. Definitely not my taste. I don't like to give bad reviews, and crush anyone's favorite perfume. But definitely an acquired taste. Much too woody and spicy and quite masculine. Has an 'old spice' quality."
Another reviewer wrote glowingly of Tabu, "Lucky me! Not trying to smell pretty but love to gender bend fumes. This soars on me. A dirty sort of scent decades past its heyday? Sounds perfect for a mature male who has no ties to its history. For me, its a familiar name but that is all. I get spicy fun. When this hits my natural, animalic chemistry they instantly recognize each other, wink and get along Very well. (my issues happen with the fresh scents .. my skin just gobbles them up and reminds me I'm wasting money.) Maybe the times have changed and Tabu belongs with me now? An older guy, confident, bit dark but also sunny? Tabu and I give each other new life. We don't want to be fancy. We want to be wild but in control."
No matter what version one ends up trying, Tabu has unarguably good longevity and strong sillage.
Notes: currently lists the notes as "Italian Bergamot, Lemon Oil, Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine Absolute, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Benzoin, Amber, Musk." Previously, clove/carnation, narcissus, oakmoss, sandalwood and civet were also included in the list of notes.
Designer’s Description: “'The legendary exotic Oriental fragrance by Dana. TABU is the very essence of sensuality and passion. TABU is highlighted by fresh citrus and enriched with essential oils of luxurious flowers and sensual
Number of times tested: 100+ over the last 20 years.
Number of sprays applied for this review: 1 spray to the back of my wrist from a .5 oz Cologne spray bottle I purchased online in 2016.
Fragrance strength: Eau de Cologne
Development: (Linear / Average / Complex): Tabu opens with prominent citrus, most noticeably lemon oil, and its earthy, patchouli-and-root-beer heart is immediately present. As the topnotes settle, the floral heart blooms but the individual flowers are imperceptable. The middle notes add depth to Tabu's herbal character. Benzoin sweetens the affair throughout the duration adding a slightly vanillic kick. Though civet has famously been used, today Dana explains that it uses a synthetic, cruelty-free animalic note and the actual word civet is no longer included in the brand's description. There is definitely an animalic musk lingering throughout the drydown, however.
Longevity: (Short / Average / Long-lasting) Although only typically available in cologne strength, a single spray to the back of my wrist lasted a good 8 hours
Sillage: (A Little / Average / A Lot) Tabu is strong and effusive so it might be best to avoid this one when in close spaces. And I can't imagine wearing this in any kind of warm weather.
Note about the packaging: Which packaging? There are so many different bottles that it's hard to comment here.
Where can I buy it? Find it online for as little as $6 USD for a 15ml spray/splash.
The Bottom Line: If you're a patchouli lover like me, chances are you've experienced quite an array of interpretations - from minty green to "unwashed bits" to sweetened earth. I've noticed that many modern patchouli fragrances tend to pair the green herb with balsamic notes such as resins, benzoin, and labdanum; gourmand accords such as chocolate, vanilla or berries; and classic florals such as rose and jasmine. These pairings usually temper the otherwise skanky aroma that so many people thumb their nose at. Tabu offers both the former and the latter - resinous, floral patchouli. The interesting thing is that you'd never really describe Tabu as floral, not for one second, and chances are if tested blindly, it would be hard to classify the marketed gender of Tabu. Do you find patchouli inherently gendered in your own culture or scented associations?
It has been noted that Tabu employs a showstopping amount of patchouli, 10% of the composition. This speaks volumes in terms of both the fragrance's familiarity as well as the disdain many feel for it. As for me, Tabu was love at first sniff but it took me a while to bring myself to test it!
I was gifted a small dab bottle of Tabu in one of the glass violin bottles by a dear swapper sometime back in the early 2000's. I had previously disliked anything with patchouli but had recently started to change my tune upon falling in love with Giacobetti's Patchouli Patch and Almairac's Voleur de Roses for L'Artisan Parfumeur, the former showcasing osmanthus, musk and sandalwood, and the latter rose and plum. Moreover, I had recently been introduced to Lush's patchouli-bomb, Karma, and greatly liked the resinous citrus and conifer blend. So it was at the start of a trend for me, after years of aversion knowing about the infamous 10%, that I finally tested Tabu. I was floored:
Amazing! Intoxicating! Tabu is...
The local new age shop found on the fringes of every college campus; It's green; it's brown; I've smelled this all over town.
Lemon at top, vanilla at the bottom: Shalimar blended with Coca-Cola.
The incense burned by the drum circle dude, the Grateful Dead-loving hippy who lives in the apartment across the hall.
And in the cold night air of an Osaka winter Saturday, I wore Tabu out to karaoke where a friend from Seattle hugged me and told me I smelled like her yoga studio. Though I had never been there, I knew what she meant, and many of you likely will, too.
Does Tabu conjure or challenge gendered associations? Both?
Leave a comment below for your chance to receive a sample of the current Tabu, shipped anywhere in the world, free

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