Tabu (Dana)

The banter about Tabu's various reformulated incarnations amuses me to no end. Orientals are generally the most difficult fragrance type for anyone to pull off, man or woman, prince or pauper. In the seventies and eighties they were the scourge of public businesses and meeting places, their heavy spice clouds and headache-inducing vanilla bombs prompting widespread demarcations of "fragrance-free zones." Application was key to success with these things, and even then it was a tricky game - too much, and you smelled like a hooker, and too little gave the impression of unwashed skin (suspiciously-complex b.o.). If you were lucky enough to find the perfect dosage, you still smelled like someone wearing perfume. Nothing subtle about that.

Then the times changed, fresh aromatic fragrances took over the scene, and orientals got sweeter and gradually became sugary gourmands, which still hold the attention of the unwashed Walmart-shopping masses to this day. There's a certain irony to the naming of the ingenious Angel by Mugler, as it reminds me of the movie Hellraiser, when Pinhead introduces his band of merry men as "Demons to some, Angels to others." I like Angel, but I'm sure there's a fair few folks out there who feel it's closer to being a demon. Some things never change, and orientals are still a risky gamble, especially if you live in America, where people are pretty fragrance-phobic.

Dana's classic oriental, seductively named "Tabu," used to be one of those risky perfumes, something only confident women (and men) wore, presumably in the vicinity of martinis and mink stoles. Oddly enough, it's also associated with prostitutes (must be because Jean Carles was commissioned to make it a "fragrance for a whore"), with its skanky floral and patchouli accords. Tabu used to have an ungodly amount of patchouli in it. By some accounts, it was up to 40% patchouli! Which makes Prada's 12% benzoin claim with Candy seem like nothing in comparison. I vaguely remember smelling the older formula of Tabu from a bottle my grandmother owned years ago, and thinking it was super strong, and pretty hellish. But I was young and ill informed.

The current Tabu is a watered-down version of the older thing, with cheapened ingredients and a reduced dynamic in the top and heart notes. There's movement and there's complexity, but no part of it smells deep. Labeled as an eau de cologne, this recent version is light, easy on the nose, but distinctive and well made, and in my opinion, still quite good. If you reference Tabu on basenotes and Fragrantica, you find people experience a root beer note on top, and strident patchouli afterwards. This also applies to the vintage version, which so many claim is the ONLY version of Tabu worth owning. Good luck finding vintage bottles of Tabu with actual vintage 1930's Tabu in it. It takes little effort to fill an old bottle with the current formula and empty a vial of patchouli oil into it, and post it for sale as the real thing on ebay, at a premium. But that couldn't happen with any vintage fragrance, because the world of vintage fragrance is huckster/fraud-free.

The same commentators find the new version also possesses that bright, citrusy sassafras top, followed by a balsamic spiciness, some patchouli, synthetic civet (barely there to my nose), and a mossy sweetness, which I suppose is benzoin. Yet it gets lambasted as being "too cheap." I don't get it, but it doesn't matter - Tabu smells really good. And better yet, it's easy on the nose. The top doesn't slice your sinuses, and is rather airy and fizzy, and yeah, that root beer impression is pretty vivid. The remarkable thing about Tabu for me is how unisex it smells. It reminds me a bit of Old Spice. Men and women can wear this in equal measure without raising eyebrows. And the nifty musical instrument bottle is kinda gaudy and fun, if you can find it. Is Tabu cheap? Yeah, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a lot. Let's not say it's cheap - let's go with "inexpensive," and given how good it smells, it feels criminal to only fork $10 over for it. Tabu is one of the greats.