Welcome to a week of reviews of drugstore classics. It seems fitting to start the week with a review of Dana Tabu, one of the most loved, reviled, illustrious, and cheap of the perfumes you'll find at the local Walgreen's.
In 1932, Jean Carles, the nose behind such genius compositions as Christian Dior Miss Dior (with Paul Vacher), Carven Ma Griffe, Schiaparelli Shocking, and many of the Lucien Lelong fragrances, created Tabu. Legend has it that Dana, originally a Spanish company, gave Carles instructions to create a perfume that would suit a "puta", or prostitute. Tabu was Dana's very first fragrance. It has top notes of bergamot, coriander, neroli, orange, and spices; a heart of clove bud oil, clover, jasmine, narcissus, oriental rose, and ylang ylang; and a base of amber, benzoin, cedar, civet, moss, musk, patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver.
I don't know what Tabu smelled like when it first came out, but today Tabu smells to me like a viscous brew of maple syrup, patchouli, and incense. It is an odor that is almost tangible, like walking through a thick-napped velvet curtain. It's pungent, too. Drop for drop, my money is on Tabu to outpower any other perfume on the market. I have a small, cello-shaped bottle of Tabu perfume that is probably from the 1960s, and while it is still undeniably Tabu, it smells less sweet and stays closer to my skin than the Eau de Cologne. (Dana must have manufactured tens of thousands of these perfume bottles back in the day. I see them at thrift stores everywhere and rarely for more than five dollars.)
Tabu seems to adorn a person rather than blend in with her own smell. If you aren't the right sort of person to wear Tabu, or if circumstances, weather, clothing, and imagined background music doesn't work with Tabu, it will wear you instead of the other way around.
I tried Tabu next to a few drops of Estée Lauder Youth Dew bath oil — another balsamic fragrance that packs a wallop and that I would have said was similar to Tabu — and Youth Dew was almost prim by comparison. Youth Dew smelled spicy and musky clean while Tabu smelled like the leftovers of a dessert buffet in a medieval hall.
Everyone who likes perfume should smell Tabu and try to think of it beyond the cliché that it has become. I'd like to see an office worker with a tight chignon and pearl earrings bundle herself up in a plaid wool skirt, layered cashmere sweaters, scarves, and a drop of Tabu to keep her warm in January. Or maybe a Calvin Klein-wearing socialite could tuck a small spray bottle of Tabu in her minimalist clutch to soften the edges of her evening wear.
Whatever you do with Tabu, though, go easy. And make sure there's reliable ventilation.
Note: Angela is "on the road" and might be a little slower than usual to respond to comments.