Tabu, The Perfume Made For Prostitutes.

There is a history behind Tabu perfume that some say is a myth and others hold steadfast to. Whether you believe it or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Tabu is known as the Mother of oriental perfumes dating back to 1932. It was created by Jean Carles for the House of Dana. The story is that Dana told Carles to make a perfume that prostitutes would wear. I don’t know if the story was a marketing ploy or not, but Tabu has become a classic and stuck around for all these decades.

Funny thing to me is that if it was marketed to hookers, ladies of the night, and let’s say, more sexual women back then, and if you now look at reviews by the younger generation, why do so many trash it? It has such an interesting story. You’d think such a historical perfume with such a bodacious and lascivious past would draw interest and it does, but unfortunately, the interest seems to be negative if Tabu is not given a fair chance.

So very often, reviewers will trash it as a sexual grannies nightmare. Yet, the same generation will take the Agent Provocateur line, for example, (if you haven’t seen the commercials, youtube them) and write glowingly about these “sexually provocative” scents. It makes my head spin. Marketing again. What is supposed to be “sexy” changes with the decades, I suppose. And certainly, what every generation of men and women see as sexy, most definitely changes with the decades, that’s for sure. That not only makes my head spin but fly off. Sexiness may change, but seductiveness doesn’t.

I’ve been wearing Tabu since I’ve been 14 years old when it was introduced to me by a fragrance consultant at a local drugstore that had an astounding display of cosmetics and fragrances that were the length of the store. It was called Ace Drugstore on Main Street and I made sure I visited it a few times a week just to speak and learn from her. She knew her stuff and taught me so much, and I can never pay that caring woman back for her knowledge, kindness and passion for perfume that she shared with me. She adored her job and it didn’t matter if her customer was a young teen-ager or an adult woman, she would take the time to talk perfumes with you. She and I would talk endlessly. My favorite then was Tabu when others were wearing the light stuff and I guess she knew I was destined for perfumery because of my predilection for unusual perfumes for my age group.

I often wonder what the allure was to a 14 year-old of this potent stuff. When Tabu was created, apparently, the potion had a very high dose of patchouli which was unusual for a perfume. I don’t know how high the patchouli dosage was in it when I began wearing it, but it certainly was strong. I also was one of those young women that wore musk and patchouli oil that you could only find in what were called head shops back in the day. I had the benefit of being gifted Youth Dew from an aunt, another oriental perfume, so wearing Tabu would have fallen right in line.

Perhaps because it’s sold in places like the Marts and drugstores now people discard it as a perfume not worth their while? That’s their mistake, certainly. Drugstore perfumes can be wonderfully delicious and economical finds. To turn up one’s nose at a fragrance because it’s sold in a drugstore is a terrible form of snobbery and a bigger loss to one’s education of perfume.

I always loved the picture of the woman in the gown, the little violin and everything behind it. The picture is the 1901 painting Kreutzer Sonata by Rene-Xavier Prinet.  I always loved the little violin bottles with the beautiful painting reproduced on the bottle. I saved my baby-sitting money and purchased those little bottles quite happily.



So what does it smell like? What makes Tabu a love/hate relationship? It’s a perfume heavy on spices. Orange tickles your senses for a few brief moments before the cloves hit strong, along with coriander, benzoin and civet. The woods, vetiver and oakmoss lay the foundation. This is an enormous oriental that will fill a room and choke the inhabitants if you over-spray. The cologne, which is the mildest form of perfume with the least concentration of perfume oils, is still that strong. Wearing it, you’ll feel luxurious, wrapped in a cloak of mysterious oils, sensual and earthy, living in another time period.

An oriental can do that. It’s a rich, thick perfume. It envelopes the wearer. It cloaks you with mystery and an aura. It entices. Not a day-time fragrance, it’s perfect for night, in cooler weather, when the snow falls around you. Tabu is not meant for hot summer days when the sun is blazing down. It’s a cloying perfume. Spray it on a scarf and the scent will last for a week at the minimum. When you spray it on yourself, it lasts all day. It’s that strong.

I always recommend buying the vintage version of a perfume because I feel the stronger, natural oils were still used. I’d still recommend purchasing the vintage version of Tabu but, if you’ve never smelled it before, knock yourself out and venture into a Mart or drugstore and buy a new bottle for a few bucks. It’s that inexpensive. The new version won’t be as strong, but believe me, it’s still going to knock you down and do a Linda Blair on you. I own 5 bottles of Tabu, dating from the 1960’s to today. They all smell incredibly ambrosial, absolutely delectable and yes, depending on the decade, they are different in the dry-down.

The older the bottle, the quicker the veil of Tabu will envelope you. Should you purchase a newer bottle of this oriental floral, wait some time to understand what this perfume is about. You’ll get a root beer effect to start out before the true magic begins. If you enjoy it, then spring for a vintage bottle, they’re still inexpensive. Some say that Tabu chooses its victims, in other words, she doesn’t agree with all. Should you be lucky enough to wear her in all her glory, wear her proudly. Jean Carles would be proud.

Top Notes: Orange, Spice, Neroli, Bergamot, Coriander.

Middle Notes: Cloves, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Rose, Narcissus.

Base Notes: Sandalwood, Amber, Patchouli, Musk, Benzoin, Civet, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Cedar.



All works past, present and future are protected under a CCC. Creative Common License, Kaarie Blake Musings by Kaarie Blake is licensed under a Creative Common Attribution-Noncommercial-Noderivs-3.0-Unported License.



4 Responses to “Tabu, The Perfume Made For Prostitutes.”

  1. My mother used to wear Tabu. Snigger.

    Liked by 1 person

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