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Bombay Duck London

The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 2: Dana Tabu

It’s not very often that The Scent Critic is given a bottle of perfume by her husband. (Slight coals-to-Newcastle thing there.  Although that doesn’t explain a similar dearth of fresh floral tributes…)  So it is a Very Special Occasion when it happens – as it did with Dana’s Tabu, which he’s been rather fond of since his teenage years on the American air base in Chateauroux.  (Where apparently all the Yank teenage girls wore this – presumably oblivious to the original brief given to perfumer Jean Carles, in 1932:  to create ‘un parfum de puta‘.  In other words, ‘a perfume for a whore.’  The mind boggles at what those teens’ squeaky-clean-short-back-and-sides-yessir-General dads would have made of that…)

So, you’ve guessed:  there’s nothing innocent about Tabu.  N-o-t-h-i-n-g. You do not wear this to go over your VAT with your tax accountant, or for lunch at Fortnum’s Fountain with your aunt, or when pitching an ace idea to a new client.  You wear it to position yourself under the mistletoe, lick your Juicy Tube-glossed lips and leave the rest to fate.  (Or hundreds of millennia of biology, more like.)

What makes Tabu so sexy?  (Oh, alright.  D-i-r-t-y.)  Right from the first ‘vroom’, it’s dark and daring:  a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it citrus twist, then a helter-skelter ride that lands you right slap-bang in the spicy elements with a bump:  coriander, clove bud, and some distinctly Christmas-pud elements that make it rather appropriate for the time of year.  (Funnily enough, smelling Tabu again after a while, I’m seriously reminded of Andy Tauer’s Le Maroc Pour Elle, in which rose swirls with resins and spices - reminiscent of the almost candied second-hand smoke from a narghile wafting sweetly over you from the next table in an Arabic café.) Truth is, you only have to look at Tabu to know it’s wicked:  the liquid itself looks dark, smoky and mysterious – almost brown in colour – just like Youth Dew, or an early bottle of Mitsouko.  (Be warned:  it stains light-coloured clothing, as a result.)  If it had a tag around its neck saying ‘Drink Me’, Alice would have left well alone.

In reality, Tabu is one of those many scents which are alleged to have been played with over successive years:  diluted, downgraded, even fatally damaged (according to my perfume critic colleague Luca Turin, at least).  You can pick it up cheaply in drugstores or on-line, but in terms of bangs-for-your-buck (and I mean that in every sense of the word), there can surely be no greater bargain.

Heaven knows how glorious the legendary, so-complex original must have been – because actually, this tickles my fancy no end.  Close your eyes and breathe the narcissus (I get paperwhites in a bowl, another Christmassy vision). Classically, there’s rose and jasmine scrambling through it – and on me, after 15 minutes or so, the powdery elements uncurl:  the merest hint of innocent baby powder jostling for air-space with the more worldly Mummy’s face powder note – and a dusting of icing sugar for good measure.  Incense and balsamic notes then overlay the powderiness, as the base high-kicks in:  amber, lashings of patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver and benzoin.  (That’s virtually a full house of The Scent Critic’s favourite base notes, so probably no wonder I’m seduced.)  There’s a straight-from-the-tack-room sweaty leatheriness woven through the underpinnings, too:  at this point, if Rupert Campbell-Black stepped out of the pages of a Jilly Cooper novel, riding whip in hand, to throw you across a freshly-polished saddle and have his way with you, you wouldn’t really be surprised.  (Or disappointed.) I should add that for a little while, on my skin, it goes a bit ‘cat wee’ – that’s probably the civet.  (No, not real civet;  the fragrance world long ago came up with the closest synthetic thing.)  But overall?  I find it warming as a glass of gluhwein when it’s been snowing outside, and about as Christmassy as a scent gets.

It may not the sexiest-looking bottle that you’ll find on my dressing table (which is sometimes crowded as a rush hour Circle Line train), for sure – but definitely among the sexiest ‘juices’.  A ‘get-lucky’ fragrance, if ever there was one.  And to me, extra-precious – given with love, and probably not a little lust.

Memo to self:  must get mistletoe…

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