First of all, I’d like to point out that despite the fact this fragrance harks back to the era of fur tippets and flapper dresses, no chinchillas were harmed in the photography of this bottle. (The fur in my photo is entirely faux. Thanks, Restoration Hardware; the Davy Crockett hat’s come into its own in this cold snap.)
Caron Tabac Blond is quintessentially 20s: a fragrance for a time when women were discovering their independence (and – woohoo! – a freer sexuality). It’s Charlestons and over-made-up silent movie stars and Lucky Strike cigarettes and illegal hooch: daringly naughty, especially for that period – but (I think) delicious.
The Scent Critic knew all of this already, but it was brought home by an afternoon gathering I attended a few days ago, orchestrated by the wonderful Scratch+Sniff fragrance events (co-ordinated by a knowledgeable perfume-lover who glories in the nom de parfum Odette Toilette). The salon – the latest in her series of ‘Vintage Session’, and fuelled by generous quantities of ‘fizz’ and cake – was to explore the scents of the 20s, among which Tabac Blond featured.
I already had a bottle lurking on my shelf, waiting like planes in a Heathrow holding pattern for a blog posting to land in. But Saturday’s pleasurable event sent it shooting up the priority list, because I was so taken with Tabac Blond. Fascinatingly, it smells overwhelmingly carnation-ish on a paper blotter – which only goes to show what a poor substitute for skin those are. At first whiff, I thought this was Bellodgia: Caron’s true, almost ‘single note’ carnation scent. Initially, I was thinking: Roger & Gallet Carnation soap.
What emerged, actually, as we sniffed our way through an octet of the 1920s enduring biggest hits, was that carnation was a key ingredient in the other two Caron fragrances we tried (Nuit de Noel and En Avion). Carnation must have been that era’s equivalent of the iris trend we’ve encountered in the last few years.
On the skin, though, Tabac Blond is something else: more sophisticated, contemporary and much less great-aunt-ish. It has the nose-tinglingly powdery clove-spiciness of carnation, for sure – but there’s much more depth. The base notes rush to the front surprisingly fast (does this even have middle notes…?): a fug of mysterious incense, luxurious leatheriness, a pulsing amber warmth, a sort of crème brulée vanilla quality and enough patchouli to satisfy my eternally greedy inner hippie – but to be honest, I don’t get much of the ‘promised’ tobacco, except in the first whoosh from the atomiser. (And even then, it’s a drift of grandpa’s pipe, rather than smoky nightclub, never mind old ashtray.)
If you like Chanel Cuir de Russie, you’ll enjoy this. (And less expensively, NB.) Meanwhile, while Youth Dew-haters will loathe this observation, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Tabac Blond was Estée’s inspiration for her ground-breaking blockbuster. Though a Parisian fragrance house, they were a huge hit in the US in their time, shipping bulk fragrance to be bottled when it landed Stateside. Allegedly, Marlene Dietrich was a Tabac Blond fan (and wearers don’t get more sophisticated than that). Today, Caron has dwindled a niche brand reserved for those-in-the-know, who – thankfully – are on the increase, at least on this side of the pond.
Tabac Blond was, apparently, unisex when it came out. (As, of course, was the trouser-wearing, cigarette-holder-toting, swing-both-ways Dietrich herself.) Today, I can’t imagine anyone but the most blatant metrosexual drenching himself in Tabac Blond. It’s a scent for dressing up and playing up; definitely not for the office. (Unless you run a burlesque troupe, perhaps.)
Having sprayed it lavishly on for the past few days, I can report that it smells wonderful on clothes (I now have a ‘Tabac Blond’ pashmina) – interestingly, much truer to what’s in the bottle than that blotter was. Lasts for ages on the skin, too. If you don’t bathe (it is way too cold in my bathroom right now to take all my clothes off), the sillage can be measured in days, which is impressive in an era of blink-and-they’re-gone sheer-scents. You don’t dab Tabac Blond. You pretty much drench yourself in it, and hang the consequences. At night. Definitely, at night, with seduction in your sights. Although alternatively – take it from me – it is divine to cocoon yourself in this while snuggled under a silk eiderdown with a Persephone book and a hot water bottle, for a little extra warmth.
Accessorised, in this weather, by a somewhat-less-than-sexy faux fur Davy Crockett hat on the head.