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Friday, December 20, 2013

Tabu by Dana: fragrance review & free vintage perfume giveaway

Tabu by Dana has always had a reputation wickeder than its actual self ("for women who wear their knickers on their heads" [1]), like a girl at high school that everyone thought was promiscuous, while in fact she had being going steady with the older mysterious guy from college. Let's just describe it in style or literary terms: it's not the sort of perfume you'd envision on Audrey Hepburn, but rather on Constance Chatterley. Someone who, although not promiscuous, is not only full aware but exhibiting of the pressing need of their sexual urges.


It all goes back to Javier Sera, the founder of the Spanish house of Dana, who had apparently asked for "un parfum de puta" (a whore's brew) from his perfumer Jean Carles. This was surrealist times back in 1932, so the modern shock should be minimized. The publication of Totem and Taboo [2] had already come 2 decades ago, therefore the name had gained a widespread familiarity and at the same time that frisson of the forbidden it truly represents. Tabu was to be the ultimate "fragrance taboo" now that the divides of society thanks to the aftermath of WWI had crumbled in several cases. Dana's Tabu would reprise for good the dubious essences that the demi-monde alone enjoyed during La Belle Epoque, rendering it both a unity unto itself and segregating it from polite society. Dana thus exploited the awakened sensuality which lift the lid in the two decades between the two World Wars and the wanderlust therein not dormant anymore. Its exceedingly successful course in the market for several decades indicates that this was not just relevant to those times. We can see its impact on both En Avion (Caron, same year, same general concept but played on the leather chypre scale) and the more powdery oriental Bal a Versailles (Desprez, 1962), not to mention milestones such as  Youth Dew, YSL Opium and Coco by Chanel.

Carles, who had not yet lost his sense of smell and worked at Roure, composed a classic, a formula that took the oriental "mellis accord" and gave it wings pulling into two different but equally potent directions: one was the spicy floral & patchouli chord (composed via eugenol, spices and patchouli) and the other the brontide notes of civet, labdanum and musk. The full formula contains also benzyl salicylate and hydroxycintronellal for added radiance and oomph and indeed putting a few drops of even the lighter concentrations of Tabu on the skin amount to having a full on orchestra accompanying your solitary whistling tune. The lighter, citric or floral notes (bergamot, orange blossom, neroli and a heart of rose and ylang) only act as see through veils under which we can gaze at Salome's voluptuous body. A kind of sophisticated apodyopsis fit for a psychoanalyst's couch: one can only imagine the naked body underneath the clothes that waft Tabu. True to its advertising "when Tabu becomes a part of you, you become apart of all others" and despite its carnal reputation it wears as a very fetching, sultry but suave fragrance that both women and men can enjoy.


The advertising history of Dana's Tabu perfume makes for a whole chapter by itself, full of passionate images of torrid affairs. I have touched upon the subject on the linked post, so if you're curious take a peak.

Tabu is still available at drugstores and online, though the modern formulations are thinned out and lacking a certain "kick" compared to 30 years ago. This is the reason I'm offering a vintage miniature to one lucky reader as a small Xmas gift. Post a comment below to enter. Draw is open internationally till Sunday midnight and winner will be announced sometime on Monday.

[1]Susan Irvine in the Perfume Guide, 2000. 
[2]Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo: Similarities between the lives of savages and neurotics, 1913.


71 comments:

  1. Goodness, I remember when everyone wore this scent.....it was huge! I'd love to try it again, thank you!

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  2. Yes, please, sign me up! I remember when Tabu was the thing for a hot night out, but in high school how hot were those nights, exactly? Thanks for the draw!

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  3. I've love to be entered for this - En Avion is one of my favourites, and I hadn't realised Tabu might have things in common with it.

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  4. I have fond memories of Tabu from when I was a kid. It was the "sophisticated" fragrance worn by my older cousin (she was all of 14, I was 10). I wore Dana's more demure floral, Ambush. Love the spiciness, it's definitely the precursor to one of my favorites, Youth Dew.

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  5. I'm so intrigued by Tabu, and by the cultural circumstances which gave expression to the perfume. I was already concluding that it must be in the family with Bal a Versailles before I read it ;) I'm pretty much living in modernism right now, so I feel Tabu wouldn't be a bad accompaniment to the endless Billie and Duke ringing through my apartment!

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  6. Great, I'd love to try the original tabu.

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  7. so exciting! I've never tired Tabu. Thanks for the draw.

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  8. I would love to give the vintage version a try. I bought a gift box of Tabu just a few weeks ago on a whim (it was a gift set priced under $10), and all I can smell is root beer!

    Thank you for hosting the drawing.

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  9. Lena18:17

    So curious to smell a vintage! Please count me in! Thank you!

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  10. i would like to be entered for this

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  11. Yes, enter my name in the drawing.

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  12. one of the best fragrances out there

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  13. Count me in, please. And thank you for this giveaway.

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  14. I would so love to try this. Thanks!!

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  15. puhfume19:25

    I'd love to give vintage Tabu a try. Thanks for the draw.

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  16. I adore your reviews, each of them tells a story, spreading a veil - if that can't make me feel the perfume itself, it certainly conveys the mood about it.

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  17. ElizabethC19:57

    I would love to try the vintage Tabu. Found a modern perfume and lotion at the drugstore for under five dollars and, while great fun, they were wayyyyyy powerful :)

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  18. Elia20:11

    I've only tried Toujours Moi from Dana, but I'm certainly interested in trying Tabu, I'm always interested in trying vintage staples.
    ty

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  19. annemariec21:01

    Those two decades were great for fragrances like Tabu. Have a look at Barbara Herman's new book 'Scent and Subversion' for more discussion, and great perfume reviews.

    I'd love to smell vintage Tabu. The modern stuff is the only perfume I have ever deliberately put in the bin. I thought it horrid.

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  20. i'd love to try this! i've never smelled Tabu yet...and i tend to prefer the vintage versions of things. sounds delightful.

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  21. leathermountain21:32

    "Dana thus exploited the awakened sensuality which lift the lid in the two decades between the two World Wars and the wanderlust therein not dormant anymore." I guess I knew that perfume is part and parcel of the history of cultures and societies. But this is the best example I've seen to illustrate that fact. It's really striking; makes me stop and think. Thank you!

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  22. The good old perfume days when sexy imagery corresponded directly to very sexy perfumes.
    I'd love to try this! Thanks so much of course and merry Christmas to you, Elena.

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  23. I'd love to try this - I remember it, but have never worn it and your review is so enticing.

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  24. I've never heard of Tabu. This is great! Thank you for the generous draw!

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  25. I would love to smell the vintage Tabu. I'm sure this lady would have loads to say.

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  26. Morticia05:54

    Dearest E,
    Tabu was the only perfume my mother would use and the only one my father loved. I remember my mom dressing up one night in a beautiful red wool dress that had close fitting long sleeves and a ballerina neckline with a pencil figured skirt that hit below the knee. It was so lady like,yet sexy and it was lined beautifully. Black opaque nylons and black suede heels were how she finished the outfit. I always did her hair for her, always in a French roll and I sprayed it with AquaNet hair spray. I remember her doing her make-up and the gold compact of compressed powder and the red lipstick. How beautiful and sophisticated I thought she was that night in that dress (I think they were going to a Christmas or New Year's Eve party). She wore Tabu till the day my father died 41 years ago and after, until she remarried (her new husband didn't like it, I wonder why?) It always smelled great on her and the few times that I tried it when I was young, it smelled terrible on me. I never tried it again in my 20's30's or 40's. I think as people age their chemistry changes and I think I would like to try it now, so please enter me in the draw.

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  27. I love that Kiss at the Piano image for Tabu. It's been a long time since I smelled this one!
    Thank you for the draw.

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  28. Constance Chatterley? Yes please ;)
    Thanks for this wonderful giveaway

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  29. Tatiana07:03

    I vaguely remember Tabu, it was a scent I thought was too racy, too mature for my teen self. If I had only known then how reformulations would weaken it, I would have snapped up a few bottles with my meager savings from waiting tables.

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  30. Love Vintage Tabu. I would love, love a chance for another bottle.

    Thank you!!

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  31. I don't know the vintage Tabu. I would like to participate in this giveaway. Thanks!

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  32. would love to be included in this draw
    Happy Holidays to all

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  33. Eirini8509:35

    Thank you for the generous giveaway and for introducing me to Tabu which sounds like a very sexy perfume. I would love to participate, especially since your marvelous review makes it sound like the bee's knees.

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  34. I have loved Tabu for years and always get complimented when I use it. It ranks among my favourites along with Shalimar, Arpege, Bal a Versailles and Gaultier's Le Male.
    Thank you for your always wonderful reviews, so much appreciated.

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  35. Vintage Tabu must be WONDERFUL! I adore all the "raunchy" scents; for some reason, they really work well for me. Hummm.....wonder what that says about me? At any rate, please throw my name in the hat! Happy Holidays to all!

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  36. Tabu :This is a thrill in the history of perfume ...the best of best !

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  37. How exciting! It sounds fascinating - one of those you'll love or hate.

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  38. Tabu was my perfume of choice as a teen back in the day when others were wearing Love's Baby Soft and other more gentle scents. I loved the heaviness of it, the potency, the headiness. I still do. For some reason, people trash it. I never have, and never will. Tabu is so beautiful to me. I absolutely adore it.

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  39. Oh, my God! This is so interesting and intriguing... would love to partake in this draw! Thank you!

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  40. nightporter12:15

    I've wanted to try Tabu for long. Thank you for this opportunity!

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  41. Oh my gosh! This is such a lovely Christmas gift from you!
    Have a happy holiday season!
    xox jean

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  42. You are such a naughty Santa! Thanx for the draw.

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  43. Ellen13:33

    Tabu---Naughty and Nice. This was the perfume to have. Thank you for the draw and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

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  44. I don't know what a bottle on the shelf today would smell like, but even reasonably modern Tabu is good stuff: I bought a bottle about ten years ago and it is incredibly dark and sexual, throbbing with carnation and patchouli. I bet an earlier vintage is spectacular.

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  45. I love your posts that situate a perfume within the context in which it was created! Plus, apodyopsis is a great vocab word! Thank you for such insightful posts, and thank you for the draw!

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  46. I would love to be entered in the drawing. Thank you!

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  47. Ah, Tabu was one of the first perfumes I ever tried in my early teens. It was naughty, and an excellent choice for those evenings when we would all raid our parents' liquor cabinets, combine our stash and gather in the woods to explore the magic. I'd love to experience it again (minus the drinks!)

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  48. I would love to enter

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  49. Zuzu16:24

    Thanks for this! I'm such a fan of vintage perfume advertising and hope to smell Tabu!

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  50. Lili Bitmore18:10

    Another reader for "chemistry" ~ once more into the draw, friends!
    Lili Bitmore

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  51. Oh how I love vintage fragrances! They always have more pizazz to them.

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  52. Woooowwwww!! Now I want to try Tabu! Please sign me in :) Thanks for this wonderful Xmas present.

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  53. Mary K20:53

    Vintage Tabu! I remember this from a number of years back and not sure what formulation I had at that time. The vintage would be fabulous. Please include me in the draw.Thank you!

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  54. My mother wore Tabu in the 50s and 60s before she moved on to Tailspin and Youth Dew. It would be great to smell it again. Thanks for the draw.

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  55. Vintage Tabu definitely sounds like my type of brew!I'd love to enter the draw,thank you!

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  56. The vintage brew sounds incredible; I only have the modern and would love to compare the two.

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  57. I love vintage perfumes. There's something so romantic about them even when they are as sexy as Tabu. I was very young the first time I caught a whiff of Dana in my best friend's older sister. It was a revelation.
    Thanks for this wonderful giveaway.

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  58. Anonymous04:37

    Since the 1980's I have always had a bottle of Tabu on hand. Whether or not it gets worn very much depends upon my moods. For me it isn't an every day kind of scent even though I love the fragrance.

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  59. I'd love to try the vintage version! I love the more recent version.

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  60. There needs to be a total revive of vintage fragrances in their original forms. This sounds incredible!

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  61. Dina5610:12

    Tabu sounds intriging, I would love to try it. Thanks for the draw.

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  62. I JUST bought, at the drugstore, a cute, little spray bottle of Tabu for all of $2.99. It still smells pretty "kicky" to me, but not, as you said, like the original. I remember being a little afraid to wear it back in the day. Would do so in a heartbeat now! THANKS, Judy

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  63. I'd love to try the tabu

    Anna

    anna_k67@yahoo.com

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  64. My best friend in high school wore Tabu. I loved it on her, but she caught a lot of grief from one particular teacher who objected to it. I would love to win your vintage sample. Thank you for bringing back memories. I think the old ads were great.

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  65. I was given a bottle of Tabu (cologne, probably from the 70s) by my husband's ex-mother-in-law. She had the personality and presence to "carry" Tabu and she owned many bottles! I wear it because I love it but it will never suit me the way it did her. :-)

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  66. Rednails22:29

    Please include me in the draw. I love Tabu and don't own any at the moment.

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  67. DRVrMoi02:04

    I had an aunt that wore a feathered dress and Tabu. As a child, I swore I would grow up to wear both.

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  68. wow, a great opportunity indeed! I'm curious about this perfume, thanks for offering the vintage version!

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  69. Thank you so much for this site! I would love to get a sample of the original Tabu
    Sharon Forward
    9505 Baden Ave
    Chatsworth, CA 91311

    I'm an artist and am painting the image by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet on an unloved blank wall in one of my back bedrooms. I can't wait to start the painting, but would love to wear the scent as I paint!

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  70. I love Tabu and have worn it for years have many expensive perfumes but none compare to Tabu I just hope I can keep on buying because without I wouldnt have a signature scent. I would love the vintage sample I am a man and every one comments on my Tabu x

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  71. Am waiting for the violin shape to arrive - ordered it as a New year treat. Hope its bearable, but would love to try a genuine vintage version, which is what I hoped the violin bottle was. Thanks for the back story - Am on a vintage journey. Just got Bill Black's Basic Black - heaven! thanks for youe kind offer too!

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