Tabu by Dana has always had a reputation wickeder than its actual self ("for women who wear their knickers on their heads" ), 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  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.
Susan Irvine in the Perfume Guide, 2000.
Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo: Similarities between the lives of savages and neurotics, 1913.