Perfume names carry weight. They bear certain promises, or hint at things to come. “Tabac Tabou” is a name that portends a hedonistic, sensual, or illicit exploration of tobacco. That last part turned out not to be the case for me. In fact, judging by what appeared on my skin, I wouldn’t consider Parfum d’Empire‘s latest fragrance to be any sort of tobacco soliflore whatsoever. Now, hay and narcissus…. that’s a different matter.
Tabac Tabou is a pure parfum or extrait that was created by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato and released in early November in somewhat limited fashion. According to Luckyscent, Tabac Tabou is “now part of Parfum d’Empire’s permanent collection, but the fragrance will be produced each year in restricted quantities, with the label indicating the vintage.” Parfum d’Empire’s website does not mention or even show Tabac Tabou at the time of this review, but First in Fragrance seems to quote the company’s official description of the scent, its notes, and its distribution. The long copy reads in relevant part as follows:
Set aflame by immortelle, tobacco curls its tawny plumes around a spirited spray of narcissus. A whiff of the savanna, honey, heated skin, wild grass… [¶] And a tribute to a plant held sacred by the Indian people of the Americas. Shamanic and penetrating.
The story of Tabac Tabou…
Few fragrance houses feature tobacco as a starring note: these days, the stuff gives off a whiff of brimstone. But taboo though it is, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato feels it’s a perfect fit for Parfum d’Empire, since tobacco ties in with one of the initial uses of perfume: sacred rituals. And with its very origin: per fumum, through smoke. […][¶]
In Tabac Tabou, the tobacco leaf unfolds whiffs of fresh hay and tawny savanna in a penetrating fragrance so lush with rich essences it feels almost oily. Narcissus adds notes of green sap, white flowers, leather and horse’s mane. And the honeyed, mulled-fruit accents of sun burnt immortelle melt into the scent of tobacco…
A fragrance for the initiated, Tabac Taboo is all the more confidential that some of its secret ingredients are quite rare. [….]
Combining that description with the notes given on First in Fragrance and Luckyscent, the full note list would be:
Immortelle, tobacco, narcissus, honey, grass, musk [and secret, unlisted ingredients].
Tabac Tabou opens on my skin with an exceedingly dry, crisp bouquet centered on dehydrated, withered narcissus that smells like baked, arid hay. It is woven with green grasses, sprinkled with a sharp (synthetic) civet, then enveloped in the faint muskiness of ambrette. On the sidelines is immortelle that smells like its green stalks and wildflower tops, only these have been thinly lacquered with animalic honey, then pressed in-between the pages of a book to dry. All around is a diffuse, thin cloud of dark, dried tobacco leaves. It’s like a shimmering, hazy mirage, a lot more diaphanous and inconsequential than I had expected from the fragrance’s name. The tobacco is definitely there, but it’s a gossamer backdrop against which the narcissus, grass, and animalic notes are placed front and center.
I’ve tested Tabac Tabou quite a few times, and its first 8 hours are always narcissus and hay-centric above all else. Its main accompaniment is, first, the grass, then later the honey. This overwhelming focus on narcissus/hay and the fragrance’s meadow-like vibe essentially makes Tabac Tabou a fougère on my skin: first, a cool, somewhat green and aromatic, dry fougère, then a golden, warmer, muskier, honeyed, and animalic oriental one — but it’s always a fougère, and the tobacco is never the star of the show, not once in all the times I tried Tabac Tabou. It’s a scent that is sharper than I’d like for the first 3-5 hours, but also perplexingly sheer in body for an extrait de parfum. It has the weight and feel of an eau de parfum for me. Actually, I’ve tried some rich eau de toilettes that feel more robust, and had stronger projection on my skin, too.
Tabac Tabou’s bouquet doesn’t change in any significant way for quite a while. The narcissus simply grows stronger and stronger, occasionally emitting those small diesel-like puffs that I’ve experienced before with the note. The grassy greenness is equally strong. Roughly 15 minutes in, the honey, civet, and ambrette musk slowly begin to inch their way to center stage. By the 30-minute mark, the honey surges forward, taking second place, as the grass drops to third. Tabac Tabou is now primarily an animalic, honeyed, narcissus fragrance that is redolent of hay. At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, the narcissus, hay, grasses, and animalic muskiness fuse into one single accord. The tobacco in the background feels even more insubstantial and inconsequential. Even the immortelle seems rather diffuse, almost amorphous at times.
Things dissolve further at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd. The landscape simply turns more golden. The grasses retreat to the background, taking the place of the tobacco which essentially vanishes to all intents and purposes, never to reappear. The honey swirls all around as a shimmering cloud, imbued with both ambrette muskiness and immortelle. The latter has lost all individual distinction and clarity; it no longer smells like the dried wild flowers or much else for that matter. (There is no maple syrup.) It’s simply another layer of sweetness that is suffused within the honey, and that bears an occasional, passing suggestion of something vaguely immortelle-ish. Together, the three render the narcissus-hay warm, animalic, and golden, and the fragrance less dry as a whole. Oddly, around the same time, what little body the fragrance had seems to thin out even more, and Tabac Tabou feels very much like an eau de toilette by my standards.
The fragrance remains almost entirely narcissus-hay coated in animalic, musky honey until the start of the drydown when Tabac Tabou’s base turns quietly creamy and soft. When that occurs precisely varies, depending on how much of the fragrance I apply. Generally, it takes place somewhere between the 6th and 8th hour. In essence, the immortelle has turned into a vaguely suede-like softness underlying the never-changing, singular top-note of hay. The latter is still strongly animalic, but it seems driven more by a civet-ambrette mix than just the honey by itself. To my surprise, the grassy greenness tends to reappear, too, though it’s always a small touch that remains at the edges. In one test, there was also a streak of something vaguely leather-ish and dark that popped up in the base, but it was a fleeting element that only appeared once and didn’t last for long. As a whole, Tabac Tabou is basically still the same animalic narcissus-hay that it was at its debut, only now it has a plush, nebulously cream undercurrent.
Tabac Tabou’s final hours are the most interesting to me. The hay is still there, even though it’s now an amorphous, hazy note now, but it’s tinged with greenness and a subtle, almost mossy, fern-like nuance. The hay-ish, vaguely fern-like bouquet bears a quiet, slightly warm plushness; it’s all that’s left of the immortelle. In the end, Tabac Tabou dies away as nothing more than soft dryness.
Tabac Tabou had enormous longevity, but soft projection and sillage on my skin. In most of my tests, I used several big smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, and the fragrance typically opened with 3 to 4 inches of projection and about 4 inches of scent trail. It was an extremely airy, sheer bouquet that I would never have guessed was a pure parfum had I tested the fragrance blindly and without knowing. The projection dropped to an inch at the end of the first hour, and the sillage became quite soft. Tabac Tabou hovered just above the skin after 3.25 hours, maybe 0.5 inches at best, but it stayed there until it became a skin scent 8.75 hours into its evolution. In total, Tabac Tabou consistently lasted around 15 hours on my skin. With the equivalent of 1 small spray, the longevity was less but still above 12 hours.
Tabac Tabou receives very good reviews on Fragrantica. In fact, several people call it “beautiful” or “absolutely beautiful.” Everyone talks about the narcissus, and most posters noticed a lot of both the immortelle and the grass. Two people describe the fragrance primarily as a tobacco one, but a third seemed to have experienced something very similar to what I did because “Das Huffer” writes: “I’ve been jamming my nose into my wrist to find the pronounced tobacco, but it seems to be hovering above the skin. It casts itself in the projection, like drifting cirrus over the honeyed landscape below.” For her, the narcissus was partnered
here alongside the immortelle, it remains present, but isn’t carrying a megaphone to announce its presence. [¶] The grass and hay notes here have a wonderful movement. Swaying in a cool honey-tinged breeze. [¶] Absolutely beautiful!
Some snippets from the other reviews:
- It is the tobacco I wanted in House of Matriarch’s Sacre Tabac Sucre.It opens with the most true to life narcissus I’ve ever experienced in a perfume. Then it becomes a fresh tobacco note blended exquisitely with immortelle. A fresh almost herbal green tobacco mixed with a rich honeyed sweetness. I was quite surprised by the way each note is so true to life. […] This is a masterpiece.
- The narcissus note is georgeous, dense, almost waxy like the surface of its petals. [¶] Beautiful blond tobacco, slightly animalic honey. [¶] On me, the green notes barely show, but the immortelle is present all through the development, giving the tobacco and honey blend a very soft spiciness. [¶] Projection is moderate to intense. Tabac Tabou became a skin scent on me after 4 hours of wear.
- Deep, rich, and complex tobacco. A beautiful narcisse open the dance and makes me think that a horse is close to here. A real “Parfum d’Empire” signature. Some facets from Fougère Bengale and Musc Tonkin. [¶] Projection is average, and last all day long. [¶] Beautiful! [Emphasis to other perfume names added by me.]
Their versions sound lovely, but Tabac Tabou didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. This was one of the fall releases that I was most eagerly anticipating after a trusted friend raved about its beauty, but my skin didn’t bring out either much complexity or the tobacco that I had wanted. It was a shimmering mirage on the distant horizon, and merely for the first 90 minutes at that, perhaps two hours at the very most. In contrast, the hay-narcissus dominated above all else with the lifespan of an elephant, accompanied first by grassy greenness, then honeyed, animalic muskiness. I like both hay and honey, but so much of them for so long wasn’t particularly interesting to me. It’s clearly a matter of both individual skin chemistry and personal tastes.
While Tabac Tabou failed to move me, I think it’s nicely done and worth a test for fans of Parfums d’Empire. On my skin, there was no distinct, concrete similarity to things like Fougère Bengale or Musc Tonkin Extrait (I haven’t tried the toned-down EDP version), but there is a definite sense of the same hand at play. Something about the treatment of both the fougère and animalic/ambrette/civet accords feels very much like Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, and he’s a masterful perfumer. Whether Tabac Tabou skews tobacco or more hay-fougère-narcissus on you will depend on your personal skin chemistry, but I think you’ll find the scent to be a polished, smooth, seamlessly blended, and elegant composition in either instance.
However, I would not recommend Tabac Tabou to people who dislike narcissus or the subtlest whiff of anything even vaguely “animalic.” As you saw from the Fragrantica comments above, even people who deem this to be a “tobacco” fragrance detected a substantial amount of narcissus on their skin. As for the animalics, I personally think Tabac Tabou has the tamest, mildest version that I’ve experienced in a long time, a mere suggestion that is never raunchy or dirty in any way, but some of the notes may be tricky for others. I’m thinking primarily of the honey which can be an animalic element that, in some instances, turns urinous, sulphurous, or sour. Tabac Tabou never did so on me nor on anyone else that I have spoken to or read, but I think you must like the animalic, musky version if you are going to try Tabac Tabou. The ambrette adds to that muskiness; it is a key source for “dirty” musk now that the deer variety is prohibited, and it’s a big part of fragrances like Musc Ravageur, Muscs Koublai Khan, and Musc Tonkin, particularly in conjunction with civet (which I think is included in this composition as well). Personally, I find the ambrette-civet to be a subtle, muted, indirect element here, and never anything as concretely prominent as the accord in those other fragrances, but if you hate this form of musk in all instances, you may not enjoy Tabac Tabou.
For everyone else, particularly narcissus, hay, honey, and fougère lovers, you should give Tabac Tabou a sniff for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.