It has been a long and dreary winter for me, my main focus was putting one foot in front of the other, breathe in, breathe out, one day at a time. An anhedonic winter which led me to care little about perfume, wear perfume rarely and generally feel uninterested. In this dull and dark season however I kept dropping in to Theodora Parfumerie here in Geneva waiting for the arrival the latest Parfum d’Empire release, Tabac Tabou. The consistent imaginative quality of the line and the promise of a tobacco infused perfume kept me alert. Smelling Tabac Tabou for the very first time was like an awaking. The dark tunnel of winter had reached a point where a light not only showed the way but also promised a rebirth.
I approached Tabac Tabou without having read anything about it and I was greeted by a surprising note: a humid narcissus field right after the rain. The kind of field that makes you want to just spread your arms wide open, close your eyes and lean back in child-like abandon. There is nothing perfume-y about this narcissus note, it’s not distilled or embellished. It serves the fleshy quality of the fragrant buds together with the greenness of the stalks and all the rain drops that have been trapped in the cups of the blossoms. As your back hits the ground the flowers are crushed and a soft, earthy, animalic sigh comes in only to make the experience more realistic. The humidity starts permeating your clothes and chilling your skin. Then, like a warm blanket, waves of earthy-coloured notes start mixing with cool floral backdrop: dry hay, sweet honey and warm tobacco.
Tabac Tabou, much like a previous release of Parfum d’Empire Cuir Ottoman, is all about duality and compromising the opposites. In Cuir Ottoman the bet was between black leather and white powder. They both hit with equal strength and by the power vested in Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, attain a level of thoughtful equilibrium. Here, in Tabac Tabou, the soft, green narcissus flowers face the arid tobacco leaves without fear. A bridge of carnal indoles comes straight from the qualities of the real flower and meets half-way the tobacco’s honeyed sour aura. Although nothing in this composition smells like a perfume, there lies the artistry of the perfumer: all the ingredients Corticchiato has used have always been there, available to every perfumer who ever tried to create a narcissus accord or a tobacco accord. What he achieved is a totally naturally smelling veil that hides not only the seams between the ingredients but also the fabric of the veil itself. And yet Tabac Tabou is not rustic, it is not even naturalistic. It is strikingly modern. Between the polar opposites of narcissus and tobacco other notes oscillate at strong and clear frequencies: the spicy melange of Fougère Bengale rushes through an unexpected crack. Honey transforms to high pitched notes from Musc Tonkin. And then tobacco again, and back to green stems and daffodils, accords that could very well stand on their own as perfumes play an accordion as body heat and air pass through the perfume. Like a set of fans that flutter and each random wave reveals a different set of colours.
By now I have worn Tabac Tabou many times and each time keeps me at the edge of my seat with the same intensity of the first sniff at the perfume shop. No two wearings are exactly the same. The perfect balance of ingredients allows each and every note to claim the wearer’s attention at his own pace, not their’s. When I spray it on my wrists the tobacco and hay usually come stronger and warmer. A spray on the chest, under a shirt, reveals the humid breath of narcissus stronger. When I don’t want to see other people, the musk comes to keep me company. When I am excited spices pop. When I am on a good day the indolic notes linger and feel like and animal’s breath.
I couldn’t be more excited when on April 14 Tabac Tabou and Marc-Antoine Corticchiato got the 2016 Fifi award for niche fragrance from a jury of experts. I had been reading various blogger reviews here and there, saying how they expected more from a tobacco fragrance, how they were left unfulfilled and I could not believe what I read. You know when you have a great perfume exactly when what you get is NOT what you expected. So this award was reassurance for me that the good stuff and good people get noticed. Of course Corticchiato won this award last year for Cosrsica Furiosa, a perfume I haven’t tried yet. Why? Because I know I will love it and i will have to get a bottle. I still haven’t found a Parfum d’Empire perfume that I don’t find at least interesting. I hate amber and still Ambre Russe smells enlivening to me.
As Marc Antoine Corticchiato said in his acceptance speech, it is good to see the Fragrance Foundation support true niche houses and creators. I would add that it is important for all of us who love perfume to know the difference between true niche and Milli Vanilli niche, that is an investor with a good budget and good taste. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter, but let’s face it, it is just styling. One whiff through the line-up of perfumes of Parfum d’Empire will show you what the difference between styling and creativity is.
Notes from Parfumo: Tobacco, Narcissus, Immortelle, Honey, Wild grasses, Sensual skin accord
Notes from my nose: narcissus, rain, tobacco, hay, honey, musk