A lot has been made of Luca Turin’s statement, as quoted by Chandler Burr in The Emperor of Scent, that Caron Tabac Blond is “dykey and angular and dark and totally unpresentable”, and that a man who takes a woman wearing Tabac Blond to meet his mother is set for trouble. For sure, if the mother is looking for a gently floral daughter-in-law with a cashmere sweater set and a subscription to Good Housekeeping, she will be disappointed. But Turin’s larger discussion is often overlooked, that Tabac Blond embodies the wit and intelligence of chic. Turin ends his rant about the sorry state of chic these days by saying that a savvy mother will admire the style of her son’s Tabac Blond-wearing lover.
Ernest Daltroff created Tabac Blond to complement French women who, after World War I, picked up American women’s acceptance of smoking in public. It was released in 1919, the same year as Guerlain Mitsouko. Both Tabac Blond and Mitsouko are icons, but while Mitsouko stands revered and beautiful but not always very approachable, Tabac Blond is as easy to wear as a perfectly-cut trench coat. The first time I smelled Tabac Blond was on a cotton ball, and it seemed harsh and almost diesel-like to me. Once I had it on my skin, though, I knew I’d always have a bottle on hand.
The Caron website lists Tabac Blond as “a great emotional perfume” and goes on to describe it as “mild and powerful, coppery overtones combined with a floral heart note…troubling sensuality of a woman in a dinner jacket. A touch of masculine nonchalance.” Although I can imagine a man wearing Tabac Blond well, on me the perfume feels luxuriously womanly. It’s top notes are leather, carnation, and linden, with heart notes of iris, vetiver, ylang ylang, and lime-tree leaf. Its base is cedar, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musk, although a smoky, spicy vanilla is mostly what lingers on my skin.
Tabac Blond’s range isn’t huge. I don’t get the piquant top notes that many fragrances provide, but instead tobacco leaf, gently supported by spicy florals, starts right off the bat. Then the scent of raw leather appears for a while, and the effect is that of a buttery leather ashtray full of cigarette butts and snickerdoodles, or maybe a leather-vanilla soufflé in a smoky brasserie, if anything like that were ever cooked up. Imagine lipstick-stained wine glasses on marble-topped tables, a smeared golden haze on the mirror over the bar, and worn, red leather banquettes, and you start to get the idea. Tabac Blond has good staying power, and a dab on each wrist and behind the ears will last all day.
Lauren Stover’s The Bombshell Manual of Style says “if you must travel light and Tabac Blond suits you, this is the perfume to grab”, and I couldn’t agree more. Chic, like students, artists, and clergymen, can go just about anywhere, and on the right woman Tabac Blond is chic as all get-out. If you talk to strangers, would choose a mutt over a purebred dog, drink brown liquor, and prefer stick shift, Tabac Blond might be your Holy Grail.
I’ve heard that Tabac Blond can be had in Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, but I’ve only tried it in parfum, and reports are that it’s the best form.
Tabac Blond is one of Caron’s urn fragrances. For buying information, see the listing for Caron under Perfume Houses.