Tabac Blond is a perfume that you need to grow into.
That probably sounds strange. Perfume is perfume, right?
Wrong. Some is like caviar or truffles, a taste you may acquire, but that you won’t be born with; some perfume is sophisticated and has to be appreciated in retrospect.
When I first encountered Tabac Blond back in the nineties, it was more emphatic than it is today. It was a dry melange of tobacco and leather. Tabac Blond was not sweet at all, and so very civilized that you didn’t understand it at first. TB was beautiful, but severe as a parterre, that was my first take away from the encounter.But then I didn’t understand Paris on first encounter, either. I went there at fifteen on a school trip with the most beautiful girl in Italy.
This, by the way, is not hyperbole. The girl went on to a short stint in Italian movies, but it was something to walk down the Champs Elysees with Carla and have half the avenue pivot on its heel and stare, because they thought what they’d just seen wasn’t real, and if you want to know what they’d seen, look at any Botticelli you like, make them three shades blonder, and you’ll see it, too. She was this unexpected mixture of darkness and light, many shades of gold walking along wondering innocently when she could eat lunch.
Under those circumstances it was hard to get much of a sense of the city. The city was trying so hard to get a sense of Carla, that my views were blocked by investigative Frenchmen, so that I came away with no sense of Paris’ long perspectives or romance at all, although of course, it was Romance and nothing but, that preoccupied the French. You’d have thought we traveled in a cloud of putti. I’m convinced some of these admirers were fascinated for purely aesthetic reasons, not personal ones, and several photographed Carla. (They certainly weren’t photographing me, not with my comedic nose.) I suppose it was the old story, the Italians exporting beauty, almost unconsciously, and the rest of the world over reacting. Or so I thought at the time.
Of course it was also cold and rainy and I got laryngitis. There were all the adolescent boys on our trip as well, uniformly tiresome in the many ways that adolescent boys are, working definitions of the verb gener, to Annoy, most of them. One pushed me down the length of the Galerie Des Glaces on my slippery soled shoes to the great horror of our French teacher. She was entirely correct to scold us, but somehow I ended up with the lion’s share of the telling off and my partner in crime, a boy of great charm, dimpled his way out of it.
For years afterwards, this was what I associated with Paris, gawking men, cold, damp, a sore throat, and being stuck with the blame for outraging French sensibilities at one of their National Monuments, never mind that they’d long since opted for Liberte, Egalite, and Napoleon over Versailles. The French can abuse their own culture, but woe betide any outsider who tries it.
However in all the time since then I have learned to love old Tabac Blond. Like sticking close to Carla on that trip, it gives a sense of warmth, comfort, and golden charm unshadowed by any sense of its own loveliness. Like Carla then, before Cinecitta, it has an engaging unselfconsciousness that I find irresistible. I love it now, which makes me wonder, how would I feel about Paris if I went back?