It's 1978 in Battersea Park, London. The Stranglers have just finished playing "Nice 'n' Sleazy". This is how the stage smells like...
Bal à Versailles is a marvelous, iconic and perhaps a little underrated chypre rich in civet and grace, a dirty Kouros wrapped into the warm skin of a lady scented with Shalimar – or, except for the leather, the naughty Habanita ready for her début in the high society. Benzoin, vanilla, oak moss, civet, flowers, fruity notes, leather, iris, a slight aldehydic accord, musk... what completely amazes me is that Bal à Versailles is surely skanky and carnally dirty, but there is also this irresistible sense of utter, golden, velvety refinement and elegance, in a really radiant, powdery way, like if you can almost feel the silky scented powder on the dresses of the ladies dancing. Perhaps it is just about that: the smell of dancers in a Belle Epoque ambiance, with all their scents, but also their passions and dirty secrets. As minutes pass - as the ball goes on, one might say... - Bal à Versailles gets increasingly darker and dirtier, with the civet note emerging in its sweaty, irresistibly "urinous" personality, always perfectly blending and hiding in a white fog of talcum and warm floral gracefulness. Great persistence, great scent, great everything.
On me this is a rather heavy oriental, dark and serious. Not exactly unpleasant, but not outstanding in any way.
Top notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli
Middle notes: Rose de Mai, Muguet, Lilac, Orris, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Benzoin, Melilot (Clover), Tolu Balsam
Barbara Herman finds it has a powdery sweetness, reminiscent of beeswax. This effect does not occur to my nose on my skin.
It's not at all bad, it's just not that outstanding.
Add another voice to the chorus in praise of Bal à Versailles! As a traditional oriental fragrance, Bal à Versailles’s kinship with Shalimar is obvious: there is a similarly smoky, dark vanilla and there is plenty of opoponax. However, there is also more indolic orange blossom more obvious civet, more animalic musks, and perhaps even a suggestion of leather. (Labdanum, perhaps? Yes – labdanum and opoponax in a leathery accord, I think.) Bal à Versailles is perfectly judged in terms of balance: floral vs. spicy-vanillic vs. animalic; and in terms of strength. Unlike some orientals of the ‘80s, say Opium, Samsara, or KL, Bal à Versailles never shouts. It does last, however. And last. A full day and a couple of showers are not enough to banish Bal àVersailles’s voluptuous labdanum, musk, and vanilla drydown.
Bal à Versailles is a dark, glamorous, and evocative scent. It is not so much “old-fashioned” or “old-school” as timeless: though released in the early 1960s, it could have been composed decades earlier. A beautifully crafted scent that’s completely deserving of is classic status. As a man, I find it easy to wear, provided I apply it lightly. It strikes me as little more inherently “feminine” than orientals in the mold of Héritage, Habit Rouge, or Jaïpur Homme.
The first time I met Bal a Versailles I was 16. On my way through Nordstroms I saw it sitting on the perfume counter, in the middle of the shiny modern 80's bottles, looking very out of place. I'd never even heard of BaV before but I rather recklessly spritzed it on both wrists (hey, I was young, lol).
The next 20 minutes were miserable. BaV was completely out of left field. I wanted to wash it off! But then something changed and it became quietly perfect. At the end of the day it was so warm and delicious and that I knew I had to try it again.
Every time I wear this fragrance, I am still uneasy for the first 20 minutes. During that time I am 90% certain that I've made a mistake. But after that, it is simply one of the best fragrances that humanity has ever managed to formulate. It is warm and deep and delicious and sensual.
I've read that there are over 300 different ingredients in this masterpiece. I can't smell them all, but I always feel like I'm wearing a work of art when I put it on.
It's not a fragrance for everyone. It's a fragrance that lasts, but it doesn't zing across the room like some perfumes do. It has very rounded, full, soft edges.
This is not a fragrance for a girl. This is a fragrance for a woman.
If you're tired of the soapy, piercing, headache-inducing "clean clean clean" laundry perfumes, if you'd rather smell like a goddess than a lollipop, if you'd like to make people nervous at church, give Bal a Versailles a try. :)