For the longest time, I stayed away from Bal a Versailles. First, because I lived with someone that loathed it, and later because I shared a place with someone that wore it, and I didn't think the house was big enough for two Bal a Versailles wearers. I've always liked it, but understanding how strongly people can feel about it, I went on to other perfumes. I recently had the opportunity to purchase a well-preserved vintage sample (in original packaging) for a very fair price, so I grabbed the chance to revisit this classic.
Though a modern fragrance by era (Bal a Versailles was launched in 1962) culturally, this sort of fragrance feels out of place with the current preference for, "Clean" scents. I don't detect the, "Dirty panties" note in Bal a Versailles that so many complain of, but if you aren't comfortable with something that can give you whiffs of unwashed hair and a home with several cats between the powder and flowers, you should probably sit Bal a Versailles out.
"Musk, civet, and vetiver", are the three words that make this perfume lover's heart beat faster, and they're all there with amber, orris root, neroli, and Bulgarian rose. Still, the civet is the dominant note, essentially throughout, playing hide-and-seek between the lilacs and cedar. I have a vintage bottle and it is unmistakably real (not synthetic) civet. Less sharp, and somewhat indolic it is able to temper the Bulgarian rose keeping Bal a Versailles from becoming overwhelming. The vetiver note is so well done here you hardly notice it until the middle when you get hints of the sweet yet bracing aspects of it. It is so subtle, like the sandalwood you wonder if perhaps there's some other unrecognisable note until you sniff again and nod to yourself, "Of course, that's the vetiver. Good quality vetiver."
Near the end, I get a strange settling on the skin where each whiff moments apart can smell of everything from the sea, to the forest, to a bag of carrots left in the crisper bin too long. It is so incredibly beautiful!
Danny was intrigued by it (he's as perfume mad as I) and asked for a dab on a hankie. I obliged, and while not initially in love with it by the time the middle notes came through he was carrying the hankie around plastered to his nose. He slept with it, not wanting to miss any part of this fragrance, which is unusual for him. For someone that claims to not like civet, the only other perfume to grab him this way was Jicky. Go figure. There's something about that...fecal note. Whatever it is, it keeps the perfume interesting.
These super-sweet-cotton-candy perfumes of late are nice, but I don't feel the need to keep experiencing them, to smell them unfold because while they're not mono-notes, they don't really stray too far outside their dominant ones. There's little contrast, and certainly nothing animal, or sexual about them. I like roses. They're beautiful, and they smell nice, and I enjoy a vase of them on my dining room table-but I don't want to smell like a bunch or roses unless those roses take a side trip to a whorehouse. Bal a Versailles is a whorehouse, and then some. Bal a Versailles is the women's at the Limelight Club in the 80's when the weirdness came parading through to touch up lippy, adjust sweaty boobs beneath strips of spandex posing as a top, and splash on a bit more perfume because there wasn't already enough sex and strangeness in the air. Bal a Versailles was the old Museum of Contemporary art, before they moved to the better digs, when it smelled of paint, damp basements, and heavily perfumed patrons. They just don't build perfumes like Bal a Versailles anymore because we wouldn't know how to live them if they did.
Oh god, how I love this perfume. I'm glad I gave it a thirty year rest because I doubt I'd appreciate all it has to offer if I'd been wearing it all along. Some people stock fallout shelters-I stock a large, dark jewelry chest with bottles of beloved perfumes. I have enough Emeraude to see me through the rest of my life, and I shouldn't need Shalimar any time soon, but me thinks it is time to start amassing a supply of vintage Bal a Versailles. Now that's we've been reacquainted, I think we're headed to the
I have never wanted a menthol cigarette and a wine cooler as badly as I do this very moment.