Powdery, sweet, sumptuous, perfumey, and most definitely vintage — Bal à Versailles is like the wallpaper in the palace at Versailles, with so much imagery, color and ornate finery in the details, it's hard to immediately discern what's going on.
Top notes: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli
Heart notes: Rose de Mai, lily of the valley, lilac, orris, jasmine, ylang-ylang
Base notes: Cedarwood, sandalwood, vanilla, benzoin, melilot (sweet clover), tolu balsam
I have to admit that I didn't get it at first, and wondered if there was something off about my eau de cologne win on eBay (for an obscenely cheap sum, I might add). But I gave it a few days, tried it and retried it, and I can say I finally get it; Bal à Versailles is a whole lotta perfume.
It starts off brightly (bergamot, mandarin) and moves quickly into sweetness, powderiness and duskiness (from the indolic jasmine, and neroli with a hint, already at the beginning, of the subtly spicy and creamy base of sandalwood, cedarwood and Tolu balsam)..
Although honey isn't listed in the notes anywhere, and maybe I'm smelling it from one facet of the orange blossom, I could've sworn its animalic sweetness was a part of this perfume, in character if nothing else.
A lot of reviewers describe Bal à Versailles as being dirty, of smelling, even, of ladies' underpants. I just don't get that. It's sensuous, but in its dark richness rather than in stinkiness.
BàV starts off as a brighter, higher pitched Narcisse Noir, the latter perfume refusing to turn on any lights or speak in anything but a growl, while BàV agrees, at the very least, to light some candles so you can see what the heck is going on or to enunciate in a normal voice.
The perfume is supposed to recall decadent ballroom soirees past at Versailles, with powdered ladies exuding aristocratic perspiration — a little tinniness combined with flowers and musk. You can almost smell the smoke from dying out beeswax candles, what one reviewer described as chalky or incensey. An hour or two into it, and Bal à Versailles is a mellow, powdery-gentle and comforting skin scent.A 60s-era perfume recalling balls at Versailles is going to be a little kitschy, though, and I couldn't help but think of the weird retro fashions rock stars wore back then. Take the Rolling Stones' dandy Brian Jones, for example, sporting neo-Edwardian ruffles, velvet jackets and a past-as-interpreted-by-the-already-rococo-60s.
Bal à Versailles is the perfume version of a rock star's retro suit: an interpretation of the past through the tripped-out psychedelic fantasies of the sixties.