Having read so much about Bal a Versailles in recent years, written about by everyone from Luca Turin to favorite blogs like The Black Narcissus, CaFleurebon, and Kafkaesque (and she’s BACK, even if only briefly!), I knew I would want to try it some day. I wasn’t in a big rush because even in its vintage form, it seems to be widely available for less than soul-crushing prices, and it honestly didn’t sound as if it would be a love for me.
But I came across an online auction for a full 4 oz. bottle of the vintage eau de cologne, which seemed as if it would be more approachable, and no one else had bid on it, so I did. And won it for a very reasonable price, less than one would spend on many forgettable modern fragrances at Sephora, Ulta, and elsewhere. It arrived a few days ago, and I’ve been trying it out since. I like it! My bottle looks just like this (except the label on mine is perfect):
It is very interesting to me, because at first sniff, I definitely smell it as “perfumey”, which to my nose often means aldehydes. Yet there aren’t aldehydes in BaV, at least none are listed for it. So I’m concluding that another note that smells “perfumey” to me, probably based on my late mother’s perfumes from the 1960s and 1970s, is civet, which was used in varying amounts by the classic French perfumers to bring warmth, radiance, and sensuality to their creations such as Shalimar, Chanel No.5, etc., during decades when women were supposed to charm and seduce.
Probably because I have only cautiously dabbed small amounts of BaV on my wrist, I don’t find its notes unpleasant or overwhelming, or even, as so many have written, “skanky.” As expected in a bottle that probably dates back to the 1960s, any top notes that appear briefly are faint, at best, and blend easily into the middle notes that are more apparent to my nose. So I smell jasmine and rose, but they accompany heart notes like sandalwood, patchouli, leather, ylang ylang, and a hint of orris root.
I definitely smell the animalic note that I assume is civet, right from the start. Vanilla also makes itself know early in my wearing, and a very grown-up vanilla it is, smooth and warm without being sweet. As the drydown continues, the vanilla becomes more and more evident on my skin. And believe it or not, it starts to smell like a longtime favorite of mine, Anne Klein II !
And maybe that isn’t as kooky as it sounds, when I look at the notes for AKII. Its heart notes include jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, and orris root; and its base notes include musk, sandalwood, patchouli, amber, benzoin, vanilla, and yes — civet. Wow. I had never put these two fragrances together in my mind, but the list of shared notes, especially in the base, is remarkable and I doubt it is coincidental.
So while I continue to ponder my new (to me) vintage fragrance, here is some great news. I was already delighted when AKII was reissued last year as a bargain beauty, given that the original from 1985 was fetching absolutely ridiculous prices online. While the reissue smells very close to the original, it isn’t as rich and warm, as I noted, probably partly because my vintage AKII has aged well, but also because ingredients that were allowed in 1985 are no longer used in most modern perfumes. Like civet. But if you crave a richer, warmer AKII, I suggest you seek out vintage BaV eau de cologne. It is much easier to find online and much more affordable.
Celebrities who have worn BaV include Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Michael Jackson, and the list goes on.
What do you think of Bal a Versailles? Love it? Hate it? Which formulations have you tried?