Scent Sample Sunday: Bal a Versailles

Scent Sample Sunday: Bal a Versailles

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):

Bal A Versailles by Jean Desprez; image from http://www.fragrantica.com

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.

Movie star Liz Taylor with bottle of Bal a Versailles perfume by Jean Desprez.
Elizabeth Taylor and Bal a Versailles; image from http://www.townandcountrymag.com.

What do you think of Bal a Versailles? Love it? Hate it? Which formulations have you tried?

Scent Sample Sunday: Diptyque 34 Boulevard Saint Germain

Scent Sample Sunday: Diptyque 34 Boulevard Saint Germain

Today’s scent sample is one I am surprisingly close to “thunking”, which I hadn’t expected. I was given a house sample of Diptyque’s 34 Boulevard Saint Germain with my purchase of the house’s Eau Rose hair mist. I was happy to have it, but didn’t anticipate much from it. It has been sitting on my bedside table with some other samples, so I pulled it out earlier this week when I was settling in for my usual bedtime reading. At first spray, I thought to myself, “this is VERY pleasant.” As I continued reading, I periodically sniffed my wrist, and thought, “this is still REALLY nice.” And when I woke up the next morning, having had it on my skin by then for several hours, it STILL smelled really good.

So I did that again the next night. And the next, including last night. And here I am, on a Sunday morning, writing about it as my sample of the week. What is it like, and why am I liking it so much?

34 BSG is classed by Fragrantica as a “chypre floral”, created in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux to mark the 50th anniversary of Diptyque. It lists the notes as follows: top notes: blackcurrant, green leaves, fir leaf, citruses, pink pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon; heart: rose, geranium, tuberose, iris and violet; base: woods, resins, balsams and eucalyptus. M. Pescheux has created many fragrances for many houses, covering a wide range of prestige and cost, but he has specifically created at least fifteen fragrances for Diptyque. 34 BSG is meant to evoke the complex smell of Diptyque’s first store, which was located at 34 Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris.

I think what makes me like 34 BSG right away is the lively opening dominated, to my nose, by blackcurrant, green notes, and cardamom, all notes I love in fragrance. Hovering behind those are more notes I enjoy: fir leaf, citruses, and cloves. I don’t pick up much pepper or cinnamon, just general spiciness. Of the floral heart notes, the one I smell most strongly is the tuberose, but it is pretty subtle, unlike the way I experience many tuberose fragrances where that is the dominant note. So if you’d like a scent with tuberose but prefer it in small doses, this might be a good option for you, as it is for me. The theme of green notes, given lift and sparkle in the opening by the citruses, blackcurrant, and fir leaf, continues in the heart by way of the geranium note.

The subtlety of the tuberose, combined with the woods, resins, and green notes, also makes this an absolutely unisex fragrance. As I’ve been wearing it over the last few days, I’ve wondered whether I might like it even more on my husband. As it dries down, that lively opening gives way to subtle floral notes, and quite soon those give way to a very warm and comforting base, with its woody notes, resins, balsams, and a touch of eucalyptus to carry on the green leitmotif. That base is what persists until the morning on my skin, when I apply 34 BSG at night — a good 8-10 hours’ longevity, which is excellent for an eau de toilette!

I haven’t really delved into Diptyque fragrances, partly due to their prices and the fact that they rarely go on sale (I’m allergic to paying full retail prices for fragrance). But I’m very taken with this one, in addition to Eau Rose and Eau Rose in the hair mist formulation. I know some of my regular readers are big fans of Philosykos. Any others?

Featured image from PSLABS.

Perfume Chat Room, August 28

Perfume Chat Room, August 28

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, August 28, and I am ready for August to end. Continue reading

Perfume Chat Room, August 21

Perfume Chat Room, August 21

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, August 21, and we’ve had daily thunderstorms all week. Continue reading

Scent Sample Sunday: Diorella

Scent Sample Sunday: Diorella

Christian Dior’s Diorella was created in 1972 by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, a sibling of his masterpiece Diorissimo. It is one of the fragrances awarded five stars by Turin and Sanchez in their book “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.” Although they docked one star from it in their 2009 update, they still found it excellent. I have a bottle of Diorella that I think dates to 2002, according to the guidelines described in the “Raiders of the Lost Scent” blog (a great resource).

It smells great! Continue reading

Perfume Chat Room, August 14

Perfume Chat Room, August 14

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, August 14, and I’m late posting this because we moved our youngest child into his freshman college dorm today! Continue reading

Perfume Chat Room, August 7

Perfume Chat Room, August 7

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, August 7, and it is HOT where I live. Continue reading

Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

One of the regular readers here mentioned recently wearing Silences, and Portia from “Australian Perfume Junkies” and I immediately oohed and aahed over it. So today’s scent sample is Jacomo’s classic fragrance, the original Silences.

Magazine ad for fragrance Jacomo Silences

Jacomo Silences, original ad (1978).

Silences was launched in 1978, and it fits right in with the green, woody, chypre vibe of so many classic fragrances from that decade. I’ve realized that my scent tastes seem to have been formed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a child; given how deeply scent is linked to our subconscious, it makes sense that the fragrances of one’s childhood have particular impact. (To be clear, I own and love MANY later fragrances, but I find that I am really drawn to chypres, for instance, and to retro florals).

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes — orange blossom, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, green notes and cassia; middle notes — iris, jasmine, narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily-of-the-valley; base notes — vetiver, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedar and ambrette (musk mallow). This list refers to the original and classic Silences, which was reissued in 2004. There is a new version, called Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, which was issued in 2012. I appreciate, by the way, that the brand didn’t just reformulate and pretend that the new version was the same Silences. It’s easy to tell them apart, both from the name and from the packaging; Silences Sublime comes in a similar iconic round black bottle, but the lettering on it is completely different. It has excellent reviews online, but it doesn’t seem to be widely available in the US, unlike classic Silences, which can be found online for bargain prices. One can order it directly for delivery to Europe and a few other countries from the Jacomo brand website.

And Silences is a true bargain beauty! You have to like dry green chypres to enjoy it, though. It opens with galbanum leading the charge, a soupcon of bergamot floating in its wake. I don’t smell orange blossom at all, and while I’m sure the other listed top notes are there, because the opening is multi-faceted and complex, most of what I clearly smell is the combination of galbanum and bergamot, with galbanum dominating. As it dries down, two of my favorite flowers emerge: narcissus and hyacinth. The dry greenness of the galbanum persists, though I also get a hint of lily of the valley (another favorite flower). There’s a soft green earthiness that I have come to associate with iris root. I don’t smell any jasmine or rose in this middle phase.

Silences has often been compared to Chanel No. 19 in its eau de toilette version and for good reason. Their notes are almost identical, though in slightly different order and emphasis. No. 19 was created by the master Henri Robert in 1970, who also created 1974’s Chanel Cristalle. The perfumer behind Silences was Gerard Goupy, working at Givaudan with Jean-Charles Niel. Interestingly, M. Goupy was also the nose behind Lancome’s Climat, created in 1967, which in its vintage form is another green floral, though its opening is strongly aldehydic, unlike these later chypres. He also created Lancome’s Magie Noire in 1978, which has many of the same notes, also in a different order, but adding notes like spices and incense, honey and civet; it too is considered a chypre but more floral than green or woody. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” points out that its particular genius lies in the tension of combining its oriental and chypre accords.

So although one might be tempted to pigeonhole Silences as a bargain shadow of No. 19, it is not. Look at the sequence above: 1967: Goupy’s Climat; 1970: Robert’s No. 19; 1974: Robert’s Cristalle; 1978: Goupy’s Silences. Add in Bernard Chant’s creations for Estee Lauder, 1969’s Azuree and 1971’s Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and you see the fragrance zeitgeist of the time, with several gifted French perfumers exploring facets of dry, woody, green, bitter, mossy, dark, earthy scents — very fitting, for an era that also brought the environmental movement, the first “Earth Day” in 1970, and many landmark environmental protection laws.

Where does Silences fit on the scent spectrum? To my nose, it is more of a bitter green than the others, because of the strong galbanum opening. I love galbanum, so this delights me. It doesn’t have the leather notes that some of the others listed above have, or some of the animalic notes (it does list musk, but that may be based more on the base note of ambrette, or musk mallow plant).  Bitter, yes, but I don’t find Silences aggressive overall, as some commenters do. The opening is sharply green, but its final drydown phase becomes quite gentle and earthy while staying green, probably due to the combination of oakmoss, vetiver and sandalwood, softened by the ambrette. The complexity of its base accord is revealed in that today, I sprayed both my wrists at the same time. One wrist smells more strongly green and mossy, and the other more like a sweetish sandalwood with some lingering hyacinth.

The floral notes in Silences are quite reticent. The only ones I really smell are the narcissus and hyacinth, with a hint of muguet, all of which are quite green in their own right. So if it’s a more floral green you seek, I suggest you try No. 19 or Cristalle. Fruit? Aside from the bergamot opening note, which is subtle, there is no fruit here AT ALL. Sweet? Nope. Look elsewhere for fruity florals, or gourmands.

Have you tried Silences? Do you like green fragrances?

Perfume Chat Room, July 31

Perfume Chat Room, July 31

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, July 31, and the tough month of July is over at midnight. Continue reading

Scent Sample Sunday: Beach Hut Man

Scent Sample Sunday: Beach Hut Man

I recently reviewed Amouage’s Beach Hut Woman, as it was one of the few scents I took with me on our recent beach vacation, so today I decided to wear Beach Hut Man and compare them. It has prompted some introspection on my part, because it smells really “masculine” to me, and I’m not quite sure why! Continue reading