The first time I encountered Bal a Versailles was in Luca Turin’s original Le Guide from 1992. There is something in reading about a perfume that you think that you will never be able to get your hands on that almost makes it more enjoyable: the thrill of the holy grail; the abstract, luscious taunting of the unreachable and unattainable.  I can see myself poring over his reviews again and again, dreaming and yearning, trying to prise apart his spare, poetic French, his enticing yet hermetically sealed descriptions of long lost perfumes by Molyneux, Jacomo, Revillon, of the just opened Shiseido Palais Royal, of dozens of delectable sounding perfumes I would probably never smell in the future and just feel my internal organs clenching up with intense longing; an almost masochistic craving that was acutely pleasurable even when unfulfilled. His cunning words painted sufficiently salivating, impressionistic pictures to gloriously pique my curiosity and vainly try to imagine how this legendary perfume, the famous Bal A Versailles, must actually smell.

In his review of this scent, if I remember correctly (it has been some years), there was, naturally, a fantastical, extravagant ball;  the richly dressed revellers close and thronging; splendorously bedecked: and our heroine, barefoot, dancing feistily and libidinously near the feast’s kitchens, oblivious to protocol and convention, under a sky lit up respendently with fireworks. Turin touched brilliantly on the tightrope walk between glittering, sun-god richesse and glaring vulgarity in his descriptions, and make no mistake about it, Bal A Versailles does have a huge thwack of the vulgar, dolloped adoringly in its glowing, syruped, accords: it is lurid, sweaty, thick with those oily, glinting floral paints of liquorous orange blossom, rose absolutes, and pissy, indolic jasmine essences; all glinted and carnivaled up even further with notes of rosemary and mandarin, of lemon and of lilac; a riot; a mess of gilded lacquer to hide what we then know full well is about to come –  that base: the sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, castoreum; the resins, the benzoin and tolu balsam; the vanilla, the musks, but most of all the civet, the lick of a thriving, voluptuous tongue on the neck, the tiny, ensensitized, golden hairs shivering with anticipation of what is about to come if she can just slip quietly away from those dastardly crowds….away from the mirrored magnificence, the powdered perruques; the politesse and refinement; and into the arms of the bestial, nourishing pleasures to be had in the shadows behind the beckoning marquee; lace-ripping throats thrust down hungrily on grass. Flesh, and lavish: full, greedy kisses.

Yes, Luca Turin knew full well that this perfume is certainly verging on the tacky, on the grotesque even, but that it is also irrevocably majestic and sumptuous.  Its turgid, engorged elegance does not give a fig about standard, common decency, but is more a perfume for those who live for hedonism and the fleshly, epicurean pleasures. An aristocratic vulgarity, then – knowingly fun and ribald; regal, radiant and jasmined, but equally, filthily indecorous.
























When I first then came across a vintage parfum of Bal A Versailles at a fleamarket (in vaporisateur form; somehow the most intensive experience one can have of this perfume, with all the notes blocked together so handsomely), having been ravished by the base notes I of course then wanted to know more, and looking among all the blogs, discovered some brilliant reviews that if you are interested in finding more about this rightfully much loved cult scent, you simply must read. The Non-Blonde encapsulates its essence most perfectly, and coincidentally invokes one of my favourite films, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut in the process to contextualize the masked, sordid orgies of the perfume’s base, the frank and unapologizing eros at its heart. Like me, she believes that there is a right time and wrong time for this perfume; you really have to get it right : on dirty skin and in summer I would rather die, seriously: in winter, especially in snow, after a long hot bath with candles and the right soaps; perfect, warm, clean skin, letting the parfum sink in slowly into your chemistry, and, in my own case, possibly topping it all with talcs, just because;  to lock it in nicely like a she-wolf under glass; lying, patiently, like a dandy in my bathrobe, waiting for this perfume’s slow, rich, magic to take effect……..When I do this, and have judiciously chosen the right time to wear her; when I walk out into the icy, wintery night and feel the eskimo furred, languorous and purring warmth of the vanillic ambers rising up subtlely and slowly from my skin,  a burnished nuzzling halo of secrets and longings, loving, three dimensional, alive, I sometimes think that there is no better perfume on this earth.


I am not alone. Another seminal review of Bal A Versailles that I have read many a time was by one Beth on Perfume Smellin Things, an almost uncomfortably passionate account of how this perfume defined a tumultuous love affair that almost destroyed her, but which ultimately, now, only gives extra symbolism to a perfume she loves more than any other: a private, engorging triumph of a scent that she says is her, that encompasses all she is. This is a must-read. You can smell her affair in this piece. It is raw and dark, erotic, and quite emotionally wrenching. Yet as much as I love this smell and must always have some in my collection, I could never feel the same as this writer: it is simply too complex, embroiled; too basically disgusting for me to have as my signature. It would be like subsisting solely on truffes and chocolate ganaches. It would be sickening. And yet when I find it on the cheap here in Japan, always exciting as I love the box and bottle (why is there so much of this stuff here? It seems like the last place on earth where such a perfume would be acceptable?) I often buy it, whether to give it to others, or to wear by myself once the temperatures drop enough for it to feel right. It is not an easy perfume to just leave there on the shelf. Too precious.  A treasure.  Yet as I keep saying, get it wrong, as I did on Saturday night when I just wanted to scrub myself down in a citric, lemony shower and felt embarrassed to be out in public (particularly with Duncan in an uncharacteristic overdose of Jicky parfum), you end up regretting it all night, as those sour, pungent indoles and curdling, animalic florals begin to slowly eat you alive like starving leopards at the circus. Get it right, though, and it is animalic perfection, like being consumed, and seduced, by a beautiful, heavy breathing panther.



And speaking of beasts, there is one other review that is absolutely essential, one of the funniest I have ever read. Perfume Posse was always amusing in any case, but the review of Bal A Versailles on there is quite hilarious, collating all the splayed-open, beastly horror stories in one, rip-roaring go. Needless to say, despite the bawdy humour and the scatalogical jokes; the talk of cat butts and horse dung; of indoles and foulness; all those who rant and rave about this perfume on that forum do say that, ultimately, when all is said and done, that despite, and because, of its glistening over-complexity, its richness and filth; its unsuitablity for polite society – a perfume you must keep as a private, guilty secret, a perfume to scandalize even yourself – they absolutely love it.



And so do I.












Filed under Flowers


  1. “A she-wolf under glass” – what a beautiful and lethal analogy!

    • how funny: I wrote, it, then almost deleted it as I thought it made no sense (except to me). But then I like just keeping the instinctive, whatever comes out, be damned the outcome! Glad you liked it though. The talc thing is interesting: I do use them to ‘bind’ perfumes sometimes, to make them last longer and keep them on a kind of leash.

  2. George M

    I do love Aubrey Beardsley: beautiful line and design; erotic, kinky; often very dark but often humourous too, with a cheekiness and a smirk. How would he have progressed if he’d lived beyond 26?

  3. You know, when you describe what Luca Turin’s review of it did to you…You have just done the same to me. Wonderful piece of writing.

    • Really? Then the bad day at work it has just caused was perhaps worth it. I sat down to write some more about Bal, but got so absorbed with it all that I had no time to properly plan my classes. One moment I’m lost in skank and decadent imagery, the next I’m there teaching these bright- faced kids. Sometimes it’s hard to switch from one mode to the other but I want to write!

  4. Katy

    I am intrigued and scared……..must obtain a sample!

    • I can’t believe it’s that expensive!
      Do you like this, Rafael-san?

      • Rafael

        you bet. a splash of this ‘down there’ as i’m want to do, a shot of scotch, distressed boots, out the door. love the EDP but the extrait is dirtier therefore better. the shower gel is the perfect base for anything else you want to throw on top of it after.the men’s Versailles was also a great favorite back in the early 80’s.

      • you and your extra products: Shalimar hair gel, and now you tell me you have Bal A Versailles shower gel? Where do you get them.

        a beautiful description of your going out ritual. we think alike.

  5. fleurdelys

    I have a different take on this classic – it is all horse barn to me. As a matter of fact, it smells like a Derby winner that has just been returned to the stall and is getting a rubdown. There is the scent of used leather tack and hay. And the racehorse is snacking on the wreath of roses that hung about his neck. Yes, I love it!

  6. Rafael


  7. Rafael

    seriously though, email me your info EXACTLY as it needs to appear on postal label and we’ll see what the dish is on you from the jolly man at the North Pole.

  8. Katy

    I found a full, big bottle of the EDC version of Bal a Versailles today. Indescribably beautiful and rich and in perfect condition, box included. All acquired for the princely sum of $20.00. I am going back for the bath oil tomorrow. I sprayed it on nearly 8 hous ago and now it is honeyed, warm and reminds me of an excellent Claus Porto smokey, not sweet, vanilla candle I once had. It is like every perfume you ever loved, only more so……

    • Oh when you find a really good batch of Bal, there is literally no other perfume on earth I have smelled that can match its lingering richness. It is GENIUS. So glad you have found a perfect bottle and are enjoying it so much.

      Next stop: the parfum.

  9. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    It is getting really cold. It is time for Bal A Versailles.

  10. Rafael

    Neal!!!! Great minds. I thought of you this morning. As it’s been cold and rainy, blustery and dreary and the trees are losing their leaves, I brought out the BaV last night! It truly is that time of year. I am all out of L’Heure Bleue. The new version is a big dissapointment. Maybe you’ll run into some and we can strike an illicit deal. Also, check out the new Le Galion website and re=introductions. Elisabeth de Feydeau bought the company and has re-launched the old classics. Hope all is well.

    • I am desperate for L’Heure Bleue, the original, as well. It is one you NEVER come across here. Only bloody Mitsouko.

      LOVE Le Galion. Can they possibly up to scratch?


  11. Rafael

    Aren’t you coming to Florida? I think I read sometime ago that you were.

  12. Bal a Versailles is one of my favorite scents in the whole entire unverse. It is one of my three “comfort scents”, the other two being Shalimar and Youth Dew, and it just makes any ailment whether physical or mental just seem better.
    I always find it interesting when people review this scent. The main reason why it interesting is how differently it is perceived; compared to my own perception of her.
    I never think of this lady as anything bordering on the scandalous, nor the obscene, nor remotely dangerous or dirty…Bandit is that type of dirty girl in my scent closet; the one you know never shied away from the dark corner of a night club and such.
    I think of B a V as a wonderfully elegant, yet comforting and warm hearted best friend. She is definitely not a shy wall flower, but she is definitely not Bandit pulling down her knickers for the fellas just for laughs and a good time either. She is just this amazingly, worldly, parure bedecked darling that fixes me a cup of hot chocolat when things are amiss, then kisses my forehead before I dose off. Yes, I know she probably has a few dirty secrets and that is just fine, don’t we all? but she is always just my special darling, the one I can always count on to make things right in the world again.
    I own B a V in the extrait and the PdT versions, both of which are glorious. The extrait is perfect for after a shower when I want to be enveloped, the PdT is fabulous for spraying with abandon to keep an aura of her around me throughout the day.
    Once again, I guess because my mother used to bathe me in Youth Dew bath oil as a baby, I perceive deep, rich exotic scents as very benign and comforting.
    Now I am anxious for the morning to arrive so I may parfum myself in a cloud of my darling Bal a Versailles PdT.

  13. Lilybelle

    How funny. I’m wearing it right now. I love Bal, but yes it must be cool or cold weather. The right vintage is essential. And I actually love it the most on unbathed skin. At last, it’s cool enough here in the deep south to wear it. I’ve been gorging on it and I don’t care if I reek, which I’m sure I do.

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