Monday, May 21, 2007

Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez : Perfume Review

There’s something to be said about perfumes whose development does not hold too many surprises. They are trusty, they will remain true from the moment you wear them till the moment they fade. They offer a single dream, a single location to which they will transport you and once there, you do not have to second-guess your surroundings. It is safe to put your guard down; seasons might change, the sun might rise and fall, shadows might obscure part of what you see so that glimmers of light might highlight other aspects of the scenery as time goes by, but the location is the same. All promises are kept. Bal a Versailles will never be this virtuous. The dream on offer is a journey you will have to take blindfolded, led by a dancing, prancing magician. Each time the blindfold is removed, something new will appear. Each time you think you know where you’re going, you’ll be in for another surprise. The dance at Versailles is a bal masque where nothing is as it seems. Confusion abound, the best option is to let go and allow yourself to be courted by all the different dancing partners that choose to lead you across the dance floor. Considering that -according to most sources- the name “Versailles” etymologically seems to derive from the Latin word “versare”, meaning ‘versatile’, ‘capable of change’, I can’t help but find the name of this perfume most apt.

My own personal journey through the surreal dream Bal a Versailles offers, starts in a quiet, dim room. A woman is standing next to me, her eyes sad but hopeful. She nods toward her dressing table, once the height of fashion, now battered and old. “You can have them if you like” she murmurs almost shyly as he opens a drawer; silk stockings and gloves, a girdle. The scent of old silk undergarments mixed with spilled vintage French perfume. Citrus fruits, dust and moths, comforting and familiar. “I’ve smelled you before” I say, and she disappears, offended.

I am left holding a hat in my hands. I turn it around and pass my finger over its hand-sewn label, which reads: “Made to Order, Rex Inc. Beverly Hills”. A widow’s cap with gorgeous white ermine fur, framed by a cream bow that borders the delicate ivory peak that will be placed downwards on the center of the wearer’s forehead. Formal mourning in sunny Beverly Hills, mourning in impeccable style no less... Who was she, the woman that ordered it? How long ago? She suddenly approaches me, smelling of flowers, powder and red lipstick. I try to return it to her, but she refuses; she is wearing a pillbox hat right now and tasteful high heels. She is young, with a pearly smile, but there is no hint of playfulness in her eyes, just as there is no playfulness in her scent. I am charmed, but disappointed.

The sound of the revving engine of a motorcycle approaches before I manage to quite finish my thoughts of regret over the lack of sparkle in the woman’s eyes. It stops in front of me and the driver does not even bother to remove his helmet - he knows I am going to drive away with him. I wrap my arms ridiculously tight around his leather clad torso, thankfully inhaling the dry, animalic blackness of the garment, before it too disappears into whatever abyss the previous companions of this journey have.

We make our way to a small candle-lit chapel up on a hill. We walk inside dizzily; our legs slightly smarting from the long ride there. I feel the warmth of the
melting candles around me, caressing my skin. They’re made of pure, lovely beeswax and the odor they emanate as they burn is beautifully sweet. I marvel at the rich smell of incense, I smile and cherish the scent of benzoin and the strong tolu note that fill the small stone church. The smell of honey clover wafts in through the open door. I turn to my finally unmasked companion: “I’ll dance with you in the courtyard. I’ll dance with you till morning come.”

Picture Sources: Vintage gloves and hat, my own. Masquerade Ball scene from Phantom of the Opera (2004), Bal a Versailles bottle and box,


Anonymous said...

Dear Divina,
First, welcome back! And commiserations about your journey: I really sympathise. Your review today - wow! I've read it through several times and I can picture everything you describe: now I want the fragrance. To me, perfume should conjure up fantasies like this, and my favourites can lift me up from the mundane world into a dream of my own. I'm thinking of "Tiempe Passate" (Antonia's Flowers) - do you know it? Keep writing! Best wishes, Linda

Divina said...

Dear Linda,

I had a really rough day today.. Then I came here to find this beautiful comment of yours, which touched my heart and made me smile from ear to ear. It is so kind of you to make me feel so appreciated! Thank you, so much.

Warm Hugs,

chayaruchama said...

What a rich inner life you've got !

Gorgeous imagery.
A truly great perfume sends us on a journey, don't you think ?

SO sorry your travels were harrowing...
Now you can be home again, and recuperate.

[Please divulge- where are you from ?
Inquiring minds want to know...]

Be well, pretty one.

Divina said...

Hi Chaya!
I completely agree with you...And I must say that the journey Bal a Versailles sends me to every time is one of the most interesting ones I have ever experienced. I always emerge slightly exhausted, there is so much to envision, so much to sense and experience, but oh, it is well worth it!

As for where I hail from: I am originally from Greece. It has been many years since I left my birthplace but I am lucky enough to be able to travel back and forth quite often, for which I am thankful. I now live in the Netherlands which is a country I love dearly too, so I consider myself doubly lucky!

Anonymous said...

I came across this entry today looking for review on Bal à Versailles - and wow - how lyrical descriptions. I'm blown away on such fine perfume writing. Keep on with it!!