The first (and only, so far) time I visited Versailles, several years ago, it was a rushed affair, a spontaneous decision—luckily I figured out that the Navigo pass was valid for the train ride, ushered my significant other onto the train (which had ceilings with imagery mimicking the paintings in the palace), and arrived an hour before closing time. It would have been a shame to miss it, even with not getting the chance to walk the gardens, and now of course I hope to go back one day and visit the Osmothèque as well.
It was impressive and a bit surreal—not quite relatable, perhaps? A piece of history of which I was not a part. But indisputably beautiful.
Then there’s the BBC, later Netflix, series Versailles, which consumed me during the week or so that I binge-watched it back in February this year. I knew nothing about any of the actors when I started, so I was taken in by the dramatic characters, a testament to their immense talent. My only “complaint” would be that the show didn’t give much prominence to fragrance despite the fame of Louis XIV in this regard. The few scenes that gave a nod to perfume feature other characters—Prince Philippe (be still, my heart!) is said to be recognizable anywhere by his “signature cologne” without further detail; a woman whose intentions aren’t quite clear at first suggests to the long-suffering Queen that “aromatic oils” might make her more irresistible to the King; aristocratic women are seen dabbing something from small containers onto their porcelain necks and behind their ears.
After the show’s over (I join the legion of fans who lament the discontinuation after season 3—yes, I realize that’s 30 hours of fictionalized royal drama), there’s the understated soundtrack and fascinating behind-the-scenes clips to mitigate my withdrawal…
My best antique store perfume find so far is still the stopper bottle of Christian Dior Poison that I bought 2 years ago, almost full. If an unopened mini of 4711 after that came a close second, its place was usurped—or at least tied—by a similarly shaped mini of Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles, which I rescued from a different antique store a month ago from an owner who didn’t mind people sampling from the perfumes.
Bal à Versailles isn’t my “type” of fragrance, but you can tell it’s well made and carries a lot of weight in time-worn stories. It’s a bit unctuous and powdery in a resinous, ambery way. It has the dense floral bouquet of older fragrances (rose and white flowers), from which I can’t really distinguish the top and heart notes apart, although the sandalwood becomes apparent. The resins—benzoin, Tolu balsam—and vanilla form the strongest impression. I get the boozy aspect of vanilla here in addition to the sweet and this may be one of the few vanillas I’ve encountered that I somewhat enjoy in perfume. It’s stimulating in a boozy-syrupy way when I inhale from the mini bottle and comforting—though dominant—when I sniff from my wrist.
My reading tells me that the picture is of the Fragonard painting Bal à Versailles. It reminds me of the style of artwork used on bonbon tins and the buttercrunch toffee Almond Roca when I was a child. Certainly tamer than the costumes in the show Versailles depicting the many dances held in the court of Louis XIV, including his own feverish invention of a ballet choreography.
Ce soir c’est le grand bal (Tonight is the big ball)—Mozart l’Opéra Rock, “C’est Bientôt la Fin”
Mets du fard sur tes idées pâles (Put some blush on your pale ideas)
On va faire tanguer les étoiles (We’re gonna rock the stars)
Bien plus haut (Much higher)
Bien plus haut (Much higher)