Tag Archives: Ivoire de Balmain

Jean Desprez: Bal a Versailles: The Smell of Scandal

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 My dear chum Lisa Wordbird dropped round to IScent HQ yesterday with samples that made my eyes pop out.  As you know, it’s my blog-aversary in two days and what better way to round off the year than with this notorious and coveted legend?

Bal a Versailles is talked about in the way scandalous scarlet women are discussed.  Part of you is outraged whilst another secretly wishes that you looked that good in fishnets before noon.

Burlesque Artiste Pretty S'Vere courtesy of World of Oddy photography
Burlesque Artiste Pretty S’Vere courtesy of World of Oddy photography

 Bal a Versailles is too much of everything all at once, but somehow it really works. The opening is so brash and bright it borders on the medicinal for a few moments, before plunging like a slutty neckline into spice, resin, balsam and all things nice.

The notes are too numerous to list here, but here are the highlights: Leather, Amber, Benzoin, Vetiver and Balsam. The flowers are present and correct but they get a bit lost in the smokiness of the background, like Can Can dancers in a Cigar room: Jasmine, Roses, Violet Leaf, Lilac.

The whole cacophony results in a smoky, slightly metallic, spicy, leathery, woody fug, which to my mind has a lot in common with Caron Tabac Blond (see my earlier review on this blog).

I do have to marvel at the fact that I found no civet or animalic notes here, when so many Fragrantica users rate it as one of the most prominent notes.  This is unusual for me, as I found animalic notes in Worth Courtesan and Ivoire de Balmain (original, not the recent one) both of which you can find on my blog. In fact, the animal notes were so strong in both that they bordered on the smell of poor hygiene, yet Bal a Versailles?  Not a whisper of it.

That doesn’t stop it being what Lisa called “Definite Date Night” perfume. And by Date Night, we are not talking about a night at the cinema, but the kind that makes you sneak home the next day with your shoes in your hand.

Miller Harris L’Air de Rien: Dirty and Wonderful

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I have longed to try this, and made no secret of it. Yesterday, whilst I was at the beach, a good fairy left a 5ml phial on my doorstep. She looked suspiciously like our friend Lisa Wordbird, so once again, dear Wordbird, I thank you.

In previous reviews I have unexpectedly found the scent of unwashed underwear in Feminite Du Bois, Worth Courtesan (filthy!) and Balmain Ivoire de Balmain (vintage not modern). I fully expected a similar grimace from L’Air de Rien. Even Luca Turin in Perfumes the Guide says it smells of soiled underwear.  I couldn’t wait.

To my surprise, I loved L’Air de Rien.  I’m not sure I want to smell like it, but I love it the way I love a masterpiece in a gallery that I wouldn’t hang at home.

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It smells like the inside of a house or flat. You know how your friend’s homes have a particular smell that nobody else’s has? It’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s rather comforting.  Well L’Air de Rien smells of the inside of a flat where the hostess hasn’t yet showered after last night’s party and has burnt lots of  joss sticks to kill the worst of the spilled wine/crashed out guests smell.  It doesn’t smell of a person, it smells of a scene.

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It taps into the most basic of attractants: an unwashed body and  a musty Musk.

L’Air de Rien was created for Jane Birkin (also the inspiration behind the Birkin bag), an Englishwoman abroad, who despite her life in Paris, has lost none of her coarse accent  if Luca Turin is to be believed.  Created in 2006, it could easily have passed muster decades earlier.  It’s very Bohemian: hedonism, a bath once a week (whether you need it or not), cheap red wine and no money for food.

I suppose I should give a cursory mention to the notes listed on Fragrantica, but to do so seems to over analyse what amounts to a vivid scenario of a scent, where analysis could prick the bubble and make it disappear.

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Here we go: Neroli, Musk, Amber, Oakmoss, Vanilla,  and Patchouli.

But ignore that and just go with what you feel.

I think Miller Harris  L’Air de Rien is a work of genius and brings back memories of my London days in my mid twenties when parties were frequent and long term responsibility was far, far away.  Miller Harris scents are so evocative: often conjuring entire random scenes and memories in my head, and L’Air de Rien is the Queen of them all.

Balmain Ivoire de Balmain: Sweaty Betty Fills a Room

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Have you ever sat on a bus and wrinkled your nose , silently wishing people would wash more and change their clothes daily? Sadly, this was the image that Ivoire de Balmain put into my head.

I was introduced to this by my friend and perfume expert Lisa Wordbird. We were drinking tea and eating Battenberg at the time. She sprayed my arm with Ivoire de Balmain. “Yuk!” I exclaimed, “It smells like an old lady Walk of Shame”. “Really?” said Lisa, “My mother wears it to Church”. Many Battenberg crumbs landed far away from my plate, dear reader.

I hope you don’t recoil from the vivid imagery, but this smells like a hot gusset on a warm day. It’s how hot nylon smells without deodorant, or how sweaty thighs smell after a few  shower free days, drowned in talc to hide the smell. (I am guessing incidentally, my hygiene is of unimpeachable order).

It dries down into a sort of lemon talc, but the 32 notes listed on Fragrantica seemed almost completely absent, bar a few.  I will list the notes that I considered noticeable, since the ones that appeared absent  are too numerous to list here.

Present and correct in the opening notes: Asfoetida, Chamomile, Lemons and Aldehydes. Middle notes that I recognised were Lily of the Valley (although in talc form) and possibly Nutmeg. In the basenote I could smell Sandalwood and Lemon and talc.

Throughout every stage, there was kind of BO staleness. Hot hosiery, poor hygiene.  Not  good, and certainly not something I want to smell of. However, I am reviewing the Ivoire de Balmain with the white plastic lid, labelled “Edition Prestige”. Recently I tried Balmain Ivoire in John Lewis. The packaging and bottle were both different. When I tried it, the smell was different too. There was Imageno scent of sweaty body, it has been sanitised. I was left with a pretty Violet Green scent, admittedly, with less character than my gussety friend here.

I do apologise to any fans of original Ivoire de Balmain, but do please remember that this is only my personal response. Try the new one if my review has put you off the old one. Other Balmains are excellent and being phased out, so if you find one you like, buy it twice.

 

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