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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jean Desprez - Bal A Versailles

By Beth

Once upon a time, long ago I fell madly in love (or so I thought) with a man who was by all rights completely inappropriate for me. We had nothing at all in common with the exception of the maddening chemistry that lay between us. I was obsessed with him, I laid myself bare for him in a way that I would never do again for anyone. Poetry poured out of me, journal after journal of exquisitely lovesick writing, filled with the dreaming of what I thought our passion was. We listened to old standards together and the words tore my heart to shreds, at times they still do. The senses seemed made for us, the nighttime beckoned pulling emotions out of me that I had never experienced before. I had ritual after ritual for being with him; it was an unbelievably creative yet extraordinarily painful time in my life. This man and I could never really be together, our lives were completely different. But the excitement of that was the aphrodisiac that kept me coming back for more, kept me laying myself open even wider for the hurt that was to follow. Those moments were magical, yet searing, like a hot knife edge to an open wound. I tore those wounds open time and time again trying to understand why I had chosen such an unlikely candidate for the happiness that I craved. It took me years before I finally realized that he was me.

The fragrance of that affair was Bal a Versailles by Jean Desprez. I loved it, it seemed to express all of that unspoken yearning, unsuitable passion that I was feeling at the time. It is a bewitching perfume ,very very manipulative. Bal a Versaille is a perfume suited for the deep dark places… it is rich and seductive, yet supremely naughty . It was created in only 1962, but it feels so much older. I love its elegance, its opulence; it makes me think of a grand masked ball every time I wear it, an image that I always find interesting when I think of the man who I wore it for. You see, I never really knew him at all. He left me in an instant with my images and fantasies of him, in a moment lifting the mask so that I could see that who I thought he was, wasn’t him at all. It was all of it my own treachery and a dream of my own creation. I was creating the darkest sort of magic, weaving the spell that if you are very lucky will rebound on you without killing you, leaving in its wake the wisdom to never go there again.

It took years before I was able to wear Bal a Versaille’s again. That period of my life literally brought me to my knees and I am grateful to have survived it.

I woke up one morning realizing that I was still alive, that there were plenty of words still to be written, and much more love to be expressed. I also knew that if I was ever to be whole again, I needed to touch the flame of that old passion and reignite it without giving into the anguish that I had experienced for so many years and of course Bal a Versailles needed to be a part of that reemergence. What I discovered when I reopened the bottle was a riot of sensuality, symphonies of roses and jasmine, amber, wood and spice….visions of large jungle cats mating , velvet on nakedness and a deep wet kiss in all of the right dark places , the scent of heaving cleavage!

Bal a Versaille’s is the most devastatingly sexy scent that I have ever worn, but now instead of throwing me to the fates , we love to dance together. I have finally learned the steps to her tango. You see, for me the true lesson of such an ill fated and unrequited love was not of what’s been lost. What I discovered very clearly in that moment, was that everything that I had experienced, everything that I had felt that he had brought to me, was really what I was capable of bringing to myself, my truest being. I had conjured him to bring me back to me, the actual man was in reality nothing like the vision. I have found Bal a Versaille’s to be my most private, sensual self, my “holy grail” of perfumes. I think that I have said here before that I love who I become now when I wear it, how its blends with my soul. I am grateful for second chances.

I hope that you will try the parfum strength, it is wonderfully, sexy, gorgeous and lush.

Bal a Versailles is fairly easy to find on the internet, but I’ve not seen it in any stores for years.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I love BdV and have a bottle of parfum coming in the mail. What you said about the passion shedding light on who we really are is so well put.
We create the perfect lover in our mind to discover our best selves, often times the other person is just a figment of our imagination.

12:58 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an incredibly rich, wonderful and expressive column. The relationship was worth every tear if it allowed you to blossom into this incredible, strong, knowing human. Bravo! Those are the things a real life are made of!

1:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, this made me shiver, it was so true to something I have gone through myself - in fact that I am going through now, and not for the first time. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story. No matter how much pain such a thing can cause, we never really regret it, though we might say we do. These passionate feelings are what make us real people who are capable of compassion and empathy for others.

And thank you for reminding me that I MUST try this perfume again! I think I was too young to wear it when I first experienced it - no more! That's one of the good things about getting older. Teenagers can't pull this one off.

1:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow! that's almost all i can say... great review!


3:14 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, I love the way your perfume writings are directly coupled to people, places and events in your very passionate life. You write with such brio, revealing a woman who goes at life full throttle! I very much admire that.

I love BdV, too, though I've found that the amount of naughty bits varies quite a bit from bottle to bottle. I bought a mini of the pure parfum a couple years ago and couldn't understand what the hoopla was all about. Then I received a sample of the parfum from Patty when she was Fragrant Fripperies, and oh, my! What gorgeously filthy skank! I don't think anything I've smelled since then even compares to it.

7:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was my first True Love in perfumes, and it still is a Great Love. It is one I never want to be without.

I could feel my heart tearing over that love of yours. A priceless lesson you took from it.


10:24 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

What an incredible journey and how wonderful that you managed to emerge w/ such a fantastic spirit and so much gained. And w/ Bal a Versailles. :-) *Adore* that scent, especially in parfum and can't believe I've neglected it for far too long now. Must go hunt it down.

10:57 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

wonderful review- it makes me want to smell this very much!

11:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this touching and thought-provoking post. It's made me even more excited about the sample of Bal a Versailes parfum that's on its way to me now.

12:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Bryan said...

That was an exquisite chapter in your perfumed life. I thank you for sharing it in such an evocative way. I adore Bal a V. I love the darkness and the depths of its magic. Well done. wow.

12:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Sylvia said...

so beautifully written...

2:50 PM EDT  
Blogger uma said...

Beth, thanks for your breathtaking article! It's so deeply personal and yet so universal, telling a story about "passion" in it's truest, literal sense. It's fascinating to read how the experience of your "amour fou" was related to a fragrance. Bal à Versailles fits perfectly.

3:45 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, sounds like someone i once knew. i wrote about him in a poem called "the shadow of the man i thought i saw." his body odor (clean and sexy) was the perfume of that maddening time. can't recall which perfumes i was wearing (i've always kept more than one at hand).

bal a versailles is a wonderful scent to have connected with such passion. it is golden and warm and nutty and rich - like a magical elixir. perhaps it was, for you...

a lovely post. - minette

3:45 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, what beautiful prose! I can almost feel the upheaval you must've felt at the time. It's leaving me breathless! We are glad not for the hurt you felt, but for the being it helped you become (the saying 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger' seems like such a cliche, but it's so true).
Oh, and of course does it make me want to try the scent, it's been on my to try list for a while now.

5:21 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

To all of you,
Thank you so much all of you for such warm and wonderfully supportive words for this review. I wrote it, and then I sent to Marina and thought briefly that it was too intense, too cathartic to share. It is the story that I have been longing to tell since I got here. Marina encouraged me to keep it as you read it, so I took a deep breath and hit the send button.

My words had left me for many moons. I started to write again quite a few years ago, but without much of the same passion. When I found this community, I found that voice here. I am still not sure why, but I don't think that why matters. Because of all of you and this fragrant language that we share, I have been able to write again in a way that I hadn't dreamed could return. I am so grateful to all of you. I have had a very rich and shall we say "full" life and I am so glad to be able to share it. Cyberspace is a funny thing. I have said forever that I have many friends online, most that I will never meet, but many who know my heart as well if not better than most. I feel like here I am at home.

Thank you.


5:37 PM EDT  
Blogger kamala said...

beth, it's fascinating to me to hear you say you've found your voice again within the perfume community, because i've been experiencing a similar renewal with my drawing, which i've been sadly neglecting for quite a while.

honestly, i think perfume is a wonderful catalyst for creativity because it is such an intimate art form - you put it on your skin, you inhale its molecules into your body - even the scent itself changes depending on the chemistry of the wearer. all art does that to some extent, but perfume more obviously than most.

and the people who truly appreciate that type of art are probably more likely to be in touch with their creativity and emotions - not only is perfume going into your body, but it's going straight into the most primitive, emotional part of your brain as well. to really understand the effects of perfume, you must understand the power of memory and emotion, which you demonstrated so wonderfully in your review.

thank you for your lovely words!

8:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, you certainly HAVE found your voice, and it is amazing!

I feel the same way - I have been able to write in a way I thought I never could before since I started to write about perfume, and it has spread to my other writing projects too. I really need a creative outlet in my life, and this has been such a great and enriching experience for me. (Thanks in great part to Marina, of course, and to Ina before her when I was writing for Aromascope, which is on indefinite hiatus.)

12:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Beth, I am Kaos.geo, I usually post at NST and searching for something I entered this blog.

This is a GREAT review and I can relate about this a lot. I think as you put in your review, the mind weaves fantasies that are confusing.. and the projection of our needs and desires onto another person can produce situations like the one you describe.

The power of smell, the scent of someone.... I congratulate you on having been able to overcome the infatuation and sucessfully having separated the perfume from the person you wore it for.

I have experienced a similar thing, and I am now "rededicating" the perfume that use to belong to obsession, to a love that is reciprocal :-)

7:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

***mopping brow, gathering senses***
Your post is a relief...not just a relief in the sense one feels when surviving your experience, but in the sense that one is lightened by another person's honest expression. To the heart of life; that is a true and just effect of the right words on paper.

Back to the more mundane...there is a stash of BdV at a discount clothing store near me...should I buy up? Do you want to layer on another chapter of life to your associations, or will this always remain closed/protected? Value in each, of course...


8:59 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I worked in a cosmetic dept back in 1975 my co-worker spritzed it in the air...first time I smelled it. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned," what is that?", the woman behind the counter said " Bal A Versailles, I thought you'd like that one!" . She was right, and nothing else came close.

2:01 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, what you wrote was beautiful. When I smell Bdv, it takes me back in time. I am reading The Other Boylen Girl and it will forever remind me of that time period in history. I feel elegant, intelligent, sexy and a tad naughty when I wear it.

Another great thing about it is, no one recognizes it! They say, "Oh, you smell great, what are you wearing?" I think I will answer the question the way smart women have answered that very same question when I have asked it of them...

"Ummmm, I forget the name." :)

10:07 AM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello loyal fans!
Bal a Versailles has an online store, buy direct from Jean Desprez at
Thank you all for your wonderful support.

12:50 AM EDT  
Blogger Serene said...

I have searched for years for a fragrance that moved me as much as that one did, my first perfume love. I have looked and looked, and bought all sorts of new ones, but none of them stuck for me. I even bought a bottle of Chamade, which I loved also in those days though not as much; but it no longer had appeal for me. They both had a kind of "heat" - impossible to define. Today I discovered on the back of a shelf an old crystal bottle of amber colored "Jean Desprez parfum" and dabbed a drop on my wrist. And there it was: that same old feeling. There's something bewitching about that perfume. Thank you Beth for your wonderful evocative writing.

1:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Tora said...

Beth, I just found this review after reading Neil's in the Black Narcissus. He was right, you showed us, with great feeling,the torn heart of a passionate dizzying affair and Bal's role in it. That kind of wrong headed passion is something I miss as I grow older. I have never smelled this perfume, but I have read many reviews, and the words, sexy, indolic, animalic and naughty reoccur frequently. I look forward to the day when I can try some of the vintage version and when I do, I will think of this story, of you , in the exuberance of youth and exotic crazy love.

11:09 AM EST  
Blogger Froz said...

I don't often leave comments on perfume blogs because although I love perfumes, I am only a beginner in the matter.
I've just bought Bal à Versailles on the internet, whithout having smelled it, ans I am excited as if I was going to finally meet someone I've met on a dating site long ago. And it's strange because I'm sort of living what you've described in your text. It's been a year and this destructive but oh-so-intense relationship is still lurking at the back of my mind. I'm not sure I will ever love again like that, but I'm not sure I want to either. And I wonder how I will feel abour Bal à Versailles. I've read that it can be compared to Miller Harris' L'air de rien, have you smelled it ?
Anyway, it's going to be my first vintage perfume purchase, yay !!

5:05 AM EDT  

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