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Jean Desprez – Bal à Versailles: Overview, Smell, Notes & More!

Bal à Versailles is history in a bottle.

The French perfume was released to the public in 1962, made to be reminiscent of Château de Versailles.

The palace, located a few miles west of Paris, is where sophisticated balls and court sessions were held in the seventeenth century.

A waft of the oriental floral scent arouses mixed emotions, especially to younger generations, but the general reception has always been positive. 


  • Brand: Jean Desprez
  • Fragrance: Bal à Versailles
  • Release: 1962
  • Gender: Women/Unisex
  • Perfumer: Jean Desprez

Fragrance Notes

  • Top Notes: Bulgarian Rose, Rose, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Neroli, Rosemary, Bergamot, Mandarin Orange, Cassia, and Lemon
  • Middle Notes: Leather, Sandalwood, Orris Root, Patchouli, Ylang-Ylang, Lilac, Vetiver, and Lily of the Valley
  • Base Notes: Civet, Resins, Tolu Balsam, Amber, Benzoin, Vanilla, Musk, and Cedar

What Does Bal à Versailles Smell Like?

The mention of sophisticated balls might make this sound like a classy fragrance.

However, while the dry down does contain a sense of elegance, the overall aroma is far from classy (though it is sensual).

Back in the 1600s, perfumes were used to mask the uncleanness of the folk (i.e. people didn’t bathe regularly).

At parties, the dominant aromas were sweat mixed with florals and fustiness mixed with sweet powderiness.

Based on this, the fragrance was made to be heavily animalic, accentuated by natural civet.

The top has a complex scent.

Orange blossom is prominent, though everything from the floral and citrus notes to smoky resins and earthy civet can be smelled at this stage.

It’s also the most unbearable part for those unfamiliar with dirty fragrances.

The overall smell here has been described as one of unwashed underwear or even that of urine and fecal matter.

Still, if you have the patience to wait out those top notes, the dry down is sure to be rewarding.

A burst of vanilla pops out and an overall sweetness surfaces over the perfume (amber, benzoin, ylang-ylang). 

Though the civet is still present, the floral aspect becomes more subdued.

The dry down goes on to be even drier, the likes of cedar and leather bringing out a rough but warm finish to this vintage scent.

How Long Does Bal à Versailles Last?

The perfume comes in a variety of versions: pure parfum, eau de toilette, vintage cologne, and parfum de toilette (similar to eau de parfum).

Because of this, an approximate time range is 8 hours (+/- 2 hours), depending on the type.

As a skin scent, it does come off as potent, but it’s not as strong as most vintage scents.

The sillage is also good, with heavier versions like the vintage PDT leaving behind a noticeable trail.

When Should You Wear It?

It’s too heavy for spring or summer.

As a comfort scent, it’s tailor-made for colder seasons, especially winter. 

This is also why it’s more suitable to wear in the evenings than during the day.

Where Should You Wear It?

The versatility of this perfume is below average, so it must be worn on the right occasions.

Described as dirty in the most literal sense, it also suits the sexual, naughtier alternative.

Meaning, wearing Bal à Versailles on occasions like evening dates and nights out is perfect.

Presentation and Value For Money

A beautiful perfume from the golden age of perfumery, Bal à Versailles is marketed towards the daring, expressive woman, although it should be said that a man can also easily pull this off (case in point: Michael Jackson). 

It’s also well-known that English actress Elizabeth Taylor wore the original scent before starting her own line.

The fact that Liz Taylor wore this product speaks volumes to its staying power and its popularity with both new and returning customers.

The fragrance changed hands several times after Parfums Jean Desprez was sold, meaning it also went through a bit of reformulation.

The 2009 reformulation is the earliest version you can find without much hassle.

Sample sizes can be found at The Perfumed Court, while the vintage bottles vary in price from $50 to even $180 for a 50 ml bottle.

If it has to be your new signature scent, spend time scouring the internet for cheap deals.

The Bottom Line

If the 300-year-old palace is your dream destination, this perfume is a jewel that brings the atmosphere to you.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re open to trying something new, don’t let the Ball à Versailles pass you by.

Perfumes that Smell Like Bal à Versailles

If you liked reading about this vintage bouquet, you may want to check out three similar products.

1. Chanel No. 5 Eau de Cologne (Chanel)

The oldest on this list, the vintage EDC was created in 1921 by Ernest Beaux.

It’s closest in aroma but still preserves its unique identity with the help of notes like aldehydes and African orange flower.

2. L’Air de Rein (Miller Harris)

This scent is not nearly as animalic, but if you want a more reserved scent with the skankiness playing more of a background role, it deserves a second look. 

3. Shalimar EDP (Guerlain)

It’s not a common alternative, but the 1990 release does contain the prominent civet as part of its base.

It earns a mention as a smokey substitute to the earthy aroma prominent in Bal à Versailles.

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