Bal à Versailles

Versailles by Ayala Moriel
Royal Boudoir, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Smelling Jean Desprez's Bal à Versailles is what I can imagine Jean-Louis Fargeon (Marie Antoinette's personal perfumer) would concoct especially for her: in his dusty apothecary in Paris, he would measure into the beaker with much abundance the costliest of all extracts: tuberose, jasmine and jonquil enfleurage from Grasse, attar of rose from Morocco, shipped across the Mediterranean, aged orris root tincture, tincture of vetiver, oakmoss from the Albanian forests, collected by wolverines in the moonlight, and every animal extract he could get a hold of: Ambergris? you got it! Tonquin musk? Oh yeah. Civet? Sure, but only a little bit...

Although I've been reading a lot of reviews that go on and on about the civet being the star of the show, I beg to differ. Bal à Versailles, although I still think agree that it could have been more aptly named - my suggestion would not be "Orgie de Versailles" (which is what it would have been if civet were the star of the show - as it is in Tabu, for instance), but rather more delicately, as in "Boudouir de Versailles".

The Eau de Toilette I have on hand is vintage, probably from the 90's, or late 80's at the most. It is redolent of black pepper, opulent flowers and dry, musky oakmoss. While it has a definite carnal energy about it, it is not due to civet, but rather, musk and white flowers. I was scratching my head for a while trying to recall what it reminds me of. And when I got it, I was a bit surprised - more than anything at all, it reminds me of my very first version of Schizm, when I was so naive that I thought that the "black musk" that was sold at the Persian Arts jewellery and antique store in Pacific Centre were in fact vintage perfume bases (hence containing synthetic musks, including the defunct musk ambrette and deliciously animalic musk ketone). The old Schizm was just like this - a surge of pepper, tuberose, narcissus, oakmoss and musk, with a bit of cedarwood accentuating the dry aspect at first, and turning into something sweet (taken over by the oakmoss) in the end.
And sure enough, the drynenss of oakmoss' top notes, the cedar and pepper bows and lets the sweeter song of raspberry-lined musks to make their coiffed entrance, powdered wigs and all. Vanilla, dark and real, is not too loud but makes its presence known, like a seasoned seductress partly hiding behind a black laced fan. And just like this confident woman in black, which does not need find the urge to flash her assets to be noticed, you'd also find a hint of the leathery, a nuance of fur and purring with its dry breath of isobutyl quinoline.

This early version of Schizm was never sold commercially, therefore I realize this comparison is not the most relateable. To give you a more familiar point of reference, I'd say that Bal à Versailles, despite it being a child of the 60's (launched in 1962) reminds me of the good old Caron fragrances: it has the same dry-peppery feel as Poivre and the delicious muskiness of Parfum Sacré
(well, this is not really old, it's from the 90's yet it has the same vintage feel), yet at the same time an underlining dark, almost dirty, boudoir feel of Nuit de Noël. In short: don't let it scare you. While very old-fashioned in feel, it is neither dense nor overbearing. It is very easy to wear, although I would definitely reserve it for special occasions, or at least for the evening, when you can truly savour it, sipped slowly like a glass of spicy Syrah.

Top notes: Black Pepper, Cedarwood, Citrus 
Heart notes: Tuberose, Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Narcissus, Orris Butter
Base notes: Oakmoss, Musk, Patchouli, Vanilla, Amber, Leather

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...Or Is It?

Winter Rose, originally uploaded by Deborah Harroun.

Apparently, this is not always as simple as it may seem. I have received the following from a lady from Transylvania who had really hard time choosing between two very stylized rosy perfumes from Caron:

Hi Ayala,

I would really appreciate some help I am sure you are quite busy and received many emails; I am trying to decide between Nuit de Noël and Parfum Sacré . I seamed to be decided on Nuit de
Noël ( I am a bit partial to it because I am born on Christmas Day and will travel home this winter to Transylvania and it seams to encompass a lit of all the things I miss and cherish) . After reading many reviews on both perfumes I am undecided between the two . My favorite perfume so far has been Amarige by Givenchy. Also I would like to purchase the perfume versus the EDT as it seams to be quite a difference in scents with Caron, is that so is there a big difference?. This will be my first Caron purchase . To tell you know a bit about my style and interests; I am not a girl loves all things pink king of gal:)... I love Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo and my biggest interest is ancient Greek and Roman history, I love all things classic and tailored.

Thank you so much for your time and attention,


Dear Antonia,

Thank you so much for your email and my apologies for taking so long to reply!

Nuit de Noël and Parfum Sacré are very different from one another, albeit both being dark and rosy.

Personally, Parfum Sacré reminds me more of Christmas than Nuit de Noël. There is something about it that just makes it feel very festive and at the same time - despite all the spices and musk - it feels very, very light. Almost like a caress of snowflakes on your cheeks, if those were warm; or a fuzzy fur collar. I have to say though that my impressions are based entirely on the eau de parfum formulation. I have never tried it in parfum, but I hear it is more peppery than the EDP.

Nuit de Noël is darker and denser and if it has anything to do with Christmas, perhaps it is somewhat like plum pudding. There is a bit of an ink quality to it. It is also more dry than Parfum Sacré (even though the latter is dry and spicy and incensey). If there is any sweetness to it - it's more like licorice than a real sugary sweet.

To summarize - while both perfumes are rosy and dark, Parfum Sacré is more airy, spicy and incensey, light and expansive while Nuit de Noël is darker, denser, deep and more mysterious. It is really about the effect you want to achieve and what you associate more with Christmas - something more contemplative (Nuit de Noël) or more festive and outgoing (Parfum Sacre). Both perfumes are excellent so it's definitely not a question of quality, but taste.

All this being said, the only way you can really make a decision is to try them both. There are plenty of ways to obtain samples of these exquisite Caron fragrances - either call the nearest Caron boutique to you (there is one in Paris and another one in New York) and they might be able to ship samples to your country. And if not - try swapping on the many fragrance boards (Perfume of Life, Make Up Alley, Basenotes, Perfume Addicts, to name the main ones) or order from one of the decant and samples merchants online (from a quick shopping around I can tell you that The Perfumed Court carries many Caron samples)

Warm regards,


Nuit de Noël

Of all perfumes, that one that reminds me most of a Northern Christmas isn’t actually Nuit de Noël, but Parfum Sacre. The olfactory connection of Nuit de Noël to Christmas did not reveal itself to me until few days ago. It suddenly dawned on me: Plum pudding and ink!

Nuit de Noël bears the mark of many of the Caron perfumes created by Ernest Daltroff: density, complexity and a vast mystery which is reflected in the seamless connection between the notes. It is not easy to dissect the notes from one another, not to mention categorizing the perfumes.

The dryness of cedar wood is evident at the start, and roses unfold from beneath a dark dress. There is a certain dustiness to it all, as if the perfume was collecting dust for a year before being noticed again. But now that it did, time and age has only improved it. Powderiness is not absent, and in some regards, this perfume is akin to N’Aimez Que Moi in darkness, density and the thread of rose and powder. But what gives Nuit de Noël its distinct character and its important place in the Caron family is Mousse de Saxe.

Apparently, Mousse de saxe accord is what gives many of the Caron scents their dark undercurrent. It is said to include geranium, licorice, leather, iodine and vanillin. In Nuit de Noël, this accord is used in higher proportion to the rest of the composition, making it quite memorable even among the many rose perfumes of its era (not to mention only those from the house of Caron).

Sharing similarities with other powerhouse perfumes, Nuit de Noël is at once rosy, leathery, powdery and sweet. It reminds me of a less sweet, less in-your-face Habanita, a more leathery sister to N’Aimez Que Moi, and an inspiration to daring, feminine yet unsweet rare appearances of present day, such as Agent Provocateur, and even the dry down of Opium Fleur de Shanghai.

The flacon of Nuit de Noël is made of black crystal glass, and looks like a cross between an ink bottle and a hip-flask, adorned with a Charleston-style gold headband. It was said that Nuit de Noël was made for Daltroff’s lover, who loved Christmas. Somehow, I can only envision a very lonely winter night, with Charleston-music playing in a gramophone, and many glasses of red wine and whisky being used up until that lover finally shows up, hours after the family Christmas dinner is over.

While the connection of plum pudding to Christmas is quite obvious, that of ink isn’t. In any case, use Nuit de Noël as an ink for expressing your innermost feelings only when the time is ripe. Otherwise you may need to be dancing more than just one round of Charleston.

Notes: Cedarwood, Rose, Orris, Mousse de Saxe accord (Oakmoss, Licorice, Myrrh, Cedar moss), Vetiver, Sandalwood, Castoreum

*Nuit de Noel poster courtesy of Fashion Era

Other reviews of Nuit de Noël:
LegerdenezBois de JasminMore about the history of Caron

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