Perfume Review: Jean Desprez’ new fragrances Gold and Platine

A couple of months ago, I got an email from jeandesprez.com, announcing the upcoming release of a new Jean Desprez fragrance, and half-off deals on Bal a Versailles, the amazing, old-school floral oriental that has a list of notes a mile long, and that is famous among perfumistas for, in certain concentrations, being full of skank. I like BaV a lot and own a small bottle of PdT (ebay, about $4) and one of parfum (won from Fragrantica) that I don’t wear often because it’s full and rich and tres Francais, and, to be honest, a little bit demanding to wear.

The new Jean Desprez fragrance retains the “sexy allure” of the past with a hint of independence.  Please help us evaluate several formulations.

So of course I was interested in testing anything released by the makers of Bal a Versailles (famously worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, just to name two). The deal was, the JD people were field-testing multiple variants and getting feedback from bloggers who’d mentioned it and members of Basenotes.net before deciding on the final formula. Testers would not know the fragrance notes for the scent they were testing until after feedback had been given. JD was continuing the tradition of excellent perfumery, yada yada, courting the fragrance community, yada yada, making perfumes that could stand the test of time, yada yada, the testers would be collectors’ items, yada yada. I bought this hook, line and sinker (well, except for the “collectors’ items” bit, I’m not that dumb). They make BaV, I said. Of course it would be great, I said. I signed up for a bottle. I announced it on the blog.

I was naïve.

Parfum de toilette bottle of Bal a Versailles, from perfumezilla.com

In due course, my box arrived, and it was attractive – a neat, closely-fitting white box containing a nice heavy round bottle wrapped in layers of white tissue paper, with Jean Desprez “Gold” hand-written on the bottle in gold paint pen. The bottle is the standard one used for Bal a Versailles EdT, the current iteration, which I wasn’t familiar with until researching later. My small bottles are rather different.

When I sprayed “Gold” on some paper, my first thought was “Angel!” After the second spray, I thought of Xerjoff Elle, that rich heady floral-caramel thing that costs $600 a bottle, except with cotton candy instead of caramel. Upon the third spray, I thought, “Neither one – it’s Brut + Juicy Fruit.” Upon the fourth spray, my thought was, “You know, I give up. I don’t care what the structure of this thing is, it’s dreadful.”

And I haven’t budged from that point of view since.

Gold starts out with a big burst of cotton candy – which is why, I suppose, I immediately thought of Angel – followed by a delicious mixed-fruit note. Think Hawaiian Punch, and you’d be close. But under the fruit is something very traditionally masculine: lavender and coumarin, I’m guessing. It’s sort of a Carmen Miranda-Brut-Angel*, and if you sniff too close, your stomach will turn. From a distance, say from arm’s length, Gold is less disturbing but still has the gender-bendy weirdness of Angel, what with the fruit, the ethylmaltol, and the… whatever that shaving cream thing is. There are also some dense florals (rose and jasmine, definitely) in there, and they’re the best part of the fragrance, but they’re completely overshadowed by the fougere/ethylmaltol. [*Slightly disturbing side note: I think Brut Angel would be a fabulous name for a rock band.]

I hate it. And like every scrubber that ever existed, it lasts for EVER. I got nine and a half hours from one spray on my wrist, and since overspray went onto my shirt, I actually smelled like this for twelve hours, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore and took the shirt off. Then I took a shower. I could still smell Gold afterwards, but at least the level had been knocked down to “bearable.” Worse, I put that one spray on and went down to the computer desk, and a week later, the desk smells like Gold. The stuff has the half-life of plutonium.

I saw a mention of the JD fragrance from a fumie friend on Facebook (Hi, Rustic Dove!) and started discussing it with her. It turned out that she’d gotten a different formulation, called “Platine” (Platinum), and didn’t like it. We exchanged samples.

Rustic told me that Platine was not her thing. She also comments that she smells a pipe tobacco note in Gold, which I didn’t get, but that might be because by the time she mentioned it, I was trying to wear Gold without actually smelling it or have it touch my skin, and that’s not optimal testing conditions. It’s possible that I might have been prejudiced against Platine from the start. However, I don’t think so. The best thing that I can say about Platine is that at least it doesn’t last as long as Gold.

Mee-owww.

Platine starts out with some bright, fruity citrus notes – and I mean fruity citrus like as in orange Life Savers, not fruity citrus as in freshly-squeezed lemonade with a slice of carambola on the side of the glass for decoration. It also contains some Yankee Candle-grade lavender, and, I think, some jasmine ingredient that never saw sunshine but was concocted by people in lab coats, as well as that overdose of citrus alcohols familiar to us from, yes, Light Blue. Platine lasts slightly less than forever; on skin it sticks around about 8 hours. It is tenacious as heck, but to my mind not nearly as annoying as Gold.

The first peony to bloom this year in my yard.

I think, also, that there may be a peony note in the mix. How do I know? Well, I confess that in the years immediately before my perfumista days, I was a big fan of peony-type fragrances like Victoria’s Secret Pink and The Healing Garden In Bloom (Coty), and wore only “fresh floral” scents. Peony, I know now, is strictly an aromachemical, not a natural fragrance material. Which is a shame because real peonies, like the Sarah Bernhardts blooming now in my front yard, smell wonderful, and I have yet to find a fragrance that smells like the scent of real peony: soft, petalled, fresh, green, with a hint of rose and another of berry jam. (No, Histoires des Parfums Vert Pivoine was Not It. I have hopes for Parfums de Nicolai Rose-Pivoine, though.)

I think I’d rather have Victoria’s Secret Pink than Jean Desprez Platine, to tell the truth.

After being terribly disappointed by both of these scents and starting to write my disillusioned reviews, I went digging around on the fragrance forums (fora?) to see if anyone else was disappointed. I uncovered these discussion threads on Basenotes and Fragrantica (click through for the threads) that indicate that nearly everyone who is currently a fumie is disappointed as well.

In case you can’t see these, the general consensus is that these are awful fragrances, and I’ve heard from no one who has seen any formulation other than Gold and Platine. One fumie had a friend who really liked Platine, but the other comments tend to be negative, with the most positive ones being only neutral (“Eh, it’s nothing special.”).

From Rustic Dove on Platine, feedback sent to Jean Desprez:

Platine was not my style at all. I was quite disappointed in the fragrance especially given that Bal a Versailles is one of my all time favorite scents. Platine seemed very synthetic and I had the impression that it’s aimed at the fruity floral loving demographic. As a perfume enthusiast, I prefer well crafted fragrances composed of quality ingredients. I love notes of sandalwood, patchouli, rose, iris, amber, incense and so on. Platine had a ‘fresh’, candy like and artificial aspect that I don’t care for.   There seems to be a ‘dumbing down’ trend in mainstream fragrances – so many of them smell alike and I find the trend to be frustrating and tiresome. If the other new Jean Desprez scents are still available for review, I would love the opportunity to test and compare them.

And then Dee of Beauty on the Outside posted her review of Platine the other day, and her reaction toward it was even more negative than mine. (Ah, but she hasn’t smelled Gold!)

I now believe that Jean Desprez has been bought out by some opportunistic marketing people who knew that they had a good thing going, and decided to capitalize on it by selling cheap chemical dreck on the strength of the Bal a Versailles name, while clearing the warehouses of BaV stock. I’m annoyed about it.

I still think it’s genius to court the perfume bloggers and the people who belong to fragrance forums; I’m just snarked that JD didn’t offer a sampler set, and even more snarked that the fragrances they came up with were so awful – derivative and clearly cheap.

Anybody else tried a formulation of the new Jean Desprez fragrance? Please comment, and feel free to tell me I’m nuts if you think so. I might be wrong. (I don’t think so, but it’s not impossible.)

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New Jean Desprez Fragrance

Jean Desprez, maker of iconic Bal a Versailles, is now producing pre-release test versions of their new fragrance, due out this fall.

Unfortunately, we have no information on what the new scent will be like – I think there is more than one formulation, and Jean Desprez will be asking for feedback soon – but today is the last day to buy a prerelease bottle, if you’re interested.  It’s $29.95 for a 100 ml bottle with production notes, plus about $5 shipping in the US.  Within a week or so, I’ll be reviewing here the version I received.

Check the Jean Desprez website for more info.  Image is from the website.

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Perfume Review: Bal a Versailles, or Hurrying Time

Perfume Review: Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles
Date released: 1962
Perfumer: none listed
Sample provenance: parfum bottle won summer 2009 in drawing from parfum1, parfum de toilette mini bought from eBay 2009 (labeled vintage, but who knows for sure?)

The CEO dislikes Bal intensely in its early stages, and I understand why. It smells, mostly, of heavy floral perfume, and reminds him of the elderly ladies at church during his 70’s childhood. Bal is the epitome of what I think of as “French cathouse.”

You know, French cathouse – like when teenage you goes out with some friends, wearing your tastiest clothes and a generous swipe of Cheri’s plum eye pencil, not to mention Carlynn’s coral lip gloss and Kelley’s Sand & Sable, and your father stops you at the door and gives you The Look. “Young lady,” he says, “you’re not going out of this house like that. You look like a clown, and you smell like a French cathouse. Get back in this house, go into the bathroom, and wash that stuff off!” You roll your eyes, but you comply, dabbing off the lip gloss and the eye makeup with tissues and muttering under your breath, “He just doesn’t understand… there’s nothing wrong with it… I don’t know what his problem is.” You swipe at your neck and wrists with cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol. You sniff back a tear or two, then re-powder your nose to cover the pinkness, and march out to the front door again. You pass inspection. You receive the reminder of curfew without rolling your eyes, and you escape. Twenty minutes later, you’re again bedecked with the bounty of Cheri, Carlynn, and Kelley, making a mental note to hide the evidence before you go home from the skating rink.

Yeah, that “French cathouse.” The smell that is almost toooooo much. It’s a heavy, rich smell that opens Bal a Versailles, and it is somehow, quintessentially, French.

I recently read a review of Teo Cabanel Alahine by Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am, in which he compared Alahine to Bal a Versailles. I didn’t get it then; I don’t get it now. Alahine is pure happiness to me, while BaV is the kind of scent you wear when you don’t want to go home alone, shall we say. They’re completely different in feel, as well in actual scent.

However, I would call both of them symphonic – very richly compounded, very layered and complex, greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe that’s what Brian was getting at. (I should ask him. And while I’m at it, I’ll put in a plug for ISTIA. Great writing by two people who love perfume, go check it out.)

March at Perfume Posse calls Bal, in parfum, “candied incense,” and I don’t get that either. **But her take on the edp (similar to my pdt concentration) is “floral sex,” and that is spot-on. Spot. On. Big florals, with something honeyed and rich, followed by warm skin that is not quite sweaty… I’d say Bal in parfum is “floral sex, with candles burning.” Maybe my “candles burning” is March’s “incense.” And candied? Well, I just said “something honeyed.” Maybe I’m closer to her description than I thought. (** It’s in the comments of a recent post which wasn’t actually about Bal, and if I can find the darn thing, I’ll post the link.)

If I were to compare Bal a Versailles to any other perfume, I’d say Balenciaga Rumba. Rumba is similarly dense with complex florals and honeyed fruit, and contains a beautiful note of burnt dust that I for one find very pleasant. It’s not exactly the candle wax of Bal, but in both scents there is that hint of heat and consumption – the dust burns, the candles melt, and underneath it all is the smell of warm skin and hurrying time, with a faint reminder that death waits for no man and decay will someday take this warm flesh.

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
(from To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell)

That breath of mortality is something you won’t find in many modern fragrances. It makes me want to seize the moment, because I suddenly remember that my moments are not infinite. It’s genius, it’s philosophy in a bottle. It’s why I forgive Bal her French cathouse florals, and wear it again and again.

Notes for Bal a Versailles – an “everything but the kitchen sink” recipe if there ever was one:
Top: Rosemary, cassia, lemon, bergamot, mandarin, neroli, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, Bulgarian Rose.
Heart: Lilac, ylang-ylang, muguet, sandalwood, patchouli, orris, vetiver.
Base: Tolu balsam, amber, musk, civet, benzoin, resins, vanilla, cedar.

Notes for Balenciaga Rumba, just so you can compare:
Top: Orange blossom, plum, raspberry, peach, basil, bergamot
Heart: Honey, magnolia, carnation, tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, orchid, marigold, heliotrope, muguet.
Base: Leather, sandalwood, plum, amber, tonka bean, patchouli, musk, vanilla, oakmoss, cedar, styrax.

Both images from fragrantica.com.

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