I tried Byredo Bal d'Afrique soon after Now Smell This posted the announcement of its release: "Byredo has launched Bal d'Afrique, a new fragrance inspired by ' Paris of 1920's, balls of Saint Germain and the style of Josephine Baker '...."* In its marketing materials, Byredo mentioned not only Baker but "African...music and dance, excess and euphoria" as inspirations. Thinking of "Paris" and "balls" and La Baker, I put on some Bal d'Afrique and a top hat, took off my clothes, played Josephine's Le Marchand de Bonheur at high volume and did my own version of the 'banana dance' around my living room. (A rite of spring? A folly? Un rêve? You decide — my cats and neighbors aren't talking.)
Bal d'Afrique was developed by perfumer Jerome Epinette and contains lemon, neroli, African marigold, cyclamen, vetiver, jasmine, violet, bucchu, cedar, black amber, and musk. Bal d'Afrique's aromatics dance begins with neroli, lemon, a smidgen of marigold, and a punch of "raw" cedar (aimed at the nostrils, emanating from the armpits). The cyclamen note (I assume) provides a touch of clean "water" to the "sweaty" cedar and leads to Bal d'Afrique's amber-y, musk-y dry-down. Vetiver "jitters" from one phase of Bal d'Afrique to the next and keeps the composition buoyant. Bal d'Afrique is rich, but not heavy; it's warm without being stifling. Bal d'Afrique smells sexy but it doesn't take sexiness too seriously; there's something fun about the fragrance (mood-wise, it reminds me of Les Eaux Armani Privé Vétiver Babylone). Bal d'Afrique can certainly be worn by men or women, and it has good lasting power.
Josephine Baker was born 103 years ago today. Bal d'Afrique's uncomplicated and light-hearted sexiness is very "Josephine Baker" in style. (Whether dressed up in a couture gown or topless in a skirt made of faux bananas, Baker always seemed at ease: "I wasn't really naked. I simply didn't have any clothes on.") For all of you who are unfamiliar with Baker, her recordings are numerous and her early French films are available on DVD: Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princess Tam Tam (1935).
Byredo Bal d'Afrique is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum, $195; for buying information see the listing for Byredo under Perfume Houses.
* Now Smell This via firstluxe.