Accredited for Byredo’s Bal d’Afrique, perfumer Jerome Epinette takes you back in time to Paris in the 1920s. For this experience we navigate the narrow streets of Le Rive Gauche in search of a party. We arrive at a small jazz club in Saint Germain, the muffled sound of Latin percussion is detected and becomes clearer as we move closer to the source. Breaking through the crowd the sound moves into focus. The acoustics are booming and Josephine Baker is centre stage, her body sways seductively in time with the brass section. Her eyes follow each attendee as she ensures the crowd fall prey to her magical spell. Bal d’Afrique is a play on Parisian fascination with all things ethnic, particularly Africa in the height of the roaring twenties. This 2009 release is designed for both men and women and despite its seductive inspiration, I find it much more demure than Josephine Baker ever was. Perhaps it draws inspiration from the Parisian crowds that flocked to the Left Bank to party during the Art Deco age, instead of directly referring to the ethnic cultures that inspired this era and art form. Bal d’Afrique smells too clean to be bohemian, too pretty to be a tortured writer or artist. It is an innocent perfume, the smell of youth in search of adventure. To me this is the smell of a young upper class teenager escaping into the night without their parent’s consent. They cross the Pont Neuf into the Latin Quarter with a desire to experience life as it has been portrayed in the gossip magazines that circulate the city streets.
Byredo describes Bal d’Afrique as a blend of bergamot, lemon neroli, marigold and bucchu. Accompanied with heart notes of violet, jasmine, cyclamen this eau de parfum concludes with a base of black amber, musk, vetiver and Moroccan cedar. Had I read the perfume notes before experiencing the fragrance I would have been quite surprised by the resulting scent. While you can certainly find all of the above notes in the bottle, this is a radiant and light filled parfum. Those expecting heavy resinous notes that conjure visions of African scented rituals are best to go with something such as L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Timbuktu. Bal d’Afrique moves more like a shimmering Charleston than an ecstatic tribal dance. The opening citrus notes sparkle and glisten and the floral notes are simply gorgeous. Cyclamen, a close relative to lily of the valley in terms of composition adds a novel green edge to the floral heart. Bal d’Afrique’s jasmine when combined with violet is a modern floral- it is fruity, waxy and transparent. Byredo have not mentioned fruit, yet I find some fruit notes in Bal d’Afrique that give the fragrance (in my opinion) a ever so gentle tropical twist. As the floral notes decline a powdery sweetness overcomes the fragrance. Soft like ice cream, Bal d’Afrique’s dry down is filled with powdery musks, transparent wood and a clean vetiver seated way off in the distance.
Men who require a little testosterone in their perfumes may find Bal d’Afrique lacking. It is one of the few Byredo’s that does not contain the Byredo amber/wood signature found in creations such as Fantastic Man and Mister Marvelous. Instead it is a genderless beauty that can give the right man a gentler presence with a sophisticated edge. Bal d’Afrique does not shout or show off. So much so I’ve gone past it many times when perfume shopping. It only came to my attention recently when finding a gift for a friend. After that shopping experience I could not keep my mind off it.
It is original in the sense that at the time of writing this blog post I struggled to compare it with other fragrances. Perhaps if you like any of the following you may find a friend in Bal d’Afrique? Hermes Vetiver Tonka, L’Artisan Parfumeur Batucada, The Different Company De Bachmacov
Perfumer: Jerome Epinette (Robertet)
Release date: 2008
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woods