Rome January 1962, in the dark corners of the huge soundstage of Cinecittà Studios all eyes are on an extraordinary personage. The man is Welsh, and touted to be the new Olivier. With a good ten years of films behind him he has never really hit it big in the movies. Not like he has on the stage where he is considered a god. That is about to change.
There is a small commotion in the shadows. He and everyone else on the set turn, and his eyes fall upon the luscious curves of the woman who has just unceremoniously sauntered into the pool of lights in the center of the stage. Sheathed in flowing canary yellow chiffon, her eyes of violet blue spangled with glitter and lined with black Egyptian kohl she is every inch a morsel for a monarch.
Her eyes with veiled curiosity explore his handsome acne scarred face. She is not impressed and yet slightly apprehensive of his stage training. He takes in her dark glamour in and recalls being turned to ice by her dismissive glance ten years earlier across a hot star encrusted swimming pool in smoggy Los Angeles. That was the first time Richard Burton laid eyes upon his destiny in the form of Elizabeth Taylor. This time in Rome was the second.
The director, Joe Mankiewicz spoke briefly to both of them then went off to commiserate with the cinematographer and the assistant director leaving them awkwardly alone to make their own introductions. Burton turned and crookedly smiled at Elizabeth. He picked up a cup of coffee and spilled a little as his hand was seized by a hangover tremor. Instinctively she reached out and steadied the cup. Gently her hand cupped his and guided the coffee to his lips. His eyes fell into hers and locked there for eternity.
“Has anyone ever told you that you are a very pretty girl?” He said.
Her heart, imagination and life were changed forever by that simple cliché that fell in perfect calculated grace from the lips of perhaps the greatest Shakespearian actor of his generation.
Taylor and Burton the moment they met on the set of “Cleopatra”.
Antony: Are you quite sure of what it is you want?
Cleopatra: I have always been sure.
And so it began the scandal of 1962 which shattered two marriages, nearly toppled a studio and ushered in the cannibalistic tabloid world of today. It was the romance of the century and inspired a generation of sexual revolutionaries. Not to be left out of the action the Pope got in on the act and branded Elizabeth Taylor an “Erotic Vagrant”. Now THAT is a Movie Star!
What did this shattering moment smell like? Bal à Versailles is the answer. Many famous women from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Queen Elizabeth have worn it, but none more famously than Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Cleopatra” when she launched a thousand paparazzo’s in the arms of her Mark Antony.
Created in 1962 by Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles is traditionally presented as a female fragrance. Well that was back in the old days of the 1900’s, welcome to the 21st century where such gender identities for fragrance are down right passé. This magnificent perfume fully rounded out by 350 essences is a monster of audacious panache and a masterpiece of design fit for anyone with the balls to wear it. It is bold, and huge in its opening of rosemary, orange blossom, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, rose, Neroli, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and lemon. Heavy hitters are the roses and the orange notes. We move in for our close-up with notes of sandalwood, patchouli, lilac, orris root, vetiver, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and leather. The Leather dominates the heart of the fragrance. If you are a leather lover this is Oscar time at the Kodak Theater and Nicole Kidman has just called your name. When the dry down approaches it is a dramatic movie star fade out. Beautiful notes of tolu balsam, amber, musk, benzoin, civet, vanilla, cedar and resins hold court for the final long shot as Bal à Versailles rides off into the sunset captivating all it has touched with its smoky fingers of desire and fire.
Bal à Versailles is a projection bomb. Once you have it on there is no going back. You commit to this one all the way or not at all. The silage is like incense burners pumping purple heaven full blast on Cleopatra’s barge. It lasts for days without the need for “retakes”. It is animalic, dirty, sexy and just a wonder of a scent that has me in its spell as surely as Elizabeth Taylor had Richard Burton just where she wanted him all those years ago in Rome, right in the palm of her hand.
FIVE GOLD STARS *****