I keep trying to write about Byredo’s Bal d’Afrique but it’s hard because it keeps coming out more as an apology for liking it than an actual review.
I have always had an aversion for things or people that are too widely liked. Anything that seems to receive universal approval fills me with suspicion and the desire to avoid it at all costs. Ugg boots sure look comfortable but I’d gnaw my leg off with a dull incisor rather than put one on. The very notion that so many women fantasize about George Clooney makes him as attractive to me as a used tissue. I very nearly un-coupled my husband when he bought our son a fidget spinner.
You get the picture. The thought of being unoriginal, of being just like everyone else fills me with a special kind of dread. Not because I think I’m anything special, but because anything that’s universally popular strikes me as being slightly idiotic or banal. There’s also the personal ownership angle to things – with every fragrance I discover and fall in love with, I like to feel like I’m staking out territory that’s just for me.
But in terms of new discovery, Byredo’s Bal D’Afrique is about as unexplored as the center aisle of Tesco’s. Unlike M/ Mink, a love of mine that nobody seems to want to touch, Bal D’Afrique comes to me completely covered with other people’s grubby fingerprints. In a brand full of crowd-pleasing fragrances, Bal D’Afrique is probably the most crowd-pleasing-est of them all. People love this fragrance.
And damn it, I love this fragrance too. It’s kind of hard not to. I like to think of it as a sparkly, sunlit version of Vetiver Tonka, made all giggly with forest fruit, violets, and lemon. It is one of those perfumes that seems to be all things to all people. Some describe it as musky, cedary violets, some as a creamy lemon scent, and some as a fruity, nutty vetiver. And truth be told, it’s all of those things, and more.
Nothing about Bal D’Afrique stands out and that feels like a deliberate decision. Nudged more firmly in one direction or another, it could easily have been pegged as a vetiver fragrance, a woody violet, a fruity floral, even a foodie amber. But Bal D’Afrique contains a touch of everything and doesn’t press down too hard on one particular note, so it ends up playing like a low-key medley of tunes you hear in a cocktail lounge – wonderfully pleasing but sparkling at a low enough wattage so as not to distract from conversation.
However you define it, there’s no getting around the fact that Bal D’Afrique sparkles as hard as a glass of champagne and twirls around on its heels like a five-year old. It’s sweet and tangy and bright and creamy. It’s a veritable piñata of aromas – poke it with a stick and no matter what comes out, you know it comes wrapped in bright paper and will make even the crustiest bugger smile.
Because Bal D’Afrique is so popular, I struggle to respect it, but Basenotes statistics don’t lie: I have used this scent far more than any other this summer, using up an entire travel spray of it over the course of about 4 weeks. It has a strange, amorphous quality to it that doesn’t pin it to any one mood or occasion, instead flowing easily in and around my other perfumes, filling up the gaps with its easy-going personality.
Now that I don’t have any left, I miss it. I find myself thinking about it at off hours of the day. I’m sure that its sweet affability and versatility makes the price of Bal D’Afrique completely justified, but I am somehow reluctant to take that leap. It’s probably just a passing infatuation, so I’ll try to wait it out. Trouble is, despite me thinking, meh, this isn’t really that unique, I can’t think of a single perfume that could take its place.
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