Blog post by Gwen
The last time I was in Paris, I had coffee with a perfumer for a mid-sized niche line. We've known each other for a few years and have gotten to know each other quite well. On this day, I asked him what fragrance he wore most often. Without missing a beat, he answered "Bel Ami' from Hermès. 'You're surprised' he said, 'You were expecting me to say I wore one of my fragrances.' The look on my face had given me away. 'The fact is, I do wear my fragrances, but I've worn Bel Ami since before I started making perfume. It's a sentimental choice for me. Besides, it is a classic men's scent and one of the best leather fragrances ever created, but the truth is, I am one of those people who prefers Jean-Claude Ellena's version better than the original.' He paused for a moment. 'Wait, you don't have coffees with Ellena too, do you?' I assured him that I don't, though if I was ever given the opportunity to have a coffee with M. Ellena, I would not turn him down.
After some more conversation and canelés, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. But for the rest of the day, my mind kept going back to Bel Ami. A quick stop at Hermès for a sniff and a sample, and I understood my friend's fascination with the scent.
When Hermès, the saddler come luxury goods manufacturer, wanted a perfume centred around leather, they turned to Jean-Louis Sieuzac, who created Bel Ami for the brand in 1986. Sieuzac drew inspiration for the fragrance from Guy de Maupassant's novel, Bel Ami, published in 1885. Set in Paris, during the Third Republic, it tells the story of provincial upstart Georges Duroy, who ascends to power by manipulation, opportunism, seduction and politics to become one of the most successful men in Paris. The story is told against the backdrop of lush scenes and characters of belle epoque Paris.
Soon after its release, Bel Ami became the standard for leather-based fragrances. But times change, and in 2014, Bel Ami was reformulated by Hermès house perfumer Ellena to comply with IFRA regulations. I have never smelled the vintage version, but I'm sure glad I listened to my French friend and bought the 2014 version.
Bel Ami opens with a nose-tingling note of citrus that leads to cardamon. It's sweet, spicy and resinous and linked to warm spicy clove. The cardamon and clove are deep, aromatic and exotic. Could this be a nod to the three years Georges Duroy, spent in military service in Algeria? If it is, sign me up! As the spices settle on my skin, they are lightened by a note of basil that's fresh and herbal and slightly anisic, giving the opening a gentlemanly elegance. Cue the leather - Russian leather that is. That rich leather smell that's synonymous with luxury goods - think leather gloves or handbag or boots. Here it's smoky, potent and virile. Musk adds sensuality and warmth to the leather, making it sensuous and supple, while powdery iris gives Bel Ami sophistication. Patchouli is sweet, rich and woody complements the Russian leather beautifully. At the base, vetiver is deep, warm and woody, while vanilla softens the virility just enough to turn Bel Ami into a very smooth operator.
The drydown is warm, sweet, sophisticated and undeniably masculine.
One has to wonder if Georges Duroy had worn Bel Ami, would he have gotten to the top of the Parisian social ladder faster? Without doubt.
Check out Bel Ami in our shop.