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.
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 Jean-Claude Ellena to comply with IFRA regulations. I have never smelled the vintage version, but I'm sure glad I 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.
Notes: cardamom, basil, clove, Russian leather, musk, iris, patchouli, vetiver and vanilla.