Friday, 18 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day V: Bel Ami


A simple pencil sketch by Gustav Klimt was used to accompany the press launch and advertising of the 1986 Hermès masculine Bel Ami... an erotic depiction of one of Klimt's wives, mistresses or whores seen lying spent, with legs splayed. Promoted with the evocative headline "Bel Ami est un grand seducteur" (Bel Ami is a great seducer), one could predict - long before a scented mouillette was lifted to your nose - that Bel Ami was going to be bold, commanding and unapologetic.

Likely inspired by the 1885 Guy de Maupassant novel Bel Ami; the story tells of Georges Duroy, a young man who rose to power by manipulating and bedding a string of powerful and influential mistresses. This fictitious scoundrel perhaps served as the muse behind the Bel Ami man... a self-assured, daring lover who leaves a string of women swooning in his wake. Originally presented in a faceted amber glass flacon in the form of a cocktail shaker, Bel Ami is resolutely suave, masculine and unrepentant.


Classified as a Woody Chypre, Bel Ami was composed by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac in an era of gratuitous excess... it embodies all the brawn and overt masculine energy common to many men's perfumes released in the 80's, but with the expected Hermès DNA of luxury and finesse.

Straight out of the bottle Bel Ami bowls you over with an infusion of woods and citrus. A fresh lemon / petitgrain / mandarin flight is rendered ombré with toasty, warm nuances of fragrant cedar. Notes of herbaceous sage and dusty, peppery carnation emerge that blanket the scent laterally like a fragrant mantle of  husky grey-green. As the fabric of this fragrance unfolds, a rich, earthy patchouli reaches up from below, partnered with a sensuous ribbon of comforting vanilla bourbon...  the entire composition feels thick and leather-like, like a man's body, slick with sweat. Dry mosses and resinous styrax lend an enduring fieriness and a generous dose of castoreum, an overtly sexual, animalic undertone. Not surprisingly, Bel Ami feels unafraid, extroverted, and openly sexual. A scent that epitomises gruff masculine vigor, and still observes the traditional conventions of the house of Hermès.

Bel Ami in recent years has been relaunched in a tidy rectangular flacon (above). Whilst I have not smelled the more modern release, I suspect it might have had the Jean Claude Ellena treatment, which is to say, I imagine it may be slightly more transparent. It is important to acknowledge that many perfume producers have a legal obligation to discontinue the use of restricted ingredients such as castoreum (a product once harvested from beavers) which is now re-created synthetically for ethical reasons. Whatever the case may be, Bel Ami remains to this day, one of the house's most loved and most venerated masculines.

Bel Ami is available in 100ml size at Hermès boutiques and online at Hermes.com .

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