Hermes Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver : Fragrance Review

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Even for the accomplished perfumer, re-orchestrating a classic is a formidable task. Not only does the new version have to respect the original spirit, it needs to add a new, distinctive twist. In addition, it must also follow current regulatory stipulations on the use of ingredients, be on budget and make sense within the brand’s DNA. No wonder most remakes fall short of such high expectations.

bel-ami-vetiver-hermes

Hermès is a more respectful brand than most others of its heritage, but I was nevertheless skeptical of the proposition to rework their classics, which include such legends as Caléche and modern gems such as Hiris. The consolation was that  the new versions redesigned by in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would live alongside the originals. The first in the series was Bel Ami Vétiver, which reinterpreted the leather chypre from 1986.

Created by Jean-Louis Sieuzac, the original Bel Ami has a mellow combination of smoky leather and musk, generously laced with sugary vanilla and amber. The surprise here comes in two stages: first, there is the spicy sharpness of basil and clove, and later, the romantic twist of iris. It’s suave and languid, a perfume that smells of leather bound books and sweet pipe tobacco.

Because of perfume ingredient regulations, Jean-Claude Ellena already had to re-interpret Bel Ami when he took the reigns at Hermès, and Bel Ami lost some of its darkness but gained plenty of radiance. It’s clear from smelling Bel Ami Vétiver that Ellena aimed to retain the features that make this fragrance unique. The two perfumes are more like siblings than distant relatives. Ellena preserved some of Bel Ami’s musky sweetness and the shimmer of spices, while toning down the earthy, balsamic finish. There is still a nod to the retro panache of Bel Ami–a delightfully old fashioned chypre, even post-IFRA.

Despite my misgivings, I enjoy Bel Ami Vétiver. It has everything that I expect from a successful re-orchestration: Bel Ami’s character is recognizable within its radiant composition, it’s elegant, and best of all, it unfolds in several stages. After the bitter and tart prelude of orange and ginger, Bel Ami Vétiver falls into the soft glow of spices. Cumin gives a sweaty, dusky warmth to the woods, while sheer incense darkens the drydown. The advertised vetiver is front and center, redolent of bleached driftwood and green hazelnuts in their frilly husks. It has the breezy quality of many of Ellena’s compositions, but it lasts for most of the day.

Bel Ami Vétiver is a modern dandy with a penchant for black-and-white movies and an occasional cigar, and there is no mistaking its classical “masculine” character. But it doesn’t mean that Bel Ami Vétiver is off-limits to women, and anyone who likes their cocktails dry and their leather well-worn should give it a try.

Since the original Bel Ami will still be a part of the collection, we have the best of both worlds: retro or contemporary, or perhaps both.

Hermès Bel Ami features notes of cardamom, elemi, basil, carnation, iris, patchouli, Russian leather, vetiver, amber, civet, styrax and vanilla. Bel Ami Vétiver emphasizes vetiver and soft leather. 100 ml Eau de Toilette/€ 88.  Available at Hermès boutiques.

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60 Comments

  • Lucas: Thank you Victoria for your review. Glad to hear that Bel Ami Vetiver didn’t turn out to be a bad interpretation.
    I’m looking forward to smelling the remade Hiris. February 17, 2014 at 8:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I would be curious to smell the remade Hiris, although it already seems like something that needs no improvement. February 17, 2014 at 11:08am Reply

      • behemot: Definitely no need to remake Hiris…. February 17, 2014 at 1:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: No need to gild the lily, right? :) (Or iris, in this case!) February 17, 2014 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Marie: My father wore Bel Ami and I love it. It makes a nice memory. I never think of wearing it myself but maybe I will try Bel Ami Vétiver. February 17, 2014 at 9:13am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such an elegant fragrance! Bel Ami Vetiver also has the same sophistication and a suggestion of retro glamour. February 17, 2014 at 11:09am Reply

  • Eric: Interesting review! I’m going to look for Bel Ami and its vetiver variation at Hermes. Leather chypres are my favourites, and I’m surprised I missed Bel Ami thus far. I have and enjoy Eau d’Hermes and Equipage. February 17, 2014 at 9:32am Reply

    • Victoria: You’ll enjoy sampling it then. It’s not to say that it smells exactly like Eau d’Hermes and Equipage, but its character is not dissimilar. Plus, if you like chypres, either version is worth trying. February 17, 2014 at 11:10am Reply

      • James: I had a sample of Eau d’Hermes for a while and didn’t wear it much until recently. I’m liking it more and more, especially the cardamom up on top. Ellena must have been inspired by it. February 17, 2014 at 12:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: Makes sense to me. I think that Ellena was inspired by Eau d’Hermes when he created Declaration for Cartier. February 17, 2014 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: Thanks for another enchanting reivew, Victoria. You had me at “bitter and tart prelude of orange and ginger” and “green hazelnuts in their frilly husks”. I will try to sample them soon. The watercolour strokes in the background make it look as if it’s part of the Hermessence collection. Speaking of JCE, have you tried Van Cleef & Arpels First recently? Is the EDP still as good as it was when you reviewed in 2006? February 17, 2014 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that they’ve redone the graphics for the entire collection in this manner. It’s charming, but some people have complained that it’s a bit repetitive. I personally like the presentation and the drawings instead of the more usual photographs.

      I haven’t compared the versions of First recently, so I can’t say. One of the commenters mentioned recently that she noticed some changes, but that she still liked the perfume. I’ll try to get a hold of new sample and smell them side by side. February 17, 2014 at 11:13am Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Oh, so they’ve redone all the graphics. I just visited the Hermes website and I like them a lot!

        Yes, I would really appreciate if you could smell them side by side and update your original review. But I know that you’ve got tons of other things to smell so please take your time. I smelled First for the first time during my first trip to Paris recently. It was a business trip and I could only spare an hour to go around the department stores. Anyway, I was really struck by the initial sparkle and the blinding radiance. It was a beautiful, elegant perfume, albeit being more soapy than expected. I can’t describe how magical it was to smell it as I walked along the Seine and saw the Eiffel tower sparkling. It made such an impression on me that I think I’ll always associate this perfume with Paris. :-) February 17, 2014 at 3:34pm Reply

        • Jillie: Anne, I loved your story of Paris and First! I have smelt First recently and unusually I didn’t detect much difference between this and the older versions – but maybe I don’t know it as well as other perfumes. I am looking forward to Victoria’s expert opinion! February 18, 2014 at 2:40am Reply

          • Victoria: It wouldn’t be an expert opinion, just musings of someone smitten by First! I love that perfume. :) February 18, 2014 at 11:39am Reply

          • Anne of Green Gables: Thank you, Jillie. I’m glad to hear that you didn’t detect much difference between the current and older versions. I also loved your story of Fidji and Tunisia! February 18, 2014 at 3:45pm Reply

        • Victoria: Your story about smelling First in Paris is pure romance. I can just imagine it! I had a similar experience with Chamade, which is why whenever I smell it, I think of Paris.

          I’ll be sure to try First when I pass by the counter that sells it. You’ve inspired me to revisit it, so thank you. :) February 18, 2014 at 11:34am Reply

          • Jillie: Victoria, when I smell Fidji I think of Tunisia! I was a teenager and in love with Fidji which I wore all through my holiday there. It was such an exotic vacation for me, and I was very impressionable so even now a smell of the perfume will remind me of those beautiful beaches and palm trees – and really Fidji was very appropriate (accidentally!). February 18, 2014 at 12:04pm Reply

            • Victoria: What a great association! Fidji is such a special perfume to me. My mother wore it, when I was little. She even got a bottle not long enough as a gift. Interestingly enough, She noticed that the fragrance is different but she’s very much enjoying it. To me it smells like green grapes, jasmine tendrils and mossy stones, a wistful, romantic and yet confident scent. February 18, 2014 at 2:18pm Reply

          • Anne of Green Gables: I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion on First. I tried to sample Bel Ami Vetiver but it’s not available in Germany yet. But I tested Bel Ami and Equipage. Bel Ami was quite spicy and the hint of cumin note made me feel a little uneasy. But Equipage was love at first sniff! I would love my dad to smell like this and I think I could wear it too. February 18, 2014 at 4:06pm Reply

            • Victoria: Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver both have cumin, which I know some people really dislike. It doesn’t bother me in these perfumes, but I can see why that kind of animalic, sweaty note can be off-putting.

              Equipage is my one of top favorites from Hermes. There is something of the old world elegance about it. February 18, 2014 at 4:58pm Reply

            • Victoria: So, I tried First EDP today, and while I didn’t compare it side by side, it’s excellent. I wore the vintage yesterday, so it was fresh in my mind. The jasmine is rich and luscious, and the aldehydes seem softer in the new version (a good thing in my book). It’s still lasting well after being sprayed on the blotter this morning. February 19, 2014 at 2:52pm Reply

              • Anne of Green Gables: Oh, thank you so much for letting me know, V. I’m very glad to hear that it’s still in excellent condition. I tested it on my skin and it lasted for a long time with good sillage. I think that this could be a nice wedding perfume.

                I’m sorry to hear about what’s going on in Kiev at the moment. I pray that the conflict will be peacefully resolved soon. February 19, 2014 at 3:20pm Reply

                • Victoria: I think so too. It’s glamorous and elegant, and it really makes a statement.

                  Another perfume I tried today and really liked was Jicky parfum. It seems to have been tweaked again, and the new version is very nice. Or maybe I’m craving some citrus in this grey weather.

                  And thank you, I hope so too. February 19, 2014 at 5:14pm Reply

          • maja: I think our stories of where and when we smelled a certain perfume for the first time could become a new post. :) I remember the first time I smelled First, too. Nothing fancy but still very, very pleasant. February 19, 2014 at 9:19am Reply

            • Victoria: That’s a great idea, Maja! Imagine the stories we will hear. :) February 19, 2014 at 2:47pm Reply

  • Kathy Bible: Great review, Victoria. I would not have tried these fragrances before, but now I will sample them. Your reviews are always so detailed and helpful. February 17, 2014 at 9:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Kathy! Bel Ami is worth sampling, because it’s such a well-made leather perfume. I think that most women will find it slightly too masculine, though. February 17, 2014 at 11:14am Reply

  • Kathy Bible: By the way, have you done any reviews of the Nez a Nez line of perfumes?

    I tried their Figues et Garcons fragrance and quite liked it. This is the only one of their scents I have tried but I’d be interested in knowing more about the line and what you think about them. Thank you!! February 17, 2014 at 9:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t reviewed Nez a Nez yet. I’ve smelled them a while ago, and I recall that Figues et Garcons was one of my favorites. But I don’t remember much about the line. Maybe, it’s time to revisit it. February 17, 2014 at 11:15am Reply

  • Austenfan: It sounds so good. I think I love Bel Ami. I always mix up Equipage and Bel Ami. I did quite a bit of department store sniffing the other day. Bel Ami/Equipage and Bang were firm favourites.
    I hope Hermès will continue their adherence to quality once Nagel takes over from Ellena. February 17, 2014 at 10:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope so too, and given how well Hermes has treated its line so far, it’s probably right to expect them to continue this way. Well, fingers crossed!

      But more than anything, I’m looking forward to the new fragrances by Christine Nagel as she starts with Hermes (and same goes, for Olivier Polge as he takes over his father’s position at Chanel). February 17, 2014 at 11:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, yes, me too! I also mix up Equipage and Bel Ami. At first I reviewed only Bel Ami Vetiver, being sure that I already wrote about the original Bel Ami. But no, although I’ve reviewed Equipage before. :) February 17, 2014 at 11:25am Reply

  • James: Thank you for reviewing Bel Ami Vetiver. I was looking forward to this perfume ever since I read about its launch. February 17, 2014 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you can try it soon. I would love to hear what others think about it vis-a-vis the original. February 17, 2014 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Elena: Interesting! I love Bel Ami and have even considered getting my husband (who doesn’t wear scent unless he’s trying to get lucky) a decant so I can spritz him periodically. I have worn it a few times myself, but even though I love leathers and iris and tobacco, I don’t choose it often since I think of it as “masculine”. I think I need to get over it, as I really do adore Bel Ami. Vetiver tends to signal masculine to me as well, but this sounds like a must try regardless. I wonder if it will reach Nordstrom? I don’t get out too much these days. February 17, 2014 at 12:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: The late drydown of Bel Ami Vetiver is the best part, when the incense comes out and you get this soft combination of incense and woods. The start is citrusy and fresh, but the heart of the perfume is what makes me think “masculine scent.” Still, there are so many turns to it that I recommend trying it, especially if you like leather. February 17, 2014 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Adriana Galani: Going to surely see on this one, if only for the Guy De Maupassant inspired name which makes me think of an opulent classic! February 17, 2014 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t make the Maupassant connection at first, but yes, with that in mind, how can one think of anything other than opulent! The original Bel Ami, of course, deserves our attention, as it’s one of the rare mossy-leathery perfume species these days. February 17, 2014 at 2:22pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: I always wondered why Bel Ami was considered a name for a perfume. After all, the Bel Ami from the novel is an opportunist, unscrupulous, a scoundrel far from sympathetic!
        But the smell is great. I will sniff asap the new version. February 17, 2014 at 4:58pm Reply

        • Jillie: Cornelia I thought the same thing about the rather unatractive character from the novel! But he probably did smell good ….. February 18, 2014 at 2:42am Reply

        • Victoria: Perhaps, because while the character is an utter scoundrel, he’s irresistible to women? I also wondered about that. And well, Bel Ami on its own is lovely name. February 18, 2014 at 11:36am Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: Victoria, what a keen observation! Sad but true. As Rigoletto observes: Povero cor di donna! February 18, 2014 at 12:27pm Reply

            • Victoria: But my favorite story from Maupassant must be “Boule de Suif.” February 18, 2014 at 2:23pm Reply

  • james1051: Vintage Bel Ami was just too heavy on the moss for me. I have been meaning to try the contemporary version, but along comes Bel Ami Vetiver. If the moss is reduced (or gone), and it never less retains the character of the original, it could be just what I was hoping for. February 17, 2014 at 6:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: True, Bel Ami sold today is much less mossy, and it’s actually one of the instances where I like the new version more than the original. I like how each layer has an interesting transparent effect. Bel Ami Vetiver is even more so. February 18, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

  • maja: I think we have started taking for granted the beautiful way you write and review perfumes so I will just underline that this is a very charming and elegant review. :)
    I will be in Milan next month and will definitely try to sample it. February 18, 2014 at 5:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Maja! :) I look forward to your thoughts. Also, when you’ll be smelling Hermes perfume, try the current version of Caleche. I’m enjoying it very much. February 18, 2014 at 11:41am Reply

      • maja: Me, too, I have the edt. The fantastic thing about it is that it works in really hot weather, too. I wore it a couple of times when the temperatures were high with my pastel pink silk shirt, such a great combination :) February 18, 2014 at 3:31pm Reply

        • Victoria: I heard so many scary things about its reformulation that I approached it with some trepidation, but it turned out to be lovely. The EDT has the airy, radiant character, and I completely see how it would work with a pink silk shirt and some sunshine. :) February 18, 2014 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Aria: I’m so glad that this is one case of reinterpretation gone right, as well as the fact that Hermes lets both the new and the old sit side by side on the shelf. I dislike when a perfume line discontinues a fragrance because of how a bit of perfume history is lost (and I dislike it even more if I haven’t yet had the pleasure of smelling it yet! ;) February 18, 2014 at 7:29am Reply

    • Victoria: I admit that initially I was skeptical of this exercise, but I’m enjoying smelling Bel Ami and its vetiver version side by side so much that I can’t wait what Ellena does with other classics. (I’m still on the fence about a riff on Hiris, but well, I might also be pleasantly surprised. :) February 18, 2014 at 11:43am Reply

  • Patricia K: Your review makes me want to try Bel Ami. I like my cocktails dry. ;) February 18, 2014 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: In that case, you might appreciate it. :) February 18, 2014 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Isis: Thank you for a lovely review, its nice to see how you compare the two perfumes! I’ve tried the original Bel Ami a few times but never got round to buying it for my husband. I think I prefer Bel Ami Vetiver, its really beautiful, but the weird thing is that my brain keeps getting confused every time I pick out the vetiver… I am so used to seeing this as a fresh and crisp note that smelling it in a dark, warm leathery scent sort of throws me off. Isn’t it funny how our expectations influence how we smell certain notes? I can’t wait to see what Ellena wll do with Rocabar! I think Rocabar may be my favourite of their masculine scents. February 18, 2014 at 4:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: That contrast is fascinating, isn’t it? I really like how the perfume initially lead me to expect something bright and then it suddenly turns darker and darker. February 18, 2014 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Jeannette: Good evening everyone,
    Victoria, I thank you for writing such wonderful review. I love anything made by Hermes, I have been wearing Caleche for ever. I was in France this past summer, the sale’s girl introduced to me”Le Jardin Sur Le Nil” which I purchased in addition to my favorite one. I am currently single, nonetheless… I Will buy Bel Ami for myself, I love Vetiver and the other ingredients are suitable for winter wear.
    Warm regard February 19, 2014 at 6:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bel Ami is too good to leave just for boys. :) I don’t wear it often myself, but whenever I need a break from florals, it’s great. February 20, 2014 at 4:19am Reply

  • Jeannette: Please send me newsletters.
    Thank you February 19, 2014 at 6:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Jeannette, you can click on the options in the top left of the header to get email notifications. There are also other subscription options, so you can decide whichever one is best for you. February 20, 2014 at 4:18am Reply

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