Hermes : Bel Ami

Created by : Jean Louis Sieuzac

Date : 1986

Genre : Peppery leather

Concentration : eau de toilette

When I read that a Parisian woman long in the industry told Chandler Burr of the New York Times that the people at Hermes “like animals more than people”, I burst out laughing. Now, there’s a statement!

Much has been written of Hermes’ new minimalist trend but I don’t want to talk about this today. I want to go back in time to when perfume didn’t have to be discreet or apologetic… when it was OK to wear perfume and have people around you notice. I’m talking about the bombastic 80s when Bel Ami was launched and added its exquisite baritone voice to the somewhat small choir of leather perfumes.. a choir which today is almost silent.

But Bel Ami, although launched in 1986, draws its inspiration from an even earlier time. I wonder if it wasn’t created after Georges Duroy, Guy de Maupassant’s scoundrel of the classic novel Bel Ami (1885) who uses women like rungs of a ladder. Bel Ami’s cumin-laced peppery-leather accord is absolutely perfect for the character… nasty, ultra-sexy and with an in-your-face animalic facet. Cumin with its sweaty notes is not for everyone but Bel Ami itself is not for everyone and so to add cumin to this leather marvel fits perfectly.

The musk drydown must be of excellent quality because it resisted my laundry detergent and it gave my clothes a wonderfully clean laundry musk scent when I pulled it from the dryer… so, so beautiful… and so different from where it all started. Those who read me know that I love movement and surprises in my perfumes… so Bel Ami has moved to the front of the shelf. Leather, sweat, pepper and musk… masculine, sexy AND repulsive… like Hercules after a night out.

Wear it when you want to channel your inner bad boy… whether you have an inner bad boy or not.

In closing, 2011 will see the release of Bel Ami, the movie, with dark-hearted Georges Duroy played by pretty boy Robert Pattinson. Odd choice. Very odd.

Top image : Drunken Hercules (detail, c. 1611) by Peter Paul Rubens

Bottom image : Robert Pattinson in Bel Ami (2011)

Leave a comment


  1. Anonymous

     /  December 6, 2010

    Gosh I love Bel Ami. I was lucky enough to get an older bottle, which is a little more eclectic than the more recent reformulation. That said, the reformulation lasts better on me. I like both a lot, really, but it helped me to smell the old and see how even subtle differences in a fragrance, minor adjustments, can have major effects. Oddly, I never get the skank in Bel Ami. Wait a minute, yes I do. Now I sort of see what it is, from reading your post. It’s more like a sweat note, right? Have you smelled Eau d’Hermes?

    • Hi!
      Actually, I haven’t tried Eau d’Hermes yet. What is it like? Bel Ami’s sweat note comes and goes. I think it’s fun to wear a fragrance with no flowers, no fruits, no fresh green notes… really, from another time and space.

  2. Sorry, that comment was mine.

  3. Hercules after a night out! Brilliant 🙂

  4. brian

     /  December 10, 2010

    Eau smells of…gosh I can’t remember exactly what eau smells like. Good. I wish I hadn’t passed up an older bottle I once saw here in town. I remember liking it a lot. The newer formula I like a little less but it’s still nice.

  5. Eric

     /  January 28, 2011

    Eau d’Hermes smells fresh and citrusy at first. Then the ogre shows up! It turns into the scent of an old man who just shaved but did not shower, drenched himself in a musky cologne and who is standing in a closet full of non-fresh old sweaters and awful old suits. The scent is almost like the smell of a thrift shop full of unclean old vintage pieces.
    It is the Cumin that gives it this horrible lingering leathery BO note.
    It is like a bad memory that is engraved in our minds and that we all try to erase.
    It may have been acceptable years ago but it’s very hard to pull nowadays.
    Please read Luca Turin’s take on it in “The Book”.

    • Ouch! Sounds… uh… lovely? I just read Luca Turin’s take. Give me a bright white soapy note (as in Givenchy III) anyday! Thanks for sharing your thoughts… only next time, don’t hold back… hehehe.

  6. Eric

     /  January 28, 2011

    I know…Sorry I got all worked up Normand!
    I was trying to save your readers money because I know how we perfume collectors start “fixating” on a desire for an old classic.
    I love the collectors numbered bottles of Eau d’Hermes made of heavy lead crystal and engraved with the “Hermes Theme of the year” with a different color leather ribbon around the neck every year. They were sold in Hermes stores exclusively between 1993 and 2003 and cost a fortune. They are timeless pieces of art actually. I have all of them with the exception of “The year of the Sun” (1994).
    But the juice is just unwearable. So I feel a bit “cheated” to have spent all that money and not to be able to use the scent.
    The attempt from Hermes to relaunch Eau d’Hermes in the late 90’s was a flop. Unlike Bel Ami which marks an era, Eau d’Hermes needs a revision that keeps the opening citrus and the heart of cinnamon with a touch of leather, but takes out the cumin note completely. Otherwise it’s a scent best left in the archives.

    • You know… you really ought to consider writing a blog. You know ALOT about this stuff.

      I have alot of perfume that I need for the collection but I find unwearable. I can’t wear Fracas! It’s that tuberose-blood note. Eesh! And although I love the idea of rose chypres, I find them a bit much. And Cuir de Russie! I wrote a whole post on it. When I buy something, I pretty well know whether if it’s for the collection… or for me. For instance, I’m going to buy Youth Dew tomorrow for a presentation I’m giving on Wednesday. It’s DEFINITELY for the collection.

      Thanks for writing. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.

  7. Eric

     /  January 28, 2011

    Thank you very much Normand. Your blog is all I need in my life this time around.
    Perhaps in my next life when I don’t have to see patients with skin problems…and when writing on-line probably becomes a “virtual task” and humans would just have to think about it and it’s there, in the blogosphere!
    Our present computers would look like as dated as a 1980 walkman does now.
    Please let me know which scents I can send you to try from my collection. You have my email address. Or just invite me up to Montreal so I don’t have to deal with filling out customs forms at the post office. I love your city and you know it.

    • Please… don’t feed my habit! As for coming to Montreal… spring and fall are beautiful. How about coming up for spring and staying till fall! 😉


  8. Eric

     /  January 28, 2011

    Youth Dew!
    That’s a real tough one my friend. I think wearing a canotier hat is easier than pulling off Youth Dew nowadays!
    Do you know the real story of how Madame Estee convinced Saks to carry her Youth Dew Bath Oil back then?
    (Bath Oil was the first form of youth Dew but could be worn directly on skin. The market was not as crowded back then and consumers were less discerning)
    I’m getting tickled just thinking about her charisma. Sure enough, it ended up marking an entire generation of women (the surviving ones are in nursing homes nowadays) and Madame Estee created an Empire.

    • I get Coca-Cola out of Youth Dew and I’m not sure I can wear it… but I need it to show my conference attendees just how smart she was! Another watershed was Revlon’s Charlie.

      I didn’t know you could wear the bath oil at the time directly on the skin!!! Smart woman!

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