“Without disrupting the past order – the same balance, the same confident elegance, the same classic structure – Jean-Claude Ellena created his own interpretation of Bel Ami based on a new ingredient: vetiver. From chypre leather to woody leather: now the light of warm, woody, green vetiver, with a very subtle smokiness, becomes the centrepiece, replacing the patchouli of before.” – Hermès on Bel Ami Vetiver.
Many fragrance blogs and websites are filled with stories of individuals losing their favourite fragrance. I think when you find your signature fragrance it must feel horrible to find out that it has been either discontinued or reformulated to an extent that it is no longer recognisable. The current Bel Ami on offer today in Hermès boutiques is, as you can infer, nothing like what it used to be. I am instantly reminded of Fahrenheit by Dior and Mitsouko by Guerlain in which many individuals stopped wearing these fragrances because it became and smelt nothing like what is used to be; the same runs true for Bel Ami.
Strictly speaking, Bel Ami Vetiver is a flanker of Bel Ami, however in my opinion could easily replace the Bel Ami that exists today, rather than act as a younger brother. I myself prefer Bel Ami Vetiver over the reformulated Bel Ami without a doubt. And if it wasn’t obvious, Jean-Claude Ellena is my favourite perfumer, and this fragrance showcases why he is without all the minimalist excuses. Ellena is perfectly capable of making slightly denser and less translucent fragrances. This fragrance in particular highlights new facets of Ellena’s ability in both the conservation, restoration and creation of perfume.
This fragrance is refreshing whilst being both masculine and intellectual. It takes a retrospective look at 1980’s and 1990’s powerhouse fragrances given the twenty-first century sense of modernity and restraint made very popular in niche perfumery. This fragrance reminds me of Terre D’Hermès in two ways – in that the possibility for another breakthrough is there for Bel Ami Vetiver, and that Bel Ami Vetiver seems somewhat ahead of its time, despite being a ‘vintage’ inspired fragrance.
© 2014 Liam Sardea
Bel Ami Vetiver has a very distinctive barbershop chypre and oriental tone, calling to mind cremes emulsifying into a rich lather, scented lightly with soapy leather and musk. However, Bel Ami Vetiver still smells very modern, as if the barbershop style of leather/woody-chypre fragrance served only as the inspiration. This fragrance is neither vintage, dated, nor conforming to fragrant trends, but rather it seems like a comfortable hybrid of these features.
How? I have come to the realisation and the resultant conclusion that Bel Ami Vetiver recalls the era of heavy perfumery from the very late twentieth century (Antaeus, Egoïste, Fahrenheit, Bel Ami, Lagerfeld Photo) with an Ellena-esque set of characteristics, with these fusing wonderfully to display a neo-approach to perfumes. If we look at the Hermessence line, JCE’s ‘children’, we discover watercolours and effortless transparency, certainly without lacking gravitas or persuasion. Thus, for Bel Ami Vetiver, we get a very powerful foundation of an old school firmness, and a contrapposto of weightlessness and diffusion – a chiaroscuro of differently patterned scent profiles.
Bel Ami Vetiver begins not predominantly with vetiver, but tonka (akin to Vetiver Tonka from 2004). There’s a slight gourmand edge of roasted legumes, with emphasis on hazelnut and tonka beans. This mellow richness contrasts with a bitter orange twang riddled with lots and lots of warm gingerbread spice.
As with the original fragrance, the leathery suede used here would be a deep chocolate brown colour with an immediately tangible plushness that is soft, melting, and intimate. The leather nuances are muted against a wall of green vetiver, amongst a series of contrasting timbres stemming from amber and styrax resins, giving a really intriguing impression of strong black tea brewed with a hint of sticky and oily birch tar – the shoebox connotation exists, and it is faint. Bel Ami Vetiver hints at sweetness too, but never really is; this is most likely caused by the nutty legume notes and tonka in the composition.
Whilst notes like birch tar, suede and tonka suggest a heavy fragrance, the usage of iris and carnation keep this all in balance. Bel Ami Vetiver is still ridded with little subtleties and peculiarities – whilst the vetiver seems impossibly smooth, whilst musk gives softness and a sprinkling of cedarwood gives dustiness. There is the tiniest suggestion of civet present, adding to the masculine and animalic nature of this fragrance. And also, Bel Ami Vetiver suggests that vetiver takes centre stage in the composition, however it merely belongs in the heart accord that is simultaneously herbaceous, rowdy, meaty and nutty. This also attributes to some of its complexities and pairs wonderfully with the bitter orange laden suede/leather note, making for a wonderfully balsamic drydown.
Effortlessly dandified for today’s dandies, Bel Ami Vetiver boasts an iridescent range of spice notes like cumin and incense, with a wood note also redolent of chypre perfumes – perfect for the contemporary gentleman of today who holds onto yesteryear values, mannerisms and tradition in the cool of autumn and chill of winter.
Alternatives: Vetiver Tonka by Hermès; Bel Ami by Hermès; and Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford.
A smooth and malted fragrance with old school written all over it. Certainly not dated!
Subjective rating : 4/5
Objective rating: 4/5