Sunday, July 26, 2009

Readers Write: Hermes Bel Ami

People who know me or meet me for the first time often request fragrance recommendations. I take these inquiries seriously as fragrance is an intimate experience that affects the senses of the wearer and those in their immediate vicinity. After a few lifestyle and fragrance history questions, I can intuitively meet the seeker’s request. There are occasions when one fragrance begs to be worn and no other will do. When Steve Carroll, a fellow Metro North commuter, made his request, the perfect match was instantly clear; Bel Ami by Hermès.

Steve Carroll has a no-holds-barred attitude. He is quick-witted, well-read and can be absolutely hysterical while maintaining a straight face. Steve also has a serious side, which as a woman, I key into quickly; it’s an endearing quality that lives under a tough exterior. He is one of the few married men I know who loves to shop and dresses impeccably. His collection of hats is renowned and they complement a few pairs of rather fabulous boots (a personal weakness on my part, but we’ll save that for another blog post).

I’ll never forget this encounter. I was on the 5:59 Hudson line train and just a few short stops from the town of Hastings-on- Hudson, where I live. The train was traveling against a colorful summer sunset when suddenly someone from the back of the car exclaimed “Michelle Krell Kydd, I love you!” I was a bit perplexed and slightly embarrassed because I could not see the face behind the voice. I live in a small town in Westchester. These sorts of things can quickly lead to rumors.

I looked behind my seat and saw Steve’s telltale hat a few aisles away. Those who know him would not start rumors, I thought. Those that didn't, well, suffice to say I felt an undeserved scarlet letter “A” beginning to burn on my chest. The fact that I accepted a ride in his PT Cruiser convertible after the fact was probably not the smartest thing I ever did; grist for the rumor mill. What ensued for the duration of the ride was a non-stop love letter to Bel Ami by Hermès. Steve found a part of himself in the bottle and it was obvious that the scent was a perfect fit.

It’s been at least three years since that charming incident. The memory recently resurfaced when I received this email from Steve:
“Remember me...Steve Carroll...lover of the dulcet tones of your voice...fascinated by any words that come out of your mouth? Anyway, hi! How are you? You've ruined my life. Remember you turned me on to Hermès' Bel Ami? Well, it’s my favorite scent and I always bought it discounted online. Well now it seems Hermès is limiting production so the only way I can get it is to pay the full $120 freight either direct from Hermès, or at Neiman Marcus etc. which as a frugal man with great taste and common sense I cannot do. (I would usually pay $40 to $55 online.) So I need you to be a perfume expert and look at the notes that comprise this delicious scent and tell me what is similar out there. Can you do that for me? I look forward to your incredibly informed response”.
I did not want to encourage another gray market purchase and contacted Hermès with regard to Bel Ami’s availability. I responded to Steve prior to receiving a response from Hermès:
"Let me see what I can find out. In the meantime, I can recommend that you smell something that is, unfortunately, at the same price point as Hermès' Bel Ami, however, it is one of the best composed fragrances I have ever smelled. The key ingredient is Vetiver. Extremely seductive, so if you are thinking about having a second child (or just going through the motions) you might enjoy it. Encre Noir by Lalique. P.S. No gray market on this fragrance, which means very few men in the vicinity of your scent trail will be able to touch its magnificence and compete with your indefatigable mojo.”
As it turns out there are no issues regarding Bel Ami’s availability in-store, which is a sign that the brand has a tighter reign on distribution and quality. Gray market product, though less expensive, can be old, improperly stored or counterfeit, so I never recommend it (it’s also why you don’t see Google ads populating the pages of Glass Petal Smoke). A true luxury company respects the heritage of its brand and the products it creates under its namesake. Case in point: Hermès returned to the house perfumer model before the notion was retrofitted by other fragrance companies.

In 2005, I met with house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès’ offices in New York City and still treasure this precious moment; looking at the formula for Un Jardin Sur Le Nil that the perfumer had written in an orange Moleskin notebook on a plane ride home. It’s a moment I will never forget and the reason why Glass Petal Smoke is of the opinion that Hermès deserves to be supported financially because they support the art of perfumery; something that has been forgotten by many major perfume brands.


Steve Carroll is currently in possession of a genuine bottle of Bel Ami by Hermès, courtesy of Hermès. He might be persuaded to try Encre Noir by Lalique; a sample of this is now available to him, courtesy of Aedes de Venustas.

This article about Jean Claude Ellena appeared in the New Yorker on March 14, 2005. It’s a great read and offers insight into the perfumer’s world.

According to the Hermès website, the notes in Bel Ami include, "An audacious mix of cardamom, amber, patchouli and leather." Glass Petal Smoke's nose also detects Vetiver.

Bel Ami was inspired by Guy de Maupassant's second novel. It has the flavor of a detective story and can be found here. Bel Ami means "beautiful friend" in French.