Vintages Weil: Furriers and Parfumeurs of Dreams

Weil: Furriers and Parfumeurs of Dreams

01/26/14 15:14:16 (13 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Shed a tear for the unsung status of parfums Weil, who even though consistently purveyors of luxury, due to ruptures in production and stocking, have remained a well kept secret even among collectors of the obscure, with the possible exception of their Antilope.

Furriers since 1912 (already a century on their back!), well before they became makers of fine fragrance, the venture of the founder Alfred—and his brothers, Marcel and Jacques—into perfumery resulted from the direct request of a client for a fragrance suitable to fur wearing.

Now anyone who has worn fur or collected vintage fur knows, the fuzzy, wonderfully soft stuff develops two discernible sorts of pong: the animalic, often catty and acrid smell of the skinned hide itself, and the musty scent developing while in summer (or many successive seasons') packing, rolled up between tissue paper in the attic.

It is characteristic that the former president of L'Osmotheque when accosted by author Susan Irvine for an interview in the mid-1980s, and caught red-handed with a marine-smelling, innovative (at the time) oyster-reminiscent fragrance on his desk, admitted on the non marketability of the thing by saying that "bourgeois women wouldn't want this smell emanating from their furs."

Fur in itself has a peculiar ambience about it, so adding any layer of fragrance is a risky business. It also means that by applying any resinous or residue containing liquid one would risk harming the fur itself, producing blotchiness to the shade of the pelt or rough texture that will distract from its prized softness. How would a purveyor of furs in the first place solve this delicate problem?

Weil obligingly capitulated to the request and produced scents that would guarantee not to harm the fur itself, yet mask the unwelcome musty tonality that fur coats can accumulate after a while. The names are quite literal in this case: Zibeline (sable), Ermine (hermine), Chinchila, Une Fleur pour Fourrure (A Flower for Furs)…

Zibeline, the highest quality in furs for its legendary silky touch, its scarcity value and light weight without compromising its insulating properties, was the name chosen for the first fragrance by Weil. The animal captured in the steppes of imperial Russia had caught the collective conscious by 1928 thanks to the emigre population having fled the Bolshevik revolution and its aftermath. The rise of Orientalia with themes inspired by lands beneath the Volga and its boatmen also meant that audiences expected an exotic touch in a fragrance named after a prized critter caught in a land immersed in snow far East. It's impossible to know for sure what the original fragrance, commissioned by Marcel Weil and composed by Claude Fraysse assisted by his perfumer daughter, Jacqueline, smelled like. The remnants of flea markets and Ebay auctions cannot be conclusively trusted for various reasons. What the relics of a couple of bottles carefully inspected suggest is an expansive floral aldehydic veering into chypre tonalities, conceived as an evocation of the oak forests and steppes of imperial Russia.

Maybe the connection with a later fragrance in the Weil range, the elusive Chunga, introduced in 1977, following a string of great chypres with green elements and aldehydes of the times, elegantly assertive and resolutely determined is a sign of the Weil aesthetics. Maybe it's just a time contextualized thing. Antilope also bears some elements conductive to a Weil "signature" nevertheless, an old world sophistication.

Zibeline was released in diluted Eau de Toilette concentration in 1933, as part of a trio, but the formulations came and went with subtle differences and their history is quite interesting. First there was Zibeline, then the company issued the legendary "Secret de Venus" bath and body oils product line, with classical antiquity references of the goddess in her bath on the packaging, incorporating Zibeline among their other fragrances (a line most popular in the US) while later they reverted to plain Zibeline again. It's important for the collector to note that these highly sought after SDV products do not correspond to a single scent per se, but they're diversified according to the categories in the Weil portfolio of perfumes. Only trouble is some of them do NOT mention which perfume they're interpreting, making this MahJong of a game all the more difficult on the arduous perfume lover.

From what I have personally researched, the Eau versions of Secret de Venus Zibeline seem lighter, with less density, while the bath/body oil form approximates the spicy-musky tonalities of the Zibeline extrait de parfum, with the latter being more animalistic. The variations among perfume formulae within the same brand are not unheard of, especially in what concerns the American market and the contrast with the European, if parfums Lanvin can also be brought as a counterpoint to the matter with their Eau de Lanvin and Eau de My Sin and My Sin extrait or My Sin eau de toilette variations etc.

The older versions of Weil in parfum, as weaned off estate sales, were indeed buttery and very "skanky" (i.e. animalic, with animal derived notes), deliciously civet-laden with the fruit and floral elements more of an afterthought while around the 1950s the batches gained an incredible spicy touch to exalt that quality. It's interesting to note that as per Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French VOGUE, men often wore Zibeline in the 1950s!

The 1950s pillar for Weil was none other than Antilope, which in its vintage version (the fragrance launched in 1945-46) is a floral aldehyde chypre that begins old-fashioned, dry and powdery, with a top note of pure flowers smelt at a mountain top, a bit like Ma Griffe. This is a chalet in the French Alps we are talking about and the effect is decidedly elegant and sophisticated, however, not natural as we have come to expect from a contemporary "mountain reminiscent" fragrance which relies on transporting us to the outdoors rather than indoors. Excellent in (older) Eau de Cologne and (1980s introduced) Parfum de Toilette, Antilope embodies chic and stands middle-point between the leatheriness of Cabochard and the suaveness and good manners of both Madame Rochas and Calèche.

Marcel Weil's death in 1933 did not stop the Weil portfolio from expanding; they added several other perfumes, besides those mentioned already, let's merely reference Bambou, Cassandra and Noir. The Weil family was forced out of France by Hitler, so they re-established themselves in New York as did many other French refugees, the Chanel owners not the least among them. The chypré Antilope was issued in 1945, while upon return to Paris in 1946 Weil introduced Padisha. Sadly the multiple changing of hands resulted in the languishing of the firm by the 1980s and although the brand Weil has been in ownership of Interparfums (Aroli Aromes Ligeriens) since 2002, Parfums Weil is—as lamented at the top of this article—largely unsung and long due for a resurgence.

Photo copyright by Martha Kuper Brinson from etsy.com

The house of Weil has had an illustrious history of bringing out fragrances which speak of luxury, exotic hides, glorious landscapes and of fantasy and glamour. May they live a hundred years still!

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.

 



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synergypsy
synergypsy

Lovely article. Weil fragrances are unforgettable once you've had the rare opportunity to experience even just one. And to those who judge Weil poorly for being involved in a historically time-appropriate industry (furriers) please apply the same shocking absence of critical thinking to Fendi and other old line designers when discussing perfumes.

Dec
29
2015
jujy54
jujy54

My first Weil, the green, green Weil de Weil, was a gift from a friend's mom. This was in the early 80s. Since then I've acquired Zibeline, Antilope, Chunga, more Weil de Weil, Cassandra, and even the VVHTF Noir, as well as two masculines, Kipling and the contemporary version of Weil pour Homme. According to perfuleintelligence.co.uk, my signature scent, VVHTF Mollie Parnis was also by Weil. And I did go through an ounce of SdV bath oil, and, yes, in the bath! These are the crown jewels of my wardrobe, their construction and ingredients are equal to the best. I've been disappointed in the Aroli offerings, and would advise anyone to stay away from the hexagonal bottles of EdC which are just horrible.

Mar
17
2014
jenika
jenika

Miaw.

Jan
28
2014
Vie Cafe
Vie Cafe

@jenika,
I strongly advise that you proceed from being a carnivore to being an omnivore. This is so dangerous and will most likely lead to vitamin deficiency very quickly.

Cats are carnivores. Humans are omnivores!

Jan
28
2014
lanuitblanche
lanuitblanche

Thank you for this informative post, this company is truly elusive on the net. The Weil Zibeline made for fur is truly glorious. I tried it on a fur coat handed down to me by my mother, and it is like nothing I have ever experienced. And it is even fantastic on skin! Fur aside, I hope their perfumes get back to their former glory.

Jan
28
2014
Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

jenika,

no, I'm not putting them on the same level as arguments, I'm just pointing out that many people (in general) tend to 'forget" that we exploit animals in so many many ways (in a way keeping animals for company is to my mind questionable sometimes, in some cases; I get that knee-jerk reaction when I see huskies in 40C summer locally who huff and puff in heat exhaustion…._)

Like I said, these furs were made back when it was necessary to have them. Not anymore. We don't disagree. (And for the record, I've only worn vintage fur myself when it was really needed)
I don't think Weil is making fur any more…. For what it's worth. :-)

Jan
28
2014
jenika
jenika

Elena,
To put beef, chicken and fur animals in the same category, I find it a step in the wrong direction. I'm sure Cruella Devil thinks just the same.
Cause yes, we need beef and chicken in order to stay alive and I'm a carnivore.
But killing fur animals it's only for some ppl sense of fashion, is not even for keeping warm anymore (unless you live in a secluded part of the earth). Industry has evolved and we now have cotton and sinthetics and fake fur (lol). We have clothes that repel water and keep warmth inside, do we really need the fur of an animal?
Killing them only to proclaim status, to shout out one's wealth, that's so....middle age.
But yes, you are right! This is a perfume site, not the place to fight over animal rights. Sorry for that.
PS: I really find the article educational, it's a piece of history,and we should all learn from it.

Jan
28
2014
Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Jht4060,

glad you found it enjoyable and possibly helpful too. Thanks for saying so. :-)

Jan
28
2014
Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

@malencar,

you're welcome, glad you enjoyed.

@Annemarie,

good point. I don't they actually promote it at all. It's something that only the student of history gets to know more intimately.
Though I tend to believe that with vintage items the thing that remains is the memory of other times when practices we do not exactly condone today were a seal of glamor but also a necessity: there was no indoor heating and insulated cars with air-conditioning back then and people really needed those furs!

@jenika,

please see above. Also I don't believe they're into the fur trade anymore.
Additionally: These were not animals killed in the wild, but farmed to be eventually killed for human use, essentially like beef and chicken is produced today (for meat, ffor eggs, or hides/leather etc.). So frowning on one and not on the other is a bit pharisaic, I should guess, though it is a cruel practice, I'll give you that.

Jan
28
2014
jht4060
jht4060

Wonderfully informative article. Thanks!

Jan
27
2014
jenika
jenika

I felt sick reading the article. I wish Weil all the luck the little fur animals had ^^

Jan
27
2014
Annemarie
Annemarie

And yet Weil's long association with fur surely sits uncomfortably with perfume buyers today, many of whom would be actively opposed to the fur trade. Without repudiating that rich heritage, it must be difficult for Weil to attract new customers. A tricky balancing act.

Jan
26
2014
malencar
malencar

Very nice ...thank you so much !

Jan
26
2014

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