THE UNKNOWABLE : : : WEIL DE WEIL (1971)

Weil was a Parisian furrier turned perfume house (founded in 1927), initially specializing in parfums de fourrure, scents that not only masked the sometimes unpleasant animalic undertones of natural furs, but complemented, beautified them. Perfumes such as the house’s classic Zibeline, alongside Chinchilla Royal, Hermine, Flamant Rose (Pink Flamingo), Padisha, Secret de Venus (a magical bath oil) and Une Fleur De Fourrure were all popular in the day, until the family was eventually expelled by the Nazis during World War II and were forced to emigrate to New York.

The company continued to create perfumes in America, but later made its peaceful return to Europe in 1946 with the release of the phenomenally successful Antilope, an incomparably serene aldehydic chypre I sometimes wear for its yellow-grassed tinges of calm and intrinsic elegance (and which was once chosen by the French Ministry Of Culture as a souvenir to be distributed to tourists visiting Paris). There is nothing quite like it, and even in tiny miniature parfum, Antilope is a scent I always look out for because sometimes, there are certain days when you just need to retreat to the tranquillity of its haven.

Weil, as a perfume house, now has fallen into anonymity since its grand heyday; the maison, as is often the case, deteriorating in scope and quality; fallen into the hands of numerous investors, passed along from one aromacompany to another, releasing populist sugar florals and gourmands of the current type (as you would expect, in order to keep up with the times), just at cheaper prices and with unfathomable names (‘Greedy Essence’, for instance, and………’So Weil’, which is of course quite problematic if, as I suspect, the first letter of the name might be pronounced like a ‘v’).

Weil De Weil, a perfume from 1971, released around the same time as Chanel N⁰19, Estée, and others in the 70’s vogue for green detachment, was a scent I was completely unaware of until some was kindly sent to me last week by a reader for whom this scent has a particular sharp poignancy. Weil de Weil comes from a more storied time in Weil’s history when the name still presumably had cachet in Europe and elsewhere, and was synonymous with a certain Frenchness and inscrutable panache (from the 1960’s, this was one of the first perfume houses to break the iron curtain and expand into Poland and beyond into U.S.S.R, based on its couturier reputation, and the success of its key perfumes, such as Cassandra).

As can be seen from a contemporary magazine of the period, Jean-Pierre Weil writes of wanting, with Weil De Weil, to create a perfume that was ‘fully floral’, light but enveloping; lovable, but ‘serious, like happiness’.

The perfume is, in fact, as the poster at the beginning of this piece announces, ‘as well as all these things, troubling, sumptuous and enigmatic’, a lovely green floral chypre with a mélange of fresh flowers (honeysuckle, mimosa, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, neroli, hyacinth and narcissus) freshened further with green galbanum and tangerine, but pulsating softly simultaneously with a warmer, mossier interior of oakmoss, vetiver civet, musk, and sandalwood in the classic style: beautiful: but unrevealing; quite difficult to pin down.

When I opened the the package from England, from the slight seepage in the plastic envelope, my first responses on smelling this treasure- were the perturbing end vestiges of the classic seductive floral aldehydes like Lanvin My Sin or Detchema by Revillon, another furrier, though the perfume I most thought of when I actually smelled it properly was that regal arch-romantic, Capricci Nina Ricci; a similarly cushioned, quiet, ladylike extravagance. When sprayed, the piquancy of the citric leaf freshness instead brought back memories of Lancôme Trophée and Ô De Lancôme, as well as the slightly more bitter quinolic Quiproquo by Grès, but each time I go to approach Weil De Weil I get something quite different from before. I don’t think, in fact, I have ever encountered a scent that refuses to give its identity in quite this way, that keeps revealing new facets I can’t grasp; I will have to wear it on different occasions and weathers to see precisely where it wants to lead me. Weil De Weil is a delicate shapeshifter, for sure; its own creature; complex, quite difficult to ‘place’. But also kind of ravishing: which, as a lifetime signature perfume, on one you love, I am sure must have been extraordinarily captivating.

19 Comments

Filed under Flowers

19 responses to “THE UNKNOWABLE : : : WEIL DE WEIL (1971)

  1. Hanamini

    Oh my, what a lovely review. I am going to have to re-read that several times, like you are re-sampling. Those flowers, galbanum, oakmoss….the elixir of life. Makes me wonder—was there a heyday for great perfumes, on a longish view? 1930-1990? Or is it just that we don’t know what anything before 1930 really actually smelled like? There is richness in Puredistance ones I like (Warszawa, Rubikona, Antonia), with staying power, but I don’t get the same delicious savoury depth or oiliness from many recent perfumes, even if I think “this smells gorgeous” when I first try them. Your posts have brought so many new joys to my nose with that sort of richness (eg Antilope).

    • We are the same in this regard.

      By no means do I want to wear vintage classics everyday : I like soliflore niche best for work and often at home as well – and I think that the Puredistance perfumes are good exemplars ( I really love Warszawa or however you spell it : rich bouquets); I adore Matiere Premiere’s Neroli Oranger, and so on and so forth, but much as these perfumes are pleasurable – on an olfactory level, often deeply so – they rarely MOVE me.

      True genius perfumery for me means capturing an emotion, often something vague and unobtainable – the BEYOND – but that almost never happens to me with contemporary releases. There is so much less poetry – and delicacy

  2. Robin

    I’m so glad you were able to try Weil de Weil. Not easy to find. You’ve done this shapeshifting fragrance justice. I love it.

    I drooled at your Weil ads. I would love to experience those more obscure releases. For some reason, I’ve been lucky finding the usual Weils and have a good stash, although everything seems to be drying up now supply-wise. Even Guerlains are getting tough to find. Vintage really is on the path to extinction. At one time I felt worried I was accumulating such an indulgent collection, back when old perfume was easily found, but now I look at all those bottles with profound gratitude.

    I marvel at how Weils hold up. Zibeline is indestructible! Weil de Weil too. It is Bambou weather now so I’ll fish some out of the depths. Thanks for the treat of this latest post, dear N.

    • You also have me salivating. Tell me more about Bambou and Zibeline!

      • Robin

        The original Bambou of 1984 is a soft, dry green floral with a Sicilian mandarin topnote, notably naturalistic compared to other greens of the era.

        Zibeline, 1928, is a mellow monster, very dark-smelling, a warm aldehydic-spicy-smoky-powdery-animalic. Part of the magic is that it’s not at all spicy, as that style might suggest. Lots of tonka, oakmoss and vetiver: golden-green along with the rich brown of the other notes. Could totally be 2022 niche, if they could ever get their paws on the ingredients. If Antilope is a light, lithe, smooth-hided gazelle, Zibelline is a hairy wolverine! Shape-shifting like VdN. One of those fragrances that is haunting on last winter’s scarf.

      • AAAGH you are killing me – I want to smell it on you!

        And I need Bambou. I can tell I would adore it.

    • Ps: the path to extinction is the terrifying reality. We need to get them while we still can. The other day I passed on a sealed 30ml Vol De Nuit extrait (boxed, pristine), because I didn’t quite have the 110 dollars on me and D was present, but also because I don’t like the ‘tulip’ bottles at all for some reason, only the square ones. But one day I will run out and think shit, remember that flea market in Hiratsuka

  3. I absolutely adore everything Weil!!! All of the scents I have from them are top notch, Weil de Weil is especially delicious. Some I haveyet to get my hands on, but I keep hoping…
    I read above that you passed on a Vol de Nuit!! You must purchase that!!!! Disregard the bottle, the magical essence inside is what counts.

    • You are right. I hope to go back and get ! But sometimes I just literally can’t afford 100+ dollars on the spot. Never quite entered that wealth bracket

    • PS please tell me more of your experience of Weil

      • Well, I have Bambou (the original version) not the later 84 or 94 reorchestrations, and it is a floral, oriental type scent. I have Zibeline which is plushness personified. Cassandra which is so sumptuous, with galbanum, myrrh, and patchouli to really make it last eternally. Antilope and Weil de Weil you know. Secret de Venus is like being wrapped in a luxurious fur wrap, of course, sweet, rich and intoxicating. Chunga, is a sweet floral, which is easy to wear. All are wonderful. Everything done with panache, and elegance.

      • How divine.

        How odd Cassandra is though as a theme for a perfume. SHE KNEW THE TRUTH BUT NO ONE WOULD BELIEVE HER.

      • I know, such an odd moniker for a scent, yet it fits it.

  4. Hanamini

    My Weil collection is now growing beyond the original Weil de Weil thanks to your posts and the comments. Zibeline arrived yesterday; marvellous, to be repeated frequently. Antilope too, although the bottle is minuscule and the other bottle is PDT and sharper. I can’t get hold of Cassandra (it’s a great name! A solitary voice of truth cutting through the lies! Does it smell like that??). But from my admittedly limited sample size (three scents, rather than the bottle sizes…), it seems to me that Weil de Weil must have been a bit of a departure from what went before, for the firm; to me, it is so very green, somewhat piercing yet deeply vegetal, and a little melancholy, whereas Zibeline and Antilope are warm, rich, powdery and enveloping, as described by others so well. Oh, these discoveries make me happy.

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