digging (into) vintage: Weil de Weil, 1971

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Weil 3 Weil 4

Perfumer unknown

Weil de Weil is a green floral chypre. In 1971 when it released it might have been called typical. Unlike today, there was an abundance of green floral & green chypre fragrances. From the perspective of 2013, this school of green florals having died on the vine, Weil de Weil could be considered quintessential, a classic.

Weil de Weil is a wonderful day to day fragrance, and tells us much about the sensibility of the perfumery of its time. Like Ivoire de Balmain, which came later, it has the sensibility of old-school department stores in that it was easily accessible, simple to buy, simple to wear. It’s from an era when even drugstore fragrances had an expectation of quality.

Weil de Weil comes from an interesting school of fragrance history. The people who made, sold and wore these perfumes had no idea that the big 80s were coming their way. They were the logical extensions of the pointed floral chypre fragrances of the late 50s and early 60s. But they also came after the start of mainstream experience of the youth cultural revolution of the 60s. From the perspective of stylistic convention, the early-mid 1960s might as well have been the late 1950s. But these green girls survived their time without flipping their wigs: Chanel 19,  YSL Rive Gauche, Paco Rabanne Metal. They took a fairly mannered genre and taught it to loosen up.

If the chypres of the 40s & 50s reflected the fashion of their time (think of the influence of Dior’s New Look and Miss Dior) this era put the chypres in bell-bottoms and sandals. The age of aquarius chypre ranged from the prettiness of Estée Lauder Private Collection to the aggressiveness of Clinique Aromatics Elixir. These new-mainstream Guérilleres debuted after the summer of love, heads clear, eyes open and looking squarely at the Viet Nam War and the protest against it. It’s easy to frame the conventional awareness of the time as regressive, à la Tricia Nixon, but this was also an expansive, revolutionary time for the civil rights of everyday women. Weil de Weil is one of the green florals that captures the combination of exploration and acceleration of the early 1970s.

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I value highly independent and artisanal perfumery. I appreciate ‘mainstream’ perfumery for the way it can creep up on you and surprise you. I accept the proliferation of luxo-exclusive perfumes but I regret the negative outcomes of the trend (elevation of prices, decrease in risk-taking, emphasis on packaging over contents).  The categorical distinction between high and low in perfumery is one of the less desirable outcomes of the notion of the perfumer as artist-director-entrepreneur.  I miss the days not only of great perfumes coming from department stores and drugstores, but the expectation that these venues would produce quality perfume.

I miss the accessibility, the lack of exclusivity, the sense of common purpose, that these everyday, empowering green fragrances gave us.

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