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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Parfums Weil Chunga: fragrance review & history

To understand the demise of Chunga is to realize that it is truly unmarketable in today's world: For a feminine perfume it flunks the test of being traditionally pretty or particularly becoming, demanding too much out of its wearer in both intelligence and attitude (After all it was advertised with the slogan "for women who want the world"). For a masculine (and men would be wise to try it if they can get their hands on some) it is an alien thing, being neither fresh -as is the majority of aquatic and aromatic fougeres around-, nor sexy -as are the orientalized woodies with succulent tonka and lots of sweet amber in the base. Maybe only Philip K. Dick replicas can wear Chunga by Weil right now, aside from dedicated perfumistas that is, which misses marketability points big time. But it's a shame, I can tell you that, because Chunga is a great fragrance coming from a great perfume house, the Weil fourruriers. (champions of the parfum fourrure notion)


The name comes from Micaela Flores Amaya, a Romani-born flamenco dancer known as "La Chunga" which translates as "the difficult woman"...and indeed the fragrance is somewhat "difficult" alright.
Introduced in 1977, Chunga comes in a string of great chypres with green elements and aldehydes that are elegantly assertive and resolutely determined: Chanel No.19, Lauder's Knowing, Coriandre by Jean Couturier, the first Jean Louis Scherrer fragrance. And thus lovers of the afore-mentioned perfumes are advised to seek out some Chunga for their collection.
In the print advertisements Chunga was targeting literally every woman and that included all races and all skin colors. A pioneering thought for a traditional French house! "Comme un nouvel horizon"...like a new horizon, which marked a new interest in encompassing more ethnicities in the game of perfume, reaping the benefits of feminine emancipation alongside the "black power" that emerged in the 1970s. Another set of print ads is tagged "et la fete commence" (i.e. and the celebration begins), showing a more typical couple in black tie in the midst of some dancing move, a more or less expected extension of perfume as a fashion accessory for a night out.


The olfactory structure of Chunga unfolds like a secret drawer within a drawer: The opening is aggressive, with its citric tang of bergamot and lemony tones sparkling like marble, with the particularly sharp incision of a scalpel, shiny and new and you think that it will remain arid and bitter and gloriously ingestible till the end, until the tables are turned and a second stage emerges. The base of Weil's Chunga is redolent of powdery amber, vetiver and a slightly urinous, honeyed, sweetish musky note that is quite retro; a throwback to days when bodies weren't deodorized to within an inch of their lives and hairy regions were much hairier than recent memory...on both sexes, that is.
The comparison with Weil's more popular and well-known, still-circulating-in-some-version-or-other Antilope perfume is not without its own value: Whereas Antilope is lady-like and more properly floral and feminine in the heart notes, Chunga like its name is butcher, more incisive, with elements that translate as more masculine or sharper. My own bottle is marked Parfum de Toilette, which nicely puts in it the early 1980s.

Chunga was the last fragrance issued by the house in Weil in 1977 and has since become a discontinued rarity. For those with an interest in chronicling the arc of the green, aldehydic, perfume-y chypre, it's incomparable and worth the investment.

Notes for Weil Chunga: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, peach, clove, jasmine, lily of the valley, linden blossom, orris, ylang-ylang, amber, honey, Tonka bean, vanilla, vetiver, musk 

 pics via hprints.com, museodelparfum.com and punmiris.com

20 comments:

  1. Great review as usual! As it happens, I bought a big bottle of Chunga EDT on ebay a couple of months ago (square bottle, not the ones in the first pics). Funnily enough, I thought it was a masculine! Sort of like a butch floral in the tradition that later produced the equally doomed Insense and Globe.

    I love it for the short period I can smell it. But then it disappears within minutes on my skin. No drydown to speak of. Presumably the pdt is more powerful, but still... But perhaps my nose is just anosmic to some Weil note. In a recent sample passaround, I was left wondering what all the enthusiasm for Antelope vintage was. To my nose, it's rather simple and disappears relatively fast too (though nowhere near as fast as Chunga).

    cacio

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  2. Anonymous21:46

    I want to be a woman who can wear chypres-sometimes they wear me. i love the notes but when the oakmoss really starts to rear its head I feel like Medusa, with a head full of snakes. i have vintage Miss Dior (gardenia chypre, with the most heart breaking vanilla note) and I have Rochas Mystere, which is lovely and silvery. The notes that keep things interesting also make life difficult-it's a metaphor for life, don't you think?!
    Sincerely,
    Carole

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  3. The name and the advertising are seriously ugly. I don't see the point in presenting something good as the most unattractive thing ever. Three languages on a poster are way too much. The bottle is interesting. Perhaps if they had fired their advertising team they wouldn't have gone out of business.

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  4. Miss Heliotrope02:04

    It sounds lovely - but agree about the name - it sounds like some slang term for vomit.

    Sorry...

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  5. Anonymous04:34

    Thanks for the heads up! Just pinched a bottle on ebay based on your review.
    That was my era, and I love an aldehyde. Can't wait to get it!

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  6. annemariec11:01

    I don't think that ad is too bad, but the name 'Chunga' is a drawback. I wondered if it is some kind of exotic dance move!? I love the black dress in the second ad. Seriously gorgeous.

    The perfume sounds very sexy indeed, but sexy skanky rather than sexy clean. Man, those were the days.

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  7. M,

    I don't know... It seems rather average to me (not plutonium-lasting power but not disappearing in a flash either). Could it be that your bottle is watered down? Is it a reputable seller you bought from? I sure hope not. Or perhaps you have very warm skin? Sometimes I find that too warm skin (as in summer or on men) might make frags evaporate sooner than usual.
    Antilope has been through several reincarnations and I'm totally indifferent to the latest one. :-/

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  8. Carole,

    that's a beautiful thought! Yes, indeed. I guess the difficult things make life more interesting on the whole though they can be hard to get through when you're intent on doing so.

    I think Chunga is more of an aldehydic chypre than a straight out floral chypre or animalic chypre (which are generally mossier), in the same class as say Caleche. It might surprise you.

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  9. K,

    ha! I think it's a combination of things that got them out of business (none the less that furs became seriously "out" at some point during the late 1980s-early 1990s).
    I have added a bit on the name in the review, because I had missed mentioning it and it seemed an odd name choice to many (when you think about it, with the added info, though, not so much!). The poster is classic 1970s fare, same as with many ads of the period for perfumes and cosmetics. They were not into the sophistication we're used to these days. Bear that in mind ;-)

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  10. Anon,

    hope you landed a good bottle and by all means thanks for the trust and enjoy!! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous23:22

      I did get a good bottle! The first thing it reminded me of was the scent that surrounded me when I descended the escalator of one of the older, elegant dept. stores in my town, growing up. An aldehydic, chypre blast! Adult, sophisticated, elegant. I am sure it was an amalgam of similar scents of the era that combined to create this euphoria. Back-lit, blond wood cases, gorgeous murals, the ambient "ding" of elevators and older cash registers. The ladies behind the cosmetic counters knew their stuff! Well-coifed Easter Island-headed ladies who held those jobs for years. The whole scene established my view that so much of what I love about fragrance is aspirational. Sophisticated, grown-up, seductive. Thank you for introducing me to one that feels like an old friend. Two fluid ounces that can transport a girl 40 plus years back in time.

      Delete
  11. AMC,

    you're not far off!! I have added a bit on the name in the review because it baffled two of you so it's warranted. And yes, it explains a few things. ;-)

    It's a classic aldehydic chypre, in the class of say Caleche, only much sharper in the start.

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  12. Miss Heliotrope,

    as mentioned above, I have added an explanation on the name in the body of the review. It's thankfully not about vomit, though you had me in stitches when I first read your comment!! :-D

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  13. annemariec21:23

    Thanks for the additional info about the name 'Chunga'. Lord, imagine trying to market a mainstream perfume with a name like that today!

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  14. AMC,

    I think it would be unmarketable for many reasons, and not just name. But yes, names are hard and Chunga isn't doing anyone any favors! :-D

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  15. brie11:06

    As a chypre queen in the late 70s (I wore all that were mentioned, stole daily sprays from my mum's perfume collection) how did I not know about this one?

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  16. B,

    it's largely unknown, that's why!
    But I'm happy to share well-kept secrets :-D

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  17. Anon,

    ah, that's all right, then! Enjoy!

    I agree with you that perfume is aspirational. In more ways than one. It's nice when one recognises that and then sets down to enjoy regardless of the trappings of this situation.
    And it's transporting, yes!

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  18. Anonymous23:48

    Oh! I was an English girl in New York in the early 80s and I bought this at JFK flying back to the Big Apple. People (men) used to stop me everywhere and ask me what I was wearing. I have never forgotten it, and long to find an EDT to have again! And yes... it was absolutely for a spirited, independent girl. Never saw the advertising though.

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  19. Anon,

    delighted to hear you say so! What a good story, thank you. I think it surfaces on ebay from time to time, one has to have an eye on it though.

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