They were billed as the “dernières créations” – the latest creations – of Fourruers Weil, but they could easily have been the last. Not that anyone could guess this today from the timeless elegance of this menu illustration.
In August 1939, everyone in Europe knew what was coming, and just weeks after guests perused this menu in one of France’s most exclusive resorts, Hitler’s troops marched into Poland. But in Aix-les-Bains the good times held on for one last gasp, as one of France’s leading fur fashion houses launched its new ranges.
Three brothers Weil – Marcel, Jacques and Alfred – formed Fourruers Weil in 1892, producing fur clothing from all sorts of innocent small furry animals, to cater to the well-to-do humans of the world.
Unfortunately, a side effect of removing the coat from an animal is the smell – it seems many of Weil’s creations carried with them an “animalistic” pong. And so in 1927, the Weils launched their own range of perfumes.
These were specifically designed to cover up the scent of the furs, and were initially named appropriately, with products including Zibeline (sable), Chinchilla Royal and Hermine.
The perfumes took off, and new products came throughout the 1930s, including Bambou in 1934, Cassandra in 1936, and Noir in 1937.
The Weils fled to America during the war, and continued developing fragrances there – even while their French factory became the plaything of a German baron and his mistress, although they released only one perfume, Flamant Rose, before the factory was destroyed.
The Weil family regained control of their French operations after the war, and the perfume business went from strength to strength, until the family sold it in the 1960s, unwilling to commit to the investment the growing firm needed. Weil remains a significant perfume brand to this day.
As for this dinner in 1939, on the cusp of war, all we can say is it was probably a lavish affair.
The menu lists entertainment from two different dance troupes and two different orchestras, all accompanied by gourmet cuisine, as befitting the venue.
The hotels Royal, Splendide and Excelsior, known as the palaces Rossignoli, were built between 1884 and 1914, and for a time entertained the high society of France, Europe and the world. Their location, just a few hundred yards from Aix-les-Bains’ baths, helped draw those looking for a hydrotherapy cure, as with many other spa towns.
Sadly, Aix experienced the same fate as those other spas, and by the middle of the 20th century the town’s tourist trade had gone into a terminal decline.
The three hotels were sold in the 1960s, and converted into private residences – although there is still significant interest in maintaining the buildings as historical monuments to Aix-les-Bains’ more glorious past.