Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shocking de Schiaparelli

Perfume: Shocking
de Schiaparelli
Perfumer: Jean Carles
Years of release: 1937- current
Rarity: 6/10 (for pristine, sealed parfum/extrait)

(all images of Elsa Schiaparelli and her dresses in this post are from:

Today I'm wearing Elsa Schiaparelli's 1937 masterpiece, Shocking! Schiaparelli is best known for her avant-guard clothing designs and hats, however she considered herself an artist. Salvador Dali was a close friend who collaborated with her. Below you see one of her more well-known concept pieces- the Lobster Dress. I have a personal, although admittedly tenuous, connection with the Lobster gown because it was worn by my great grandmother's second cousin, Wallis Simpson.

    (above: the Lobster Dress)                                (above: Wallis Simpson in the Lobster Dress)

Schiaparelli is credited with being the first to display her work on cat-walks and setting her shows to music- the mother of the modern fashion show, literally! She also created hats, accessories and a number of perfumes, the best known of which is Shocking.  Although it is technically still in production, I have the vintage pure perfume (extrait) version, which is extinct. It comes in the familiar dressmaker's figural bottle and has a frosted crystal stopper with a long slender frosted glass dauber. Shocking has been housed in any variations of the dress maker bottle over the years. The basic design has remained with slight differences in fabrication and manufacture. As I have collected and sampled the contents of a number of these bottles, I've found that the contents inside the bottles have also changed, despite being composed around the same notes. As the juice gets lighter in color, the scent changes more radically. I prefer the oldest formulation- probably anything from the 1940s-1950s would be good, as long as it is the extrait. You can see the juice is the color of cola or coffee- look for this same color if you're seeking to sample Shocking and want to try it at its best. I took the photo below from EBay this evening because it is identical to the version I am wearing and a better example of the bottle I own; mine is open, has a few less flowers and lacks the paper label.  
(image from Ebay seller jtpmtc)

Shocking has top notes of bargamot, aldehydes, and tarragon; middle notes of honey rose and narcissus and a base of clove, civet and chypre accord. It is gorgeous and I imagine it was shocking at the time it was released- even though the women and men of 1937 were accomstomed to smelling many wonderful vivacious scents by luminaries such as Chanel, Coty, F. Millot and many others. I especially appreciate the tarragon in the open of Shocking that gives the opening a sweet-piquant touch of herbal green, and is a nice counter point for the lush, heady blend of rose and narcissus (also named jonquil or daffodil, a full bodied, almost narcotic, almost buttery floral, that blends beautifully with all citrus and green notes).

(Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink Gown, bygonefashion)

All of these elements are rounded by the honey- and in this perfume extrait is my favorite version of a honey note ever rendered. It is heavy and sweet, identifiable as honey but with actual musky-oily scent of the bees working in the hive, their fat vibrating bodies caked and powdered with pollen. The anchor as the perfume dries down is a bewitching blend of my old favorite, a cool and powdery proper chypre accord of oakmoss, labdanum and patchouli set apart by a counter point of frankly (shockingly) carnal civet. Yet this touch of the risque is done with restraint, or perhaps with tongue firmly planted in cheek, for here the tiger has been couched with the lamb- the antiseptic, refining presence of clove, a regal spice that subdues any rough edge of the animal scent. The clove softens and smooths all of the elements, melding pleasingly with the chypre. The dry down is prolonged and produces strong sillage with a leathery powdery patchouli finish. In some way, it recalls Youth Dew in the extreme dry down.
In retrospect, Shocking is one of the great 20th century perfumes... a strongly individual perfume, with some elements of the great classic Chypre, and with oriental embellishments and is capable of being worn with great style even today.

(another of Elsa's timeless gowns in Shocking Pink and Black, circa 1930s)

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.


Six' said...


I have read your comment over at Octavian's and... well, yours is another blog that I read dutifully, ever since I saw it referenced as an excellent resource for vintage perfumes.

I've never commented yet, but I guess this is as good an opportunity as any to thank you for so enthusiastically sharing your love for these beautiful perfumes of times past. Your hard work is appreciated, believe me!

Amelia said...

Six': Octavian really is the best- we'd loose a valuable voice if he decided to put 1000fragrances to rest...
I'm not at his level but I love to share what I find. Thanks for the comment and for reading!

queen_cupcake said...

I also want to voice my appreciation for your commentary on vintage fragrances. I love vintage ones the best, and it is not always easy to find information on them. I have always wondered about Shocking, seeing offered occasionally online... Now I have a better idea of it through your, nose. Thanks!

Cleopatra's Boudoir said...

Hi, It's Grace from Cleopatra's Boudoir. I wanted to thank you for your recognition of my website and perfume research. I believe that perfumes and their histories were meant to be shared. Not everyone can afford the pricy reference books, so I created my site to help educate people in a more practical and affordable way.

I, myself have some antique Shocking parfum extrait. I think it is so beautiful and for me, the civet note is very pronounced, tenaciously musky and slightly dirty to my nose, rounded out by exquisite florals and most of all a prized rose dripping with honey from its delicate petals. I also detect some spicy carnation, in the first few notes, though it isnt listed.

Amelia said...

Grace, it is so nice to hear from you and hoping for many happy returns.

Amelia said...

Thanks, queen_cupcake!

Amelia said...

Is it just me, or does Elsa Schiaparelli look a little like Lady Gaga in this photo?

Sarita said...

Hello! I too wanted a comment, although it's been almost a year since this post. A little while back I stumbled across some vintage perfumes. They were new in the box - but I *cough cough* threw away the boxes because they had been marked on the thrift price with sharpie. Anyways, I started to do a little research, or at least find out what I could about them and found your blog. I too love vintage and "old things." I live in an 1928 bungalo, my engagement ring is a 1940s art deco estate ring. There's just something behind the story of an item that I find so fascinating. So thanks for helping to create a story for me! The bottle of Shocking that I have is not in the torso bodice and I can't find out anything about it.

Amelia said...

There were plainer square shaped bottles used for testers, or for economical reasons during wartime. Then moving on to the 1950s-1960s you still saw some of the plain bottles.

Amelia said...

Oh and welcome Sarita, I'm usually more friendly but distracted today:)