Is Shocking de Schiaparelli still as shocking today as it was when the perfume launched in 1936-37? What is a shocking perfume, anyway? My guess is that anything heavy on civet still makes people take a step back and make that face (Joey Tribbiani's "Who Farted?!" is a good approximation), and Shocking is certainly a civet bomb. Then there's the honey note that not everyone tolerates, and the general heaviness of spice, opulent flowers, and the kind of musk you rarely smell anywhere nowadays. Does it shock me? Not any more than looking at the marvelous surrealistic designs of Elsa Schiaparelli does. I find them exquisite and fabulous; the same goes for the perfume.
|Elsa Schiaparelli and her famous shoe hat|
My bottle is from the latter years of the original formula (late 1950s to circa 1960), and the raunchiness is there in full force. Less oriental-spicy than vintage Tabu to which it's often compared (see these reviews by Victoria of Bois de Jasmin and Angela on Now Smell This*), and more sparkling in the top notes (though that might just be pure luck, as the juice in this old Shocking bottle hasn't deteriorated too much). What's obvious is that Shocking was meant to be noticed. It's big-boned, floral to the extreme, and is dripping with honey, civet and oakmoss. All the good stuff.
It's the honey that makes the difference between Shocking and many other civet bombs of yore. It smells less of fur and layers of opulent clothes and more of warm naked skin. I guess that's the "shocking" elements. Yes, there are furs there and a leather bag, but the sweet honey, decaying roses, and heavy musk take the wearer into the boudoir more than to a 1930s nightclub.
To me, Shocking de Schiaparelli is one of the dirtiest and thickest classic chypres I know. It lays it on heavily, exaggerating every facet to a surprising extreme. It's distracting, disturbing, and exquisite in a way you'd expect from the fashion designer who gave us the lobster dress. The perfume "smells like vintage" in the best kind of way. The roses are red, realistic, and shed their petals all over the skin just as the musk seeps into it. It sounds a bit creepy, and I think that's the whole point. You get each individual part (where did they find this kind of ylang-ylang? and where can I get more?) and it all comes together and surrounds you in a virtual reality that makes you feel like you've just stepped into a George Cukor movie set where old Hollywood stars are about to surround you in tailored suits, sharp shoulder pads and sculpted hats.
You can read more and learn of the different style bottles between older and newer versions of Shocking in this blog post.
*In her delightful fashion thriller, Slain in Schiaparelli, Angela M. Sanders (that's Angela of NST) uses one of the designer's creepier gowns as a part of the plot, and it all fits together perfectly. The book is darker than its two fluffier predecessors and I liked it quite a bit.$3.99 for the Kindle versions on Amazon, for a good rainy night.