Friday, September 25, 2015

Shocking de Schiaparelli (Vintage Perfume)

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.


  1. There are almost no perfumes I really reserve for night time wear, but this is one of them and I absolutely adore it - gorgeously, luxuriously decadent. Have stockpiled multiple partial bottles of the parfum (sadly, none of them the dress form bottle) and always remain on the lookout for more.
    Coincidentally enough, am in the middle of reading Slain in Schiaparelli and am really enjoying it. Somehow I only discovered Angela's books earlier this year, but The Lanvin Murders and Dior or Die were wonderful bright spots on my summer reading list.

  2. You write a lot about vintage perfumes. I was always under the impression that they didn't last...or turned if they were too old. Is that not the case? do you smell fur and leather bags along with red rose petals?

    This is obviously all Greek to me!

  3. I think it depends on the person and perfume culture. I'm rather shocked at things like "2014 bestsellers". But then again, I grew up among Opium, and Miss Dior, and Mystere, and Occur...

  4. Shocking sounds incredible. Btw, that's Gala Dalí wearing the shoe hat in the photo.

  5. I agree with anonymous that this is a "night" fragrance. My *only* "night" fragrance. That's probably because I associate it with the kinds of things I reserve for very special occasions. My favorite French restaurant. A black tie affair (all five of them I've ever been to). A museum venue soiree. Though it's not in the least bit shocking (how can anything be after MKK?), it is noticeably of a very high quality. This is definitely the most chypre-smelling of anything I've ever owned. Reminds me of hiding out for hours in my grandmother's chic Miami Beach bathroom sampling her fragrances. Bliss. btw, this was a got-lucky-on-eBay find in a flip-top box I didn't find pictured on the post you referenced and a bottle that could be '30s to '60s. The seller claimed it was '40s.


I love comments and appreciate the time you take to connect with me, but please do not insert links to your blog or store. Those will be deleted. The comment feature is not intended to provide an advertising venue for your blog or your commercial site.

Related Posts Widget