Vintages The Pink Shock of Elsa Schiaparelli

The Pink Shock of Elsa Schiaparelli

05/15/16 06:45:13 (15 comments)

by: Sergey Borisov

There are perfumes and brands that live long and happy lives, pleasing both buyers and sellers. You know the names of these perfume world Methuselahs – Chanel №5, Mitsouko Guerlain, Joy Jean Patou, Kolnisch Wasser... In contrast, there are brands and perfumes resembling meteors or comets that beamed brightly and became highlights of their time only be forgotten too soon. One of those meteors, Shocking de Schiaparelli, I want to review today.

Elsa Schiaparelli

I have long searched for it – though not very vigorously – because of its legendary author, Jean Carles, the perfumer who though he lost his sense of smell, never stopped creating fragrances. He is the perfumer who became the head of the first perfumery school in the world (Roure, 1946) and created an open-sourced methodology for the studying and the creation of fragrances. He is the perfumer who created legendary fragrances of 20th century: Tabu Dana, Canoe Dana, Miss Dior, Ma Griffe Carven, and many Lucien Lelong perfumes. Finally, Jean Carles was the first perfumer who created the first “take-away perfume”, Shocking de Schiaparelli: after that success Roure Corporation began work on the creation of fragrances for many fashion designers.

Sketches for hats inspired by shoes, Schiaparelli 1937

Then my interest in this perfume was warmed by Elsa Schiaparelli as a controversial figure who at one time successfully competed with Coco Chanel and other contemporary designers. Her resounding success was backed by artists such as Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Leonor Fini, Alberto Giacometti. Elsa’s success was largely fed by extravagant outfits such as her Lobster dress, Shoe hat, Skeleton dress, gloves with a manicure, Tears dress, Beetle buttons, etc... In the 30s, Time magazine named Elsa one of the fashion leaders, a mad genius, while Coco was only in the second row.

Schiaparelli's Skeleton Dress, 1938

But surrealism and shock were not the only reason for the public interest. She invented the wrap-dress 40 years before Diane von Furstenberg, the artful speakeasy dress with a secret pocket for a flask, the bathing suit with hidden bra, and tennis skirt-shorts for the ladies. All them were invented by Elsa. And she brought bright pink color, Shocking Pink, to fashion as her own feature.

The final compelling reason I needed to experience Shocking was the description by Fragrantica readers: civet, honey and musk are the main notes according to the opinion of most readers. So, it`s an animalic perfume! I have to try it! However, I did not dare to invest in an expensive bottle immediately; one should try first to avoid any regrets.

My ¼ ounce Shocking Elsa Schiaparelli mini-bottle came from the United States, it has a gold inscription «Made in USA» on its pink label with a big S, while on the bottle is written «Bottle Made in Italy». Its form resembles the legendary bottle with feminine figure (Elsa had created costumes for the actress Mae West in the film Every Day's a Holiday in 1937), using a mannequin with the figure of the actress. This personal mannequin inspired artist Leonore Fini to design the Shocking Elsa Schiaparelli bottle; just add a floral wreath in the Dali-esque spirit – and the design is ready! The main thing is that my bottle was born between 1997 and 1979, the years when the fragrance was subjected to reformulation. It can be seen immediately.

Mae West in a dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

And it is immediately to be smelled, as the perfume touches the skin. Obviously, the start is far from its best form; the citrus-ylang-aldehyde part of it smells bitter and recalls nail polish remover. Shocking is still shocking, even though it has aged.

And next, as if to compensate for this rough start, is a floral bouquet: barnyard dirty and green narcissus, pungent jasmine, bitter honey and warm rose, all rubbed by civet paste. The rough chypre heart, infinitely familiar, flowery and animalic, radiates warm soul vibes and strict disciplined orders at the same time. It reminds me of the director of a school, with a sharp voice and massive torso, covered with a green jacket, and an intricate hair bun on her head. It's like a woman of large stature in a fur coat and perfume that both fill an elevator.... In general, I can say that there’s a time machine in Shocking perfume, and it works fine – but only until the reformulation time, about 1970-1980.

It seems to me that this Shocking honey-warming and edgy floral-chypre heart can be found in Jean Carles' earlier perfumes (not to mention the fact that these flowers were at the heart of the first Chypre Coty). In his legendary Tabu Dana, the heart of jasmine, narcissus, ylang-ylang, rose and civet formed “the heart of a whore" (Tabu was created as “un parfum de puta”) against the background of sharp spices, magnetically warm amber and woody patchouli. Interestingly, both fragrances' concepts were similar – the perfumes were to shock the audience, and to attract the attention of others.

The further development of Shocking, from the familiar floral heart to the woody-musky base, follows the same chypre path with civet and powdery spices. A small cloud of powder with a touch of animalics lingers – like a durbar at the French royal court in the 17th century: it looks fine, but the animal spicy stench is smelled clearly, despite the hiding efforts of powder, musk, sandalwood and orris. The dry and edgy wood-musk base accord (moss, cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, honey and civet) completes a shocking perfume fairly quietly, with warm feelings.

Shocking by Elsa Schiaparelli has two poles. The attracting pole has something of a Guerlainesque warmth and tenderness, from its flowery powder and references to Chamade and Mitsouko. The repellent pole is the severity, bitterness and sharpness of the chypre, to keep people at a distance. Shock must attract people's attention but not create an effect such as the depictions in the final stages of the novel/film Perfume.

I would love to try an original pre-war Shocking Elsa Schiaparelli perfume. Would I be shocked by it? Perhaps its shocking name exaggerates the effect? Shocking was the fragrance for perfuming lipsticks and pressed powders, compact sponges for bathing, hair clips, buttons, brooches, etc. It should be nice then. Most likely, the shocking feature of Shocking will become clearer after this quote from Elsa Schiaparelli:

"Women dress alike all over the world: they dress to annoy other women."

The beautiful perfume to annoy others – that makes sense.

Shocking Elsa Schiaparelli


Top notes: aldehydes, tarragon, bergamot;


Heart notes: honey, narcissus, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine;


Base notes: carnation, civet, patchouli, musk, amber, sandalwood, vetiver.

 

 

Serguey Borisov

Sergey Borisov has been involved in perfumery since the early 90`s when he had his own perfume-devoted program “Close to Body” on Krasnoyarsk radio (1993). As a perfume enthusiast (known as moon_fish), he became famous in Russia for his translation of  Luca Turin's Perfume: Le Guide. He made a career as a fragrance journalist and contributed to such distinguished magazines as GQ, Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Interview, Forbes, Allure, Robb Report, Flacon, Departure, RBC-Style, TSUM-Magazine (2008-2016). His own online columns for RBC-Style.ru, Vogue.ru, and GQ.ru (2006-2015) have earned him international recognition and an invitation to be an editor for the Russian edition of “The Little Book of Perfumes” by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez.  Sergey Borisov was invited as a speaker at Esxence 2012 (Milano) and Intercharm 2015 (Moscow). In 2013, Sergey joined the Fragrantica team.

 



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Macushla
Macushla

Thank you Serguey for this article. A woman such as Elsa Schiaparelli should be remembered and celebrated.
I wonder, too, if her shoe hat was the subliminal inspiration for Louboutin's red soles?

May
17
2016
Miss Givenchy
Miss Givenchy

Should the text read "...my bottle was born between 1977 and 1979"?

May
16
2016
interdite
interdite

Oh dear heavens. The dresses. The ads. The scents. This woman.

This is what fashion designer used to mean. Everything about this artiste is amazing.

May
16
2016
lovingthealien
lovingthealien

I have tried and failed for years to find a bottle of this perfume that smells like the real thing from some pristine nips I acquired. The top notes in the fresh fragrance are actually quite sweet and fresh, with oodles of narcissus and a pinch of tarragon and mandarin. And the honey! It would have done well in the 80s. If only...

May
15
2016
jana.hullinghorst
jana.hullinghorst

Oooo I saw a bottle of this at the local antique market not far from me... wondering if they would let me smell it before buying? I'm quite sure it is vintage.

May
15
2016
flowers4me
flowers4me

In 1946 I spent part of my small paycheck on a pair of gloves in Elsa Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink. It was cheaper than buying a bottle of her perfume, but I was severely scolded by my older sister because I was supposed to be saving to go to college. Some years later, when I was finally able to buy the perfume, I was pretty disappointed to discover that it smelled like baby pee on my skin. I probably still have the old bottle somewhere.

May
15
2016
Waltzing Matilda
Waltzing Matilda

What a great article.Thank you! Shocking is my signature. It has been since it first crossed my path in the early seventies. It is brash, loud and animalic on the surface but underneath, there's spades of unmistakable honeyed femininity that swirls around its aura. Musk to the max. My friends know when I've entered the room. Whether it's the vintage or the reformulation, Shocking is unforgettable in all it's guises and instantly recognizable to those who are familiar with its charm. It is the pinnacle of those fragrances that have stood the test of time.

May
15
2016
Parfumee
Parfumee

My dearly departed grandmother wore the original 1937 Shocking. I associate that frag along with perfumes like Chanel No. 5 Cologne Shalimar and Evening in Paris. This is a gorgeous musky floral aldehyde fragrance. It's a shame that we can't really enjoy it the way it was meant to. This is an aldehydic floral scent mostly narcissus and rose along with bergamot citrus fruit and a dry down of musk sandalwood and patchouli. The one note that most made it so incredible was honey. It's possible this was the first time they used honey in perfume. This is a really good fragrance and the bottle looks just like Classique by Gaultier but of course this preceded Classique by decades. It's a frag that always reminds me of the Hollywood comedy classic The Women with Joan Crawford. Read my review!

May
15
2016
garamascara
garamascara

Thank you for this fascinating review. I love the pictures! She was a truly shocking designer.

I was gifted a bottle of Shocking a few years ago from an older woman who knew I was interested in perfume. I had never heard of Schiaparelli when she gave it to me and I had no idea of the value of what she had given me, but I adored the bottle. It is by far the most marvelous bottle in my collection. The floral wreath on top is actually a removable and wearable brooch, I have never had the courage to wear the brooch because I am afraid I would loose it. I am not sure of the age of my bottle, but judging by the age of the woman who gave it to me, it is probably 50+ years old. Unfortunately, it doesn't smell very good to me, I think she's just too old and her best days are long passed.

While I would never part with the bottle. If you really want to smell vintage Shocking, I will send you some, just send me a message with your address.

May
15
2016
SuzySchnabel
SuzySchnabel

This is not a perfume. This is my second skin from when I discovered it in the late 80s early 90s. Pure honey. Vibrating on and on on my skin, wihout ever becoming screechy or noisy. Pure soft warmth. The perfect oriental, because on me it works as a oriental, not a chypre at all: it enhances my own positive skin-qualities. Nobody has ever complaint at work. And I've always loved Elsa and hated Chanel. This says it all. Thanks .

May
15
2016
lemonzest
lemonzest

Schiap also said, "Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress." Great quote and a reminder that fashion is an art, and arts require discipline. The polar opposite of spandex on Wal-folk.

But about Shocking - would love to smell this. I am not above using fragrance to create personal space ;) Tarragon is a big love.

May
15
2016
spooneb
spooneb

I have a saved ebay search for this. I may have to bump up the priority on my 'to buy' list. Thank you for an excellent article!

May
15
2016
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

So often the word used to describe this fragrance is "skanky."

Nothing wrong with that word, but you did an excellent job of describing it, too, without having to go there. :-)

Thanks, Serguey! Great article.

May
15
2016
mapache
mapache

GREAT article!!!! Thank you !!!

May
15
2016
dina
dina

Oh my! What an avant-garde genius was Elsa!!

Thanks a lot for such an informative article...

I remember the first I wore Elie Saab intense, my mother told me it reminded her of a Schiaparelli perfume.. but didn't specify which one :)

May
15
2016

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