Schiaparelli Perfume Named “Shocking” is Shocking to the Nose!

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), along with Coco Chanel (1883-1971), was the most influential fashion designer from the 1920-40s. Italian born, she moved to Paris and dominated the fashion world. Where as Chanel was a minimalist, Schiap (as she called herself) was flamboyant. Chanel was conservative; Schiaparelli was outrageous. Chanel was famous for a short boxy jacket. Schiaparelli for a white dress with a giant red lobster down the front! Chanel was more of a businesswoman. Schiaparelli was an “artiste” — and hung out with Man Ray and Salvador Dali.

Elsa Schiaparelli at her desk, Paris, 1930s.

I think this says it all: Schiap’s favorite color: shocking pink. (She also invented shoulder pads.)

[Note: There is a difference between shocking pink and fuchsia. Shocking pink has a more neon hue and fuchsia is more purple. IMHO, fuchsia is a grand color. Shocking pink is OK.]

I’m reading Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life. Having recently read Lilly Daché’s autobiography (see blog dated 5/07/10), and by comparison, Lilly’s book was breezy and chatty. Schiap’s is intense, serious, and self-critical. It’s also interesting that in the Foreword and Epilogue, she refers to herself in the third person (as “Schiap”). More on the book in a later blog…

A part of the book that intrigued me was the creation of one of Schiap’s perfume in 1937. First the bottle was designed, which was shaped like a woman’s torso. It’s a myth that the bottle was designed after Mae West, one of Schiap’s clients. (In fact the model was Eleanore Fini—whoever that is.)

For Schiap the hard part was coming up with a name. From the book:

“The colour flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West—a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.”

That is how she came up with the name of the perfume: Shocking.

I haven’t yet read the part in the book how Schiap came up with the actual fragrance. Or maybe it is not even in the book.

Shocking Perfume by Schiaparelli. Photo courtesy of VintageDorothy Store on EBay.

But I HAD to smell the perfume. I bought a bottle on EBay. (Cost $53 to satisfy my curiosity.) The bottle was practically untouched and full. I opened the cap and sniffed.

HOLY COW! What a powerful nose! Perhaps Schiap was creating a Nazi-repelling fragrance to knock the Germans off their feet?

The weird thing was, I thought I had smelled that scent before. I closed my eyes and brushed a whiff toward my nose.

AH HAH! It smelled like my Aunt Lillian, who bathed in Tabu (UGH). I recall being trapped in a car with her and one of her wacky husbands driving all the way to Lake Havasu and burying my head in the back seat to escape the fragrance. That stuff can penetrate steel!

A variation of Tabu is still being manufactured today. The original—a heavy exotic/Oriental scent—was created in 1932 by a man named Jean Charles. Sure enough, he was the fragrance designer behind Shocking by Schiaparelli.

Here’s the composition of Tabu (courtesy of Yesterday’s Perfumes) to give you an idea of the Shocking scent:

Top notes: bergamot, orange, neroli, coriander, spice notes.

Heart notes: clove bud, ylang-ylang, rose oriental, jasmine, narcissus, clover.

Base notes: patchouli, civet, cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin, amber, musk, oakmoss.

To each his own nose, I guess. And I guess the knockout scent is the aromatic equivalent of Schiap’s knockout fashions.

Schiap went on to create several more fragrances, such as Soucis, Salut, Silence, Sotto Voce, Seraphique, and The Roy Soleil. Zut was created in 1949 and is still being made—available on Amazon.com and other perfume outlets. I don’t think I will be paying for the privilege to smell those colognes. But I will continue to buy vintage Schiaparelli hats. They’re amazing. One of these days I plan to photograph them and post them on this site. Stay tuned…

3 Comments

  • Barb said:

    My mother wore this stinky stuff constantly and we had drive in the car with all the windows down even in winter!

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010
  • I found the same bottle thrift shopping… no box… sadly it’s a cute box.
    How much is that bottle worth without the box?

    My fashion personality is “CHANEL”, SCHIAPARELLI, MAE WEST, MISSONI and DIANE VONFURSTENBUG!

    I am a PINK PERSON and a RED VIOLET LOVER. FOREST GREEN is my calm place.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011
  • Hi Kimberly,

    The Schiaparelli perfume was a great find at the thrift shop. It probably has retained its fragrance — it’s a powerful scent! Depending on the condition of the bottle, it’s worth around $25 to $200. But the real value of anything vintage is the amount that a person is willing to pay for it.

    I like your style and color palette!

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

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