jeudi 20 novembre 2008

Schiaparelli Shocking: Hot, Pink and Frilly

From this [Mae West’s hourglass] silhouette also arose the bottle of perfume shaped like a woman, that famous Schiaparelli perfume bottle that practically became the signature of the house. Eleonor Fini modeled it for me and the scent took more than a year to be ready. It remained for me to find a name for it and to choose in what colour it should be presented. The name had to begin with an “S”, this being one of my superstitions.

To find the name of a perfume is a very difficult problem because every word in the dictionary seems to be registered. 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. So I called the perfume “Shocking”.

And it was.

When Elsa Schiaparelli launched her first fragrance in 1937, fashion was just veering away from the low-slung, tiny-breasted, skin-skimming silhouette of the 30s into a more tailored, broad-shouldered, nipped-waist style. “That Italian artist who made dresses”, as Gabrielle Chanel sneeringly called her, had introduced surrealism into couture by famously collaborating with Salvador Dali for some of her more outlandish models (lobster-adorned jackets, a shoe worn as a hat, another hat resembling a lamb cutlet, complete with frill…). The hot pink (“nigger pink” was her un-politically-correct expression) that shrouded the new scent expressed the indecent intensity of desire sung by her Surrealist friends. The scent itself, composed at the Roure Laboratories under the direction of, but not by, the great Jean Carles (Tabu, Ma Griffe, Miss Dior), was as flamboyantly immodest as its namesake pink. The perfume bottle expert Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg (as quoted by Richard Stamelman in Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin) calls it “the first sex perfume”.

And it is.

Imagine a lovely Parisian woman who has just spent a night in the arms of her lover. It is too late for her to go home and change, too late even to take a shower. She hurriedly splashes on a rose and lily-of-the-valley fragrance, even dabs a touch of it on her silk briefs.

When she finally comes home that evening, and slips off her silken lingerie… She smells of Shocking.

Because, yes, Shocking smells shockingly of gousset, that small triangle of fabric sewn into the petite culotte… The combination of ambergris, honey, civet, musk and sandalwood is possibly the closest evocation of the female bouquet ever devised by classic perfumery, barely veiled by the floral fig-leaf of a rose-muguet-gardenia heart. In its vintage version, it is astoundingly tenacious – still unfolding its vibrant beauty for over a month on a scent strip. On skin, its animalic intensity rises from the tiniest drop. One can only imagine the effluvia wafting up from Schiaparelli’s Place Vendôme salon, as the artist Christian “Bébé” Bérard “put scent on his beard until it trickled on to his torn shirt and the little dog in his arms”, or “Marie-Louise Bousquet, the witty hostess of one of the last Paris drawing-rooms [pulled] up her skirts and drenched her petticoats with it”, the designer recounts in her autobiography, aptly entitled Shocking Life.

Re-launched some time in the 70s in its trademark dressmaker dummy bottle, Shocking had become of late somewhat of a travesty of its former, flamboyant self. Roja Dove, who rightly considers it a classic, has recently had it restored to its full glory (along with another Schiap shocker, Zut) in a limited edition Baccarat numbered crystal bottle, available at his Haute Perfumerie shop at the top floor of Harrod’s. I haven’t smelled this precious re-edition, but I treasure the two bottles of extrait I found on fleabay (the flat rectangular bottles remain more accessible than the original “torso” presentation). Some evenings, nothing short of Shocking will do – whatever I chose to add to it is my very own business…

Image: 1950 US ad for Shocking, from Okadi

Excerpts from
Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, V&A Publications.

14 commentaires:

  1. At some point, I want to sample some of this...yes, for the "schock" value. (Groan...)

    Thanks for the new word. Now, I can replace my standard word for McQueen Kingdom--panties--with the more refined "gousset." For that is what I get out of Kingdom, 7 times out of 8. (Don't ask why I am able to offer that particular ration, especially if I am not pleased with a panty--er, gousset--fragrance.) Have you sampled Kingdom? How would you compare it to vintage Shocking?

    I enjoyed the post very much, btw. (Doesn't matter that I am cranky and thrifty when it comes to this type of perfume, and that if I want some l'll simply spray roses on my gousset and be done with it.)


  2. ooh I would so love to try the original.

  3. Well, ScentScelf, Kingdom probably compares a little more to the original meaning of "gousset", which was the piece of cloth sewn on the chemise at the underarm, and which by extension came to mean the (highly valued in beautiful women, in bygone times) smell of the underarm.
    It's the cumin.

  4. Tom, it can't be that difficult to find on fleabay, it was extremely popular in its day.

  5. Oh, I loved this review, and now I must hunt down a bottle of the original. A few years back, my husband bought me a Schiaparelli black persian lamb coat with a mink collar that I was admiring in an antiques store. It looks to be from the 1950s and is in mint condition. Just inside the lining of the coat, "Shiaparelli Paris" is embroidered in hot pink script, along with the name of the former owner of the coat "Peggy" (a true American '50s name if ever there was one), also in hot pink. The coat is so heavy I don't wear it as often as I should, but your fabulous review has me wanting to bust it out of the closet -- especially if I can wear it with a dab of vintage Shocking perfume.

  6. Suzanne, that Persian lamb coat must be a beauty. I used to have a couple from the 40s -- you're right, they're so heavy, they gave me tension headaches!
    Shocking would certainly complement the style...

  7. Omg, you are *so* right! Last night I put on some EDT concentration on my wrist (rather innocuous-smelling florals/spice on the open, but then I crashed out soon enough) and woke up today to... vag juice (vajuice)? soiled cullotes? I'm grinning in disbelief!
    Just for reference, I've said it before and I'll say it again: whoever first started the story of Kingdom replicating the smell of the vulva clearly hasn't been near one. Kindgom is superb but if anything, it should be linked to the armpit area, though I don't get the association myself.
    Now Shocking is a different story altogether. Ha - wait, I have to smell it again - yes, just ever so slightly repulsive but oddly compelling! :)
    Thanks for the review, D, don't know if I'd ever have pulled it out of my sample trove.

  8. Dusan, my experience with the odor di femmina (as Don Giovanni would say) is not terribly varied -- I am probably more qualified to evaluate the authenticity of Sécrétions Magnifiques -- but definitely, Shocking has it. And as I said in my answer to ScentScelf above, McQueen's "gousset", if anything, is more of the underarm type, I agree.
    That said, Shocking is *also* a shockingly beautiful fragrance...

  9. Yes, I realize I haven't done justice to Shocking the fragrance, looking instead only for the odeur reference. Will have to rectify that and see how it blooms from top to bottom.
    Have never smelled SM but can only imagine it smelling like a post-match male locker room chockfull of sweated-out, testosterone-charged lot about to have a group shower. Close enough?
    Also, would you say that Kouros is the male equivalent of Shocking?

  10. Dusan, for the short time I've smelled it, SM is more like sperm than anything else, with a little metallic blood spilled in...
    As for Kouros, I've never quite thought of it in that light -- sounds about right though.

  11. My, my...a review worthy of the perfume and Shiaparelli's legacy. Bravo.

    D--here is something you are sure to know. Is there a word, probably a French one, used in perfumery to denote the scent of "odor feminina"? I could swear I read something somewhere about the scent of used silk underwear, about the scent of three days without washing, and so on, you get the idea, a word for that scent, to denote the search for that accord in perfumery or the successful result...

    Or is petit culottes enough?

  12. Alyssa, frankly, I can't think of a formal word used in perfumery for that accord, other than what you may have read in "The Emperor of Scent", "odeur d'une femme qui se néglige", the smell of a woman who neglects herself. I'm not sure it's taught in any perfumery class, though! But that must be the expression.

  13. Yes! Yes! That's it! Thank you so much, it's been bugging me for months now, wondering where I read it and what exactly I read. I knew you would know!

    You know, I read Emperor of Scent years before my perfume obsession began. I've been meaning to read it again now that I know all the characters so much better, perhaps now is the time.

  14. Alyssa, the answer popped up in my mind just as I was typing that I didn't know... But again, this term is not listed in perfumer's manuals, it's just a French expression, a little old-fashioned.