Schiaparelli Shocking new & vintage ~ fragrance review

Schiaparelli Shocking vintage advert 1Schiaparelli Shocking vintage advert 2

I thought I was doing pretty well at the thrift store this weekend. I'd already scored a sapphire blue quilted bathrobe from the 1950s with a full skirt and black passementerie and I'd snagged a 1960s soap dish made of laminate with tiny shells suspended in it, but my big find was around the corner: a bottle of Schiaparelli Shocking "Eau de Parfum Mist" for two bucks. "Shocking" was scrawled across its hot pink label in the same kind of font that came out of the back of Samantha's broom in the opening credits of Bewitched. Even better, it still smelled all right.

That night before I settled in to watch an old movie (in my new robe, naturally) I sprayed the vintage Shocking on one arm and the new Shocking on my other arm. "Shocking" is right! They were two different fragrances with only a vague family resemblance, more like cousins than sisters. Charming cousins, for sure, but you wouldn't mistake one for the other.

Schiaparelli Shocking was released in 1937 and was developed by perfumer Jean Carles, one of the creators of Christian Dior Miss Dior and the nose behind Dana Tabu and many of the Lucien Lelong fragrances. Shocking was packaged in a bottle shaped like a torso, and supposedly modeled after a dress form of Mae West that Schiaparelli had in storage.

Vintage Shocking is a diffusive floral oriental, and wearing it is like standing inside a room with the notes all spaced in the air around you. At the center of the room is rose, but a buzzing, fresh white floral halo that I first pegged as gardenia but now think might be narcissus. What could be a dash of civet — or maybe just tired topnotes — appears and fades within five minutes of spraying the fragrance on. Floating up near the level of your head are wisps of herbs here and there, but if you try to pin them down they hide. After half an hour, sandalwood and honey start to rise, but the honey is quiet. It is at this point that the old Shocking smells most like the new. Eventually the honey fades, too, and a warm cloak of oakmoss and wood remain.

Although vintage Shocking is more feminine and light than I had expected, it feels like a true "composition", as if an entire orchestra would be needed to play it well. It feels important, but also delicate and full of character. I'm going to be heartbroken when my bottle runs dry. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long on my skin — three hours tops.

In 1997, perfumer Martin Gras of Dragoco redesigned Shocking. It is the same amber color as vintage Shocking and also comes in a bottle shaped like a torso, but rather than being spacious, it feels dense and focused. Once the aldehydes and hint of bergamot dissipate, the new Shocking smells like hot jasmine tea with a clove, a few dried rose petals, and double dose of honey mixed in. After a while, a furry base of patchouli melds seamlessly with the honey. It's the sort of fragrance that I think some people would love and others would find nauseating. When I'm in the mood for it — when it's cold out and I want something big and warm to wear — I reach for it. It has a demanding sillage and lasts all day. The new Shocking is still in production and a relative bargain at $55 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum.

As an aside, I think I talked to Martin Gras, author of the new Shocking, about ten years ago. I was at the Nordstrom in downtown Portland, and a tall, distinguished French man was crammed on a folding chair behind what could have been a TV tray on a busy aisle facing the perfume counter. He said he was the creator of Vivienne Westwood Libertine, and he had vials and blank scent strips on his table. Shoppers squeezed past him as they hurried up to the MAC counter, but no one stopped to talk. In those days, I liked perfume, but I couldn't tell L'Heure Bleue from Drakkar Noir if my life depended on it.

Schiaparelli Shocking perfume

The perfumer seemed so out of place. He was charming and dotted some of the contents of his vials on strips for me to smell and seemed happy that I was interested. Finally, he put what I'm assuming was a musk on a scent strip and handed it to me. "Some people cannot smell this," he said. I put it to my nose, eager to pass the test. I didn't smell a thing.

I think about that afternoon sometimes and wish I could talk to Gras again now — that is, if I'm not mistaken and it really was him. I'd have so many questions. Some of them would be about Shocking.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm so glad to see your review of these. I keep putting the vintage bottles on my ebay list…and then taking them off again. But–sandalwood? honey? oakmoss? Ahhhh….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi, Angela,

    I sure wish I could tag along with you when you go thrift-store shopping; you have the best luck! The only things I seem to come across are like chipped filling-station glasses or balls of acrylic yarn in fluorescent colors.

    I love your description of the vintage Shocking. Now that you've put that sort of 3-D image in my head, I can think of a few more that hit me that way (Apres l'ondee is one), like a composition in space.

  3. Anonymous says:

    A, it's really wonderful, I think. If you get the chance to try Shocking, don't miss it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm kind of a thrift store addict, and it shows. I think the only new things I have in the house are food and underwear.

    It really seems like fragrances do have particular “bandwidths”. Some are expansive and you can almost move around in them, and others are tightly focused.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the evocative description. I'd been looking for vintage Shocking (research for a short mystery story I'm trying to write), and finally found a teeny bit in a bottle at an antiques mall. To me, it smelled, well, a bit like dirty underwear. Of course, I had nothing to compare it to – I'm not even sure someone hadn't filled that little bottle with something else. There were only a couple of drops, not much to go on, so I really appreciate your review!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey, now that's research I can get behind! I'd love to hear more about your mystery story.

    I've heard that Shocking is dirtier than I found my bottle to be, but maybe the perfume is more so? Or maybe it's my nose. At the very opening of Shocking I did smell something slightly rotted, but it faded out of smell pretty quickly.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Six or seven years ago, I bought a bottle of Shocking on eBay. (It must have been the reformulation — the bottle and box seemed new.) I didn't know a thing about perfume in those days, and didn't really care — I bought it because I loved Frida Kahlo, and if I recall correctly I read somewhere that Shocking de Schiaparelli was her favorite perfume.
    I'm learning about perfume now, and have accumulated a number of bottles, and this is the one that I never reach for. It smells, to me, mostly of synthetic rose powder — suffocatingly sweet and soapy. It's also very powerful. But not “shocking” at all. Occasionally I revisit it to see if my newly-accumulated knowledge of perfume will change my feelings about it. It hasn't happened yet.
    I do love the bottle though. And who knows. Maybe one of these days I'll discover a craving for it that I didn't know I had. It's happened before, without other scents.

  8. Anonymous says:

    er, that should be “with other scents.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    I've definitely gone wild over fragrances that I didn't like much at first, so, as you say, who knows?

    But sweet, synthetic rose? Do you get a lot of honey in it? I found the new version to be really honeyed up.

    And I love it that Kahlo wore Shocking!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I'm all about the bottle. The one you scored must not be the one in the photo because it is worth a lot more. I found a set in the antiques mall. It had a large bottle of cologne and a miniature perfume. It was $125 C. for the set which was packaged as a gift from Paris but distributed from New York. It had a discounted price but I didn't buy it because I have to steel myself to restrict my bottle-buying to just one house. I would guess this boxed set to be from the 60' or 70's, certainly not the bottle in your picture.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It involves a child who loves perfume, but I'm still at “Mystery Writing 101.” Look forward to reading the “Lanvin Murders” when you get it published!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Oh, the bottle I got is probably near worthless! It is a plain cylinder and has a gold, fluted cap that is cracked. The torso-shaped bottles are gorgeous, though.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It sounds very intriguing! Let me know how it goes.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Angela –
    Lucky you! I love Shocking and never find it at any thrift stores or estate sales, alas. Lots of Evening in Paris, though!:-)
    I wear the current Shocking a lot – like Femme and Bal a V, the vintages have to be worn carefully, in my opinion. I love 'em – but have had some people give me Very Strange Looks…as they edge nearer the door……
    the robe sounds wonderful! I have a dressing gown find that I need to lose some lbs to fit back into (got it 30 years ago, dangit). From the 30s, black, with fitted, slight dolman sleeves and a full, fishtailed skirt. The fabric taffeta,inset with satin ribbons in pink, yellow and blue. Sounds garish but is really quite lovely.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I was really surprised to find Shocking, but happily so!

    Your dressing gown sounds marvelous. I can picture it well from your description. A fishtailed skirt, even! Fabulous. Let's make a pact never to wear sweat pants around the house—at least not while there are gorgeous dressing gowns still around.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Wow! I love knowing that about Kahlo, too, and it makes a lot of sense since she was running with the surrealists.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Me too, it fits, perfectly. The exhibit that came through SF last year was amazing.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I agree, too–so interesting!

  19. Anonymous says:

    I'm intrigued by your encounter with Martin Gras (or his doppleganger). I feel sort of badly for him reading that story, but at least you had a chance to chat. Are you anosmic to a lot of musks? I have been experimenting with them a wee bit lately, and some are just on the edge of “audibility” to me.

  20. Anonymous says:

    You know, I don't know if I'm anosmic to some musks or not. I always figured I smelled most of them, but now I wonder…

    But I really wonder why a noted French perfumer would be in a department store in Portland. Otherwise I'd say it was him. I even looked up his photo on the site of the Society of French Perfumers, and it sure looks like him.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have a quite large bottle of the vintage shocking and it is quite skanky on me. The honey is also quite prominent which means that it will never be a favourite of mine. I would love to get my hands on a new version. I wasn't even aware that they had released a new version.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I'm so jealous of your large bottle! The new version has a lot of honey, so if you don't like honey you may not like the new version much.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hey! Long time not talk! Loved the review, of course.

    I was wondering: do you have any recommendations for a moisturizer for the face? And for the body? Mine isn't cutting it in this crazy weather.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It was in perfect condition too. Only the carton had some water marks and the perfume was unused. It is a 100ml bottle so should outlive me. My bottle is the female dress form bottle but a fair bit plainer than the one in the photo.

  25. Anonymous says:


  26. Anonymous says:

    I'm no expert on creams, but lately I've been using a Derma-e Vitamin E cream. It's really thick, and my skin is so dry these days. There must be a “body care” blog out there with better suggestions, though!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Not like I know about this stuff, because I'm a grease pit but I've got friends with painfully dry skin so here's what they say: Consumer reports rated the Oil of Olay products highest of any other cream, and they are very affordable.

    For the body, I like to use Neutrogena's oil, when you're still damp from the shower. The key is the oil locks in the moisture that's in your skin. If you have REALLY dry skin on your elbows/feet, I like L'Occitaine's 25% shea cream or pure shea butter.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Late to the party, Angela, but have to say how charming I find the thought of a saphire blue satin dressing gown from a thrift store. What a lovely find! A beautiful aesthetic with the Shocking, too — love the strong contrasts.

    I remember first smelling vintage Shocking from one of the little miniature French perfume collections which were all the rage in the late sixties and early seventies. I was in my teens, and I remembered Le De and Le Dix in the same collection. I was in love with them all. Shocking was actually, even to my young nose, easy to appreciate; I think the “difficult” nature of some vintage fragrances we experience today must be at least in some measure due to the new, oxidative notes they develop with decades in the bottle, because that 1967 Shocking was all fresh powdery roses and rich sweetness to me.

    Recently tried the reformulation. Doesn't register in my memory center as having anything significant to do with the original Shocking. I don't mind it, and it lasts forEVER with some serious sillage.

    Great article, Miss A. As usual!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Whoopsy-daisy! Add the extra p to sapphire, please!

  30. Anonymous says:

    S, I use to buy pots of shea butter to put on my hands, and it worked really well. One day, though, the dog got into it and finished off half a jar! It didn't seem to hurt him. Good thing it's all natural.

  31. Anonymous says:

    That's an interesting point about vintage fragrances being harder to appreciate because they're a little “off” from being old. It definitely makes sense.

    Shocking does have a whiff of powder to it, and it's so not what I expected! I like it, though.

    Don't you wish you could have that miniature perfume collection again now?

  32. Anonymous says:

    Consider it added!

  33. Anonymous says:

    I do! I do! Isn't it funny, Angela, that they don't make those miniature “Imported French Perfume” sets anymore — at least, I haven't seen them here in Canada. I think they'd do really well with a certain kind of retro-vintage-loving customer — a customer much like myself! Okay, and this is totally a fantasy and would never happen in real life, but wouldn't it be the coolest thing if they came up with a set of a dozen different fabulous scents from various French houses, 4 or 5mls each in authentic mini-bottles of the originals, all in extrait and all pre-reformulation???!!! In a lovely box with a satin lining???

    Sigh. . . :-D

    • pippab says:

      Years ago, probably 1970ish I was given a set of 5 French miniatures for Christmas. They consisted of Joy, Cabochard, Capricci, L’air du Temps and Antilope. I was totally besotted and that little satin lined coffret started my obsession with fragrance. Yes, I would love to see these items on the market again – I’m sure they’d be very popular.

      • Angela says:

        That’s a marvelous collection, too. I’m not surprised they piqued your interest in fragrance!

  34. Anonymous says:

    That sounds like a dream! My grandmother had a set of tiny bottles of perfume, and I can't remember what they were, but I used to fill the empties with water and play with them.

  35. Anonymous says:

    And a perfumista was born!

  36. Anonymous says:

    And a perfumista was born!

  37. Anonymous says:

    I think grandma would be proud.

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