Persistence Pays Off

Almost three years ago, I blogged about collecting vintage Schiaparelli Perfume Ads. While the ads were plentiful and affordable on eBay, the actual Schiaparelli perfumes weren’t. I had been outbid at several attempts to acquire a bottle of Schiaparelli’s Shocking perfume. But in a highly collectible figural bottle, said to be based on Mae West’s dress-fitting dummy, even empty bottles were out of my price range. Luckily, that has changed. I recently won that highly sought after bottle of Shocking. It’s only 1/4 of an ounce, and the bottle isn’t as dramatic as the full-sized, fully three-dimensional bottles, but at last I have the opportunity to sample that elusive elixir. And for under a twenty to boot.

Shocking was introduced in 1937. According to, its composition consists of top notes of Bergamot, Aldehydes, and Tarragon; middle notes of Honey, Rose, and Narcissus; and base notes of Clove, Civet, and Chypre accord. Shocking is as impossibly glamorous as I thought it would be – almost. It’s as spicy and warm as any chypre accord fragrances from the 20s and 30s should be, like Chanel No. 5. But unlike Chanel No. 5, which wants to flat-out seduce you, Shocking has an unexpected element of sweetness to it. Perhaps its the honey, rose and narcissus middle notes coming through, which today’s connoisseurs may feel gives it that “old lady perfume” quality. It’s as if Shocking wanted to be outrageous and innovative, but not so seductive as to alienate the average woman. Shocking is the yang to Chanel No. 5’s yin, just as Elsa Schiaparelli was the yang to Coco Chanel’s ying (for example, during World War II, it is said that Coco Chanel lived at the Ritz hotel in Paris with a Nazi officer during the German occupation, whereas Elsa Schiaparelli drove an ambulance for the Red Cross).

Shocking was re-introduced in 1997. It’s still in production, but it’s very hard to find. New bottles cost around $75, but is often out of stock on perfume e-tail sites like I wanted to try Shocking for as little money as possible before deciding to purchase a new bottle, but the reviewers on who have tried both the vintage and new versions say the newer version is almost nothing like the original. The fact that civet musk, which was harvested from the actual animal, has been replaced by more humane synthetic alternatives has a lot to do with the difference in the new perfume. Still, I might be willing to give a newer bottle of Shocking a try. That is, if I can find one.


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