Shocking, the first fragrance* by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, a friend and collaborator with Surrealist artists and Coco Chanel's rival, was named in part because of the hot pink color that was her trademark, a color that in British English is still called “shocking pink.”
Top notes: Bergamot, aldehydes, tarragon
Heart notes: Honey, rose, narcissus
Basenotes: Clove, civet, chypre
Is the perfume itself shocking? I like to think that what shocking pink is to regular pink, Shocking is to an ordinary floral chypre.
It starts with an odd tarragon note which is followed by honey and rose. So far, so good, which is to say — not that shocking. The chypre accord at the end softens and pulls together these three striking and distinct notes.
How is this perfume, then, an olfactory equivalent of Schiap pink? It has one foot in the natural world and another in an electric socket that ratchets everything up into a neon simulacrum. The double sweetness of honey and rose almost compete for prominence, and initially make you wonder if sweetness is all there is.
Although one Basenotes reader thinks the perfume "smells like the closet of a spinster great aunt who saved every rose corsage and honey jar that came her way," those notes are followed by the civety base that keeps it from being cloying.
*CORRECTION: A reader rightly pointed out that Shocking is not E. Schiaparelli's first perfume. This will be fixed in an upcoming version of Scent & Subversion!
Like an art student who wears vintage dresses and library glasses and but smokes and sleeps around — Shocking has a wild streak.