One Thousand Scents

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Scentroulette Day 5: Shocking by Schiaparelli


Yesterday when I was talking about the reasons you can't trust the lists of notes you so often see, I left one out, perhaps deliberately in a subconscious way, and it's really the most important reason of all these days: because scents are being reformulated all the time, and the list of notes might refer to a version you happen not to have in (or all over) your hands.

Some scents are reconstructed because an element in them is no longer made, because it is illegal, or prohibitively expensive. Some are done purely for reasons of fashion--because a name is well-known but the scent itself is no longer in style, so an entirely new scent is put into the same bottle. And sometimes--well, who knows why perfume houses and manufacturers do what they do, other than to make as much money as possible, and art be damned?

What I have on my skin right now is Shocking by Schiaparelli, and what I am going to describe is what I am smelling on my skin, official notes of any sort be damned. When I put it on, I smell civet, just a little bit, and powdery carnation, which means it immediately calls to mind Tabu (which, as it turns out, was made by Jean Carles, who also devised Shocking). There are other flowers in there, mostly white things like, I think, gardenia; the sweetness and heaviness are unexpectedly restrained, although there is also a whiff of Miel de Bois-style honey. The base is a bit sweeter, vanillic without being dramatically so. It is yummy and very obviously sexual.

Shocking was launched in 1937 and was on the market for a very long time; exactly sixty years later, it was reinvented with a very different formula and relaunched in a similar bottle, the one you see at the top, both based on a dressmaker's dummy, obviously the inspiration for Jean-Paul Gaultier's Le Classique.

Which version do I have on my skin? Over on Now Smell This, there is a review of both the vintage and the reformulation, and based on this side-by-side comparison, it seems likely to me that what I'm smelling is the vintage, or something like it. And this points up the problem with trusting the lists of notes when a scent has been thoroughly reformulated. Basenotes lists only the 1937 incarnation of Shocking, and lists its notes as Bergamot, Aldehydes, Tarragon: Honey, Rose, Narcissus: Clove, Civet, Chypre accord. Rei Rien sells the reformulation, and warns purchasers that the scent "has since been reformulated, but we're sure you already guessed that much", but lists the same notes as Basenotes' 1937. The Perfumed Court also mentions only the 1937, but lists the notes as bergamot, tarragon, raspberry, aldehydes, honey, narcissus, rose oriental, carnation, civet, patchouli, vetiver and vanilla, which sounds kind of modern and only sort of matches the Basenotes list: but TPC is where I got my sample from, so what they're selling is what I'm smelling. Probably. Maybe they sold me the vintage (I think it was a couple of years ago), ran out, got some of the newer stuff, and are vending that now. Or maybe it was reformulated multiple times, and I have some undescribed in-between.

There is a lesson in all this kerfuffle, and the lesson is that there is always a measure of uncertainty in perfumery; even if you are absolutely sure of the provenance, it's not like any other artwork--there could have been changes made that you don't know about, things added or subtracted or replaced altogether, or even just the changes that naturally take place over time with a perfume. You are going to have to take chances, smell pretty much everything that comes down the pike, and ultimately trust your nose. I have no definitive idea what the Shocking that I'm smelling is, but it sure is nice.

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