The Forgotten Fragrances of Elsa Schiaparelli | Savoir Flair
The Forgotten Fragrances of Elsa Schiaparelli
by Mimi Droeshout 5-minute read May 29, 2024

Uncover a long-lost chapter in the world of fragrance.


Iconic fashion house Schiaparelli is renowned not only for its surrealist designs and avant-garde aesthetics but also for its collaborations with some of the most influential artists of the time. As founder Elsa Schiaparelli herself famously said, "Working with artists like Bebe Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Vertès, Van Dongen; and with photographers like Hoeningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton, and Man Ray gave one a sense of exhilaration." This spirit of artistic collaboration extended to her fragrance creations, resulting in a hidden treasure trove of Schiaparelli perfumes which are largely unknown to many today. These scents, with their artistic encasings and daring compositions, are a testament to the boundless creativity and innovative spirit that defined the House of Schiaparelli.

Elsa Schiaparelli's foray into the world of fragrance began in 1929 with the launch of her first perfume, simply named S. The designer had a mysterious fascination with the letter, which became the first letter of most of Schiaparelli's creations and has since appeared as a recurring motif within the House.

In 1934, Schiaparelli launched a trio of perfumes: Soucis, Salut, and Schiap. These modern bottles were designed by French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, a longtime friend of Elsa Schiaparelli's. The set of scents was intended to be worn during different times of the day, a pioneering concept in the olfactory world. Schiap was to be worn in the daytime, Soucis at cocktail hour, and Salut in the evening.


Perhaps the most iconic of Schiaparelli's perfumes was Shocking, launched in 1937. The bottle and packaging were designed by Argentine artist Leonor Fini, and the fragrance shared its name with an intense pink hue that Schiaparelli had created. In her memoir, Shocking Life, she wrote: "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 color flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West - a shocking color, pure and undiluted." 

The bottle for Shocking was shaped like a dressmaker's mannequin, with a tape measure around the neck sealed with a badge monogrammed 'S,' and small flowers about the neck. The shape of the mannequin was inspired by the curves of actress Mae West, the Hollywood femme fatale of the time. The bottle was placed under a glass globe, referencing those in which late 19th-century brides preserved their floral wreaths. Shocking was an instant bestseller and remained so for nearly three decades.

In 1939, Elsa Schiaparelli launched her only men's fragrance, Snuff. It was a daring reference to smoking, a key facet of manhood at the time. The bottle was inspired by famous René Magritte paintings and came in the shape of a pipe, while the packaging was in the style of a cigar box.


In 1940, she released Sleeping, a scent that truly embodied the surrealist spirit. The innovative fragrance, created by Jean Carles, was designed to be sprayed at night, just before getting in bed, with the intention of illuminating the subconscious and "lighting the way to slumber." The snuffer-shaped bottle, modeled after the Harlequin's head in Man Ray's surrealist painting, added to the dreamlike allure of the fragrance. Even the packaging, in a striking turquoise blue, tied into Schiaparelli's Summer 1940 collection, aptly named Sleeping Blue. The fragrance holds so much artistic significance that one of its bottles is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


Schiaparelli even collaborated with Salvador Dalí on the scent Le Roy Soleil, with a glass bottle shaped like a sun to represent Louis XIV, the Sun King. This was not her only collaboration with Dalí; they also famously created the Lobster Dress together. The bottle and advertising for Le Roy Soleil, however, stand out as a remarkable example of their artistic synergy.

The House experienced such success with perfume that it built its own factory in the suburbs of Paris in 1947. Schiaparelli continued to produce perfumes at her Bois-Colombes factory until 1961, working with renowned perfumers like Jean Carles and Nathalie Feisthauer. Her perfumes were a true reflection of her avant-garde vision and her willingness to push boundaries. Today, these bottles are highly collectible and command strong prices at auction. Although no longer in production, their artistic legacy lives on.

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