The Scent of Surrealism: The Perfumes of Schiaparelli

Fashion designers are no stranger to the profitable world of perfume.

Indeed, the couturier Paul Poiret, began producing scents after establishing his own perfumery during the 1910’s, aptly naming his side-business and products after his daughter Rosine. Poiret’s perfumes were the perfect accompaniment to his Orientalist and avant-garde fashion designs. They often referenced his love for Far East in both bottle design and exotic scent composition. A few years later, a certain entrepreneur called Coco Chanel in partnership with perfumer Ernest Beaux, would create a fragrance which remains as an all-time international best seller – Chanel No. 5.

perfume paul poiret

Image Credit Unknown: Paul Poiret ‘La Rose de Rosine’ c1912. Pinterest.

Perfumes allow a more wider base of consumers to purchase an element of a fashion house without the hefty price tag. Most department stores are filled with the latest and classic perfumes – but this post intends to celebrate the elaborate and downright exuberant scents of Elsa Schiaparelli, who created her perfumes during the 1930’s and 40’s.

This week we pay homage to the Schiaparelli fashion house, whom, after being revived in 2013, have just shown its first S/S 2017 couture collection, after returning to its rightful place as a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

perfume schiaparelli advert

Image Credit: Elsa Schiaparelli Parfums Paris advertisement. c1937. Schiaparelli Paris Official Website.

The most well-known of all Schiaparelli’s perfumes was released in 1937. It was called ‘Shocking!’ named after her devotion to the signature bright pink colour Schiaparelli often used in her fashion collections. It resembled a glass dome with a tailor’s mannequin inside, with a bouquet of blue and pink porcelain flowers blooming from the mannequin’s neck in replacement for a head. Wrapped around the neck and draped down the chest of the mannequin like a necklace, was a measuring tape, joined together with a paper stamp printed with the letter ‘S.’

perfume schiaparelli shocking

Image Credit Unknown: Schiaparelli Shocking! Perfume, c1937. Pinterest; Etsy. The bottle was designed by Léonor Fini. The mannequin shape is inspired by the body silhouette of Hollywood actress Mae West, who Schiaparelli frequently dressed. Schiaparelli was highly superstitious and wanted all of her perfumes to begin with the letter ‘S’ (her previous perfumes were named Salut, Schiap ect.). Schiaparelli marketed Shocking! with some rather risque advertising illustrations, featuring a nude artist covered only by an artist’s palette.

perfume schiaparelli shocking 2

F2005.860.820A-C. Elsa Schiaparelli ‘Shocking!’ perfume bottle. Glass, paper, metal. c1937. Gift of Annette Green Museum at the Fragrance Foundation. FIDM Museum and Galleries, Los Angeles. JPEG.

perfume schiaparelli illustration

Image Credit: Schiaparelli Shocking! Advertisement, c1937. “5 Times Elsa Schiaparelli Revolutionised the Perfume World.” Monica Kim,

Using the female form and the exposure of flesh, would additionally influence the design and marketing behind Schiaparelli’s ‘Zut’ fragrance, which in French, translates literally as the word damn. The bottle, is moulded into the shape of a dancer’s pair of legs, with her fallen down skirt exposing her pins, functioning as the base of the bottle!

Two years later, Schiaparelli’s most Surreal oeuvre was her ‘Snuff’ scent. Named after the popular eighteenth century ground tobacco, Snuff was released in 1939, and consisted of a glass perfume bottle moulded into the shape of a gentleman’s smoking pipe. The cologne was sold in a package resembling a tobacco or cigar box, and became very successful – with several variations of the bottle design commissioned during later years.

Schiaparelli was inspired by Surrealist artist René Magritte’s La Trahison des Images (The Treachery of Images) produced in 1929. The artwork and quote ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (this is not a pipe) became infamously associated with the Surrealist movment, and provided Schiaparelli with the inspiration for her first and only male fragrance.

perfume schiaparelli snuff

Image Credit Unknown: Schiaparelli’s ‘Snuff’ Perfume Bottle, c1939. Pinterest.

After the release of several other perfumes, Schiaparelli launched her sensual ‘Sleeping de Schiaparelli.’ Schiaparelli ingeniously designed a bottle in the shape of a candle and snuffer. It exhibited her new ‘Sleeping Blue’ colour palette which she incorporated into her 1940’s Summer fashion collection. According to The Met Museum, Sleeping de Schiaparelli was:

‘meant to be spritzed the moment before falling into bed, and the scent was supposed to illuminate the subconscious and “light the way to ecstasy,” according to an ad illustrated by Marcel Vertès.’

(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

perfume schiaparelli sleeping

2009.300.1389a–e. Sleeping de Schiaparelli perfume bottle. Elsa Schiaparelli. Glass, metal, paper, synthetic. c1940-50. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

perfume schiaparelli sleeping ad

Image Credit: Sleeping de Schiaparelli advertisement. c1938. Schiaparelli Paris Official Website.

perfume schiaparelli sun


Image Credit: Le Roy Soleil perfume bottle designed by Salvador Dali in collaboration with Elsa Schiaparelli. Hands Wild for Life Magazine, Paris, c1947.


And last but not least, by now infamous for her penchant for Surrealist artwork, Schiaparelli would later work with long-time creative partner Salvador Dali in 1947, to create the bottle for Le Roy Soleil, a perfume which was inspired by Louis XIV, The Sun King.

perfume schiaparelli sun perfume

Image Credit: Le Roy Soleil perfume bottle designed by Salvador Dali. c1946. Schiaparelli Paris Official Website.

Only 2000 exclusive bottles of the perfume were produced, and the glass was designed by crystal maker Baccarat. The birds in flight printed on the bottle resemble the face of the sun, and the sheer golden colour of the crystal used in the design emits a celestrial glow.

According to the Schiaparelli website, The Duchess of Windsor (who famously wore the Schiaparelli and Dali lobster dress during an editorial for Vogue, photographed by Cecil Beaton), was a particular fan of the scent. She wrote to Schiaparelli, stating:

‘Madame Schiaparelli, it is the most beautiful bottle ever made, and the Roy Soleil is a very lasting and sweet gentleman… It has displaced the Duke’s photograph on the coiffeuse!’

(Schiaparelli Paris Official Website:

perfume schiaparelli sun ad

Image Credit: Le Roy Soleil Perfume Advertisement, c1946. “5 Times Elsa Schiaparelli Revolutionised the Perfume World.” Monica Kim,

Schiaparelli toyed with Surrealist motifs and collaborated with the avant-garde artists in order to successfully market her perfumes. Combined with her attractively illustrated advertisements, and distinctive perfume bottles, Schiaparelli changed the way in which the perfume industry functioned, by proving light-heartedness and witty design was the secret to her success.

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