Perhaps you’re not familiar with Footlight Parade of 1933 with Ruby Keeler and Jimmy Cagney? This was the movie that came to mind when I ran across Tom Ford’s Shanghai Lil the other day.
The reaction of other bloggers to this scent has been rather like that of Cagney, Lil is irresistible they say and highly original. I was a bit less struck by the fragrance’s originality since I recognized the lily top notes as being similar to my Gardenia Petale’s, the Van Cleef & Arpels fragrance from some years ago. They probably share a high end floral material, although the green side of the floral is stressed in Shanghai, and not so much in Gardenia Petale which eventually devolves into a vanilla lily of the valley note.
Ford’s Shanghai Lil is really two perfumes, this previously mentioned greenish floral over a second perfume that reminds me of Yves Saint Laurent’s Nu. ( I’m not the only one either, some people on Fragrantica mentioned the similarity.) And it’s not a surprise when you consider that Nu dates to a time when Tom Ford was the designer at the house. Basically, I’ve run into these two characters before. Never mind though, they get along fairly well, and if I’m not reminded of Marlene Dietrich, I am reminded of the stellar dance number that Keeler and Cagney do on top of the bar in Footlight Parade. It’s a percussive little bit of tap choreography and Shanghai Lil is a snappily double jointed duet of a perfume.
Like most of Tom Ford’s production, Shanghai is too pervasive to wear out in public much. But you have to hand some kudos to him for making perfumes dance all along the sexual spectrum with such ease. His masculines have feminine sides, and his feminines are mannishly muscled. This is all to the good for a generation of perfume aficionados who may prefer to wear things that are not specifically marketed for men or women. Serge did it first with orientals to be sure, but Tom Ford is bringing the oriental floral to men’s attention, and I think that idea, oriental florals for men, is a genuinely original one.
So for me, Shanghai Lil is about equal parts Cagney and Keeler, and a long lasting pleasure if you like florals that have heavily loaded dry downs full of woods and resins and intrigue, to be taken with a grain of salt. You have a western style floral stuck on an oriental, which is just the plotline of the Shanghai Lil number.
Say, wait a minute! Does that make Cagney a floral ?