ESCAPE TO SHANGHAI ~ Atelier d’Orient Shanghai Lily Tom Ford


rain w hotel hong kong

Margaret Fong watched as the typhoon rain made watercolor neon dragons race down the windows of the W Hotel Hong Kong. She sat in the window wrapped in a mink coat unable to sleep from the residue of adrenalin that had fueled her escape from San Francisco.  She could never go home again. What a strange circle completed its cycle to bring her to the place where her great grandfather many times over had left for America. 

She touched the hard as a diamond cold glass that protected her from the storm. Emerald skinned rain dragons with sapphire and ruby eyes seemed to turn a look at her from Victoria Peak.  Steam billowed from their nostrils as they took flight above the city then turned out over the harbor their glowing neon wings lighting the underbelly of the typhoon that battered Hong Kong. She smiled. She didn’t even know how to speak Cantonese.

skyfall dragons

(Dragons borrowed from Skyfall)

She was rich now, richer than anyone in her family had ever been. The large canary yellow diamond on her finger winked at her with cool confidence. She brought her hand down from the window and licked the surface of the diamond then polished it with the sleeve of her mink. Perhaps it had been foolish to have bought it in the jewelry store downstairs. An impulse purchase when she arrived that morning just hours ahead of the storm. She glanced up at the television to see her face on the screen. She was the big story on a slow news day for CNN. She muted the sound.

Her next move had to be to stay on the move. A train would be better than a plane. But where to go, where does a woman who has just embezzled forty four million dollars from one of the richest high tec companies in the world hide?  She opened her purse and pulled out her newly forged passport and ID. The best that hot money could buy, Lily Chu Beijing, People’s Republic of China. She dropped the papers on the table and took out her scarlet lipstick and compact. The most beautiful girl from Galileo High School looked back at her in the tiny mirror.

Fan Bingbing as Lily Chu Escape to Shanghai(Fan Bingbing as Lily Chu)

That face had gotten her pretty far, her brains brought her the rest of the way; she decided not to freshen her mouth. She snapped the compact shut and looked back at the television. She was still on the screen. She grabbed the remote and changed the channel.

An old movie flickered in black and white fuzzy close-up glamour and filled the screen. She smiled in recognition of the images from the past. It had been one of her mother’s favorite movies because she loved Anna May Wong. Anna did nothing for Margaret; it was the glamorous blonde with the funny accent that had captured her imagination as a little girl. It was odd to see her now with her dialog in Cantonese subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The movie began to work its magic once again, even without sound. She flicked the mute button on just at Marlene Dietrich spoke to Clive Brook,

 Shanghai Lilly Marlene Dietrich

“It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

The new Lily that was once Margaret laughed out loud. Maybe that was why she chose Lily for her alias; the name had stuck with her all these years. And Shanghai, that would be an interesting stop along her escape into the land of 1.3 billion. One quick phone call and she was booked on the midnight express to Shanghai.

The storm had subsided to a mere tropical annoyance as Lily Chu in dark glasses and wrapped in her new mink hurried though the Hung Hom station to catch her train to her future.  “Pardon me” she said as she brushed past a man in a black wool overcoat. He turned to watch her with icy sapphire eyes. Then with measured ease set out after her. Just as Lily settled into her compartment he train let out a low growl and then its high piercing whistle screamed.  As the wheels ground against the steel rails pulling the train out of the station, Lily had no idea that she was being followed to Shanghai.



Tom Ford’s Shanghai Lily from his Atelier d’Orient line is an exotic, stunning entry into the Oriental Floral garden. It is languorous, lithe and liable to lead to trouble. I have no idea if the inspiration behind this perfume is the Marlene Dietrich character of Shanghai Lily from the Josef von Sternberg film “Shanghai Express” (1932). If not, well, this perfume certainly carries all the mystery and intrigue that is found in Dietrich’s portrait of a lady who one character describes as a “Coaster, a woman who lives by her wits along the China coast.”

The perfume is loaded with more notes than Lily’s steamer trunk is filled with French unmentionables.  They come at you all at once in a locomotive rush. Bitter orange, pink and black pepper, cloves, spices and incense kick of the exotic journey, I get a definite mince meat pie accord here that is delicious and long lasting.

In the center of the perfume there is exotica galore as the perfume continues its excursion along your pulse points. Floral notes push in on the opening notes layered over with a sensual labdanum, jasmine, rose and a hint of tuberose. It goes together with the spicy mix so well. And the peppers and cloves laid out in the opening meet up with olibanum, a light layer of barely perceptible vanilla and benzoin keep it from being too pretty.

The dry down at journey’s end is a solid base of cashmere wood, sassy castoreum, guaiac wood and vetiver. This combo keeps this perfume sexually ambiguous and as enticingly daring as Marlene Dietrich was in a man’s tux in the early 1930’s.  It is a well blended perfume that works to the advantage of both men and women. Lasting on my skin a good ten hours and leaving a va va voom sillage for those looking to make an entrance. And what an entrance this perfume makes. Pure star power all the way from opening credits to fade out, as directed by Tom Ford this Shanghai Lily is a box office hit.





  1. Ooh, French unmentionables 🙂

    • French unmentionables are the best kind of unmentionables there are David!

  2. Great writing!!! If you are still planning to visit bny today, it is probably better between 11-1:30 or 3:00>6. XO

  3. I really hope I like this one. On paper it seems as though I should but Tom Ford and I just don’t seem to click. I have a sample and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I want a lily that is everything you describe but in the back of my mind there’s that little voice saying that Tom will let me down again. it’s like the idea of Shanghai Lily will be better than the reality. I can’t try it now anyway because I’ve got a cold so the dream can live on a while longer.

    • I hope the dream comes true for you this time. It took me several visits for this one to open up for me and reveal its story.

  4. I don’t like prominent lily in my perfumes so this is one of TF’s perfumes that do not work for me but I liked your story anyway.

    • Well I am glad that part of the post worked for you LOL. You can’t like them all. If we did then it wouldn’t be any fun!

  5. If I were single, I’d be Tom Ford’s stalker.

    • I promise not to testify when you go to court. Cheers Pinkagenist!

  6. Your wonderful story has made me put on my must try list. Mr. Ford can do no wrong in many areas, to me his styling and cosmetics are amazing. I am not so familiar with his fragrances. The Man himself seems utterly narcissistic which is such a turn off I have not put much energy into sampling his perfumes. I am a long time reader, first post!!!! Have not been able to spend much time online lately, hopefully that will change soon!

    • Judith how thrilled I am to read your lovely note. Thank you so much. (And yes I know what you mean about Mr. Ford… I like to think he is just profoundly shy.)

    • Sorry to butt in but I also find his narcissism incredibly off-putting as well, and yet he always retains just enough je ne sais quoi to still want to try everything. And this sounds lovely, actually (but what: no actual lilies in it at all? )

      • No problem Ginza, I can find no listing for lily in the perfume and if there is I can’t smell it for over the big spicy clove, incense and peppers. That is one of the reasons I wonder about the name and possible association with “Shanghai Express”.

      • Kind of nicer without the literalness, in any case. Quite like the ambiguity. Will definitely have to smell it!

  7. I didn’t want this story to end, Lanier! Ahhhh….

  8. Delicious.

    And I didn’t want this story to end either….

    I think you have to hook her up with another perfume, her alter ego, so we can find out what happens next.

    • Just before Lily Chu was rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling of the train it crossed her mind that she might need to find a new perfume …in Shanghai perhaps. Something to fit her new persona……

  9. Dearest Lanier
    I want to have a menagerie so that I can keep ‘watercolor neon dragons’ the most sublime-sounding animals ever invented.
    The story’s just as wonderful too, and I have to try the scent!
    Once, twice, three times a temptor!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I want a dragon zoo too!!

      And in the garden there was a serpent that was more beautiful and tempting than any other creation in the land… “Try this perfume” he said in melodious tones. “….it has apple in it.”

  10. Lilies and mince meat pie… Two of my favorites! Hey, I wore the Oud Ispahan you gave me Sunday night, now my clothes bear the scent and I don’t want to get them dry cleaned…

    • Oh you liked it!! When you come visit we will go get a bottle at
      Dior if you want to.. Lilies, mincemeat and big hugs!

  11. Love this story – and I had to smile when I saw that she went to Galileo High!

    • Thank you Sandy, I am so happy you liked it. I have a very good friend I real life who went to Galileo.

    • I couldn’t agree more! Love it 🙂

  12. *shivers*

    glorious fragrant prose with dark and dangerous undertones.

    loved this line ever so: “The perfume is loaded with more notes than Lily’s steamer trunk is filled with French unmentionables.”


    _tg xx

    • It was a lot of fun to go on this trip with Lily! Thank you TeamGloria…I am so glad you booked the trip with us too!

  13. Wow what an awesome take on this fragrance. I love your descriptions. I’ll have to look into adding this to our inventory!! You sold me! ;D

  14. […] ESCAPE TO SHANGHAI ~ Atelier d’Orient Shanghai Lily Tom Ford […]

  15. Such a wonderful story, Lanier! And like Ginza and Heather, I didn’t want the story to end weither. Shanghai Lily was not for me, but in all honesty, I have a hard time connecting with TF fragrances in general. That being said, the story is so lovely that I will go back and give it another sniff. You never know!

    • Thank you luv! You know it has a part two! A Stranger In The Night…and I think there will be further adventures down the line.

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