I first tried Aftelier's Shiso perfume several months ago. It's taken me quite a while to get a handle on it, and to figure out where in time and space to place it. Its creator Mandy Aftel recently told me that even she had trouble deciding what Shiso should be categorized as on the perfume finder on her website (she went with Spicy Green, and I'd say that's pretty accurate).
Shiso is based on an old Geisha formula; a classic Eastern blend with a modern, Aftelian twist. You can read more about the creation of Shiso (and also Tango, a perfume in my top five favorite perfumes of ALL time) in this recent article for Scent and Sensibility.
Knowing the creative intention of Shiso hasn't stripped me of the pervasive sense that it just seems very foreign to me-- not in an Eastern way, but possibly like it was made from alien essences by hands that do not even slightly resemble my own. I recognize components of Shiso when I put forth the effort, but when it's all put together, I feel like I've got possession of something illicit, misunderstood, something walking the line between fragility and impassable strength. The emotions that take hold of me when I wear it are also practically unknown to me-- this is territory I've not been in before. Somehow, I've been lucky enough to take a fascinating trip with one of my favorite perfumers without having to leave home.
notes: antique clove, green pepper, perilla, kewda, geranium, agarwood, sandalwood, patchouli
All of these essences are of an earthly nature, so how do I reconcile my feelings of Shiso having come from perhaps another galaxy, far, far away? That turned out to be easier than I thought. I only had to quell this intense curiosity by giving myself over to the pleasure of wearing it.
Shiso starts out on the skin like a whisper of coolness with the icy floral/herbal geranium and softly minty perilla/shiso taking hold at once, and this is a theme that maintains itself throughout the duration of wearing it. This sets the tone for this unusual and beautiful perfume to continue down its own strange and winding path. There is clove in the top notes, but I don't detect any in particular. What I do get the impression of is a hyper-verdant spicy accord, like freshly crushed leaves from a mortar and pestle. This must have something to do with the green pepper essence. Yes, you read that right, green pepper. I can assure you that once you have Shiso on your skin, you will recognize it, but if you're that person that hates to eat green peppers, don't despair. It's not like wearing a salad at all, it acts like a bridge between the bewitching herbs and the woody drydown. It helps to maintain that freshness in the blend well into the final stages.
As the drydown approaches, I start to smell a touch of bitter almond or heliotrope, and I've no idea if it's actually there, it may be the qualities of the woods and astringency of patchouli creeping up in intensity. The sandalwood is there almost from the start, my nose hones in on sandalwood because it's one of my very favorite things in the world to smell, and this is extremely high quality sandalwood. The kewda provides an interesting (and not very often used) vegetal musk that really meshes well with the particular patchouli Mandy has used here. The agarwood is hard to pick out on its own, but it serves to strengthen and smooth out the woody base. Shiso gives quite possibly one of the most beautiful drydowns I have ever experienced, and it lasts for several hours. I will say that I enjoy a good synthetic woody accord very much and realize the need for it now more than ever (especially with sandalwood being so scarce), but when you get to smell natural sandalwood, you remember just what you've been missing.
I am confident in saying, unequivocally, that there is no other perfume on earth like Aftelier Shiso. This is a new kind of perfume. It is multi-layered, and multi-faceted, has varying moods, and in many ways (even though I've spent many hours with it) is still somewhat unfamiliar to me. It is emotionally challenging and at the same time balancing and recalibrating, it has the heart of a lion but the physical presence of a sprite. Shiso is everything I love, yet nothing I've ever known before.
But I'll let you in on a little secret: I love a good perfume mystery.
Aftelier Perfumes Shiso is available at Aftelier.com in different sizes, including sample size.