The Beauty of Scent, Scrutinized for Pleasure

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land: Aftelier Perfumes Shiso

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.


26 comments:

  1. For someone who was struggling earlier to get this out, I think you did a good job. I've been here before where words don't adequately express what's bottled up inside. I should use this as inspiration. I want to try this now and that's a testament to your words ;-)

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  2. Thank you Barney, that's very kind of you to say! I hope you do try Shiso, and you'd probably dig Tango and Memento as well.

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  3. So many wonderful phrases and images, Carrie. What a beautiful review to read before bed!

    That's one thorough review - You took me top to base through a perfume I'm wouldn't know what to make of.

    I love a good perfume mystery too, but after the perfume I reviewed for tomorrow, I want familiar for a little while ;)

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  4. Mandy's perfumes are transformative. I never experienced such strange and wonderful fragrances. I have not tried Shiso yet, but your beautiful review made me extremely curious.

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  5. I've never been interested in trying Shiso because shiso as a flavor is so strange. It's good, but strange. Like basil-evergreen-lemon-mint. It also doesn't help that I once made myself sick on a home-made shiso infused liquor which was basil-evergreen-lemon-mint-turpentine.

    BUT - Now, I'm curious. I feel I can literally stomach it now because of the luxurious base.

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  6. Joanne: Thank you! It was definitely a challenge I had a lot of fun with. Looking forward to your next Lauder review!

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  7. Birgit: I think you would find Shiso fascinating. I really, really think you need to try it. Knowing your tastes and preferences fairly well by now, I'd say it would be a slam dunk!

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  8. Victoria: I have never eaten shiso (to my knowledge) but I can imagine that it's so distinctive that imbibing too much of anything infused with it might leave an indelible impression. There's a lot more to Shiso than shiso (quite a bit), so I hope you'll give it a try. :)

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  9. Oh.My.Lord. Carried, your evocative description had me literally paralyzed; I could not tear myself away from every word and read each one slowly, like drips of water, until I came to the very end...only then did I realize I was holding my breath! How you transported me, I don't even know but I do understand that you have quite made me LUST/WANT/NEED to try this. There is nothing I like more than a mystery and a rare object, and Shiso seems to fit the bill perfectly. I'll go check it out right now!! As usual, a masterful post......love it!

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  10. Just noticed a glaring typo...please forgive me; I meant to say "Carrie" at the beginning......giant OOPS!!! (See how excited I got over your review? I temporarily forgot how to type properly...lol!!!)

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  11. Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Eugenia! I'm blushing! :)

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  12. This one sounds so incredible cool. I just have to get some Aftelier fragrances soon :)

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  13. It is very cool, beyond cool actually. I hope you treat yourself to some of those adorable screw-top sample vials soon, they are a pleasure all themselves.

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  14. Carrie

    Your review goes right into my soul -- what an experience for me to read your beautiful writing and know that you saw into me and what this "hard to define" perfume was all about it. When i create a perfume I feel that who I am is in the bottle. Thank you so much -- it really does mean so much to me.
    Mandy

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  15. Thank you Mandy! There is obviously a mutual creative give-and-take between us that works very well. I do treasure it very much.

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  16. Sharyn StormonthJuly 6, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    Thank you Carrie, for yet another wonderful review. It is a great thing when you can put into words something so elusive. I am ordering a full set of Afteliers today.. Do you see me shiver with An-Tici--Pation? ~Sharryn~♥

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  17. Hi Sharryn! That's wonderful that you're ordering Aftelier samples! You will get to experience for yourself how arresting the fragrances are. Thanks for stopping by to comment. :)

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  18. From what I gather, green pepper essential oil is actually from a green peppercorn, not a bell pepper. Sounds like an amazing perfume.

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  19. Felicia: That's interesting, thank you for sharing that! Shiso really is amazing. I wish everyone could get a sniff.

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  20. What a coincidence - I tried Shiso today after ages and its spicy greenness still hits the spot..I found it the most unusual too when I first smelled it (I haven't ever tasted shiso either) and I still think there is no perfume like it. After a while, I finally found the language to describe it-To me it is the olfactpry equivalent of eating Indian paan -which is basically betel leaf wrapped around areca nut and slaked lime and some other spices. It doesn't smell like paan but reminds me of the act of eating it..

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  21. Very compelling stuff Carrie. I like your ending the most as it's egging me on to get a sample, "I am confident in saying, unequivocally, that there is no other perfume on earth like Aftelier Shiso."

    Plus I kind of like the sound of green pepper in perfume! :)

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  22. Thank you, Nick/Tommy/Liam! (I love you all, but want to have my bases covered). By the way, how do I subscribe to your blog? Can't find a way. Thanks for stopping by and commenting here! <3

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  23. Amazing, Carrie...that's what I think with pretty much every review of yours I've read so far. As soon as I build up my resources again (which are quite depleted at the moment), I'm ordering samples of Mandy Aftel's perfumes -- my solemn vow! They will be the first thing I order before anything else, thanks to your beautiful reviews (and those of your fellow perfume goddesses, Birgit and Tarleisio).

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  24. Suzanne: thank you SO much for your lovely comment, it means a lot to me!

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  25. I'm trying Shiso right now and Oh-my-god, it's AMAZING. It might very well be the coolest one I've ever smelled! Just had to share this :)

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  26. I'm so glad you like it and sense the same strangeness about it that I do, it's enchanting. bizarre, but very successful, I think. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience!

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