I have a penchant for the generally disturbing and disconcerting. I’m not sure if it’s the ex-goth in me, or the absurdist in me, or if I’m just a morbid little bunny. I just appreciate the atypical, the things that one would not necessarily call pretty, those things off the beaten path of normalcy.
I’m the same way with fragrances. I made Gaia shriek with horror when, upon smelling Etat Libre d’Orange’s Secretions Magnifique, I declared that I’d wear it in the street. I love smelling funky, sweaty, and generally sort of skanky. Oh, and I adore fragrances that are funereal in nature. I actually have a post about my favorite (indie) funereal scents that I’m planning on posting tomorrow, if I can finish polishing it up.
Today, however, I’m focusing on a fragrance that is neither funereal or skanky, but one I once described as simultaneously serene and unsettling. It’s an oxymoron, I realize, but that’s the only way I can accurately describe how this juice makes me feel.
Of course, I should probably tell you what perfume I’m talking about: Aftelier Shiso.
(Sam Mendes and David Lynch have taught me to be skeptical!)
Mandy Aftel has a gift for the strange, beautiful, and poetic. Her fragrances are liquid paintings, meant as much to make their wearers think as they are made to make their wearers smell wonderful. Shiso unsettles me greatly, stirs in me a sense of multiplicity, and encourages me to delve deep to understand just what I’m smelling.
The initial application is a nearly astringent, chilled blast of geranium and lavender and this unbelievable spicy green note: not the same hyper-real green of Haute Claire (if Pantone 354 C had a smell, it’d smell of Haute Claire), but the green of a fresh salad, or perfect leaves on the stems of flowers. This, of course, comes from the perilla (shiso) and green pepper essence that Mandy magically weaved into her creation. I am reminded of the various herbal tonics my grandmother concocted and bathed me in as a small child. My ills are cured, and my core is shaken. The tiniest hint of clove and acidic grapefruit keeps me on my feet. Attempting to understand what exactly I’m smelling is a serious challenge. I just know that it’s undeniably different and lovely.
As the fragrance develops, there is a decidedly dusty floral aspect that begins to emerge. I see books of old pressed roses, the citrus rind garlands I made as a child to hang in my windows, and I smell a soapy, almost waxy accord reminiscent of gardenias - but there are no gardenias (I believe this is the kewda essence but I’m unfamiliar with its fragrance). Oh, and there’s a fantastic soft powdery facet: all patchouli and sandalwood. At this point, my confused nose is in heaven: Mandy’s patchouli and sandalwood are just stunning, and they remain stunning for hours. It’s a perfume to sleep in, if you don’t mind vivid dreams.
(This is the point where the geisha influence finally strikes me and I am reminded of, in Memoirs of a Geisha, Sayruri’s mention of the agarwood that the geishas wore as perfume: the soft, woody scent that trailed those beautiful creatures. Leave it to Mandy to take a classic composition and make it wildly her own.)
Lavanya called Shiso a 'Thunderstorm scent' - “a perfume with that something disturbing that battles with [her] till [she] submit(s) to its beauty, both comforted and expressed.” Carrie declared it “emotionally challenging and at the same time balancing and recalibrating.” I have decided that Shiso is every surburban dystopia trope (think Blue Velvet and American Beauty) distilled into a little bottle: akin to seeing something so perfect and pristine that you wonder if what you see is secretly hiding something dark and twisted. Just beyond that perfect exterior lies chaos.
Don’t let my review scare you: Shiso is truly wonderful, and is truly unique in its composition. Those of you who enjoy woody, spicy, green fragrances will fall head over heels for it - as will those of you who enjoy a challenge.