Shiseido Basala: ghosts of perfumes past

Shiseido Basala 2

A trip to Athens certainly means coming back with several of my bottles left behind. Reconnecting with the past and bringing it up to date. I am using my Full Bottles page as an inventory of perfumes I buy. Together with my new acquisitions I have put there all the bottles I brought with me from the vault of my collection. I was very excited to be reunited with Tom Ford Urban Musk. I love it so much, it is one of the ultimate stink bombs and you can find hilarious video reviews to support this characterisation. Not many perfumistas share the love for this one and I don’t blame them. What drew me to it was the smell of decomposed cellulose but now I can say that I can pick up the strong fecal note in it. What changed? I have cleaned my cat’s litter box a few times since my review.  As somebody very accurately commented, this should actually have been named ‘Rural Musk’.

The first bottle I thought about bringing with me, was Basala. Released in 1993, it was widely available through Shiseido retailers. In fact it was the masculine counterpart of Feminité du Bois at the time, although Serge Lutens has never been linked to it. This is how I came to know it, long before perfume was a passion for me. It was my one and only bottle around mid 90’s. Later on I managed to snatch the last bottle still readily available in a shop near where I lived at the time. This was a wise move. If Nombre Noir has become a symbol for the unattainable and untouchable perfume with the help of Luca Turin’s review, Basala has slowly climbed its way to the top of the unattainability ladder through word of mouth. Prices for a bottle of Basala currently range from 300 to 500 euros. Basala is housed in a bottle designed by Mark Newson and in fact Newson used the same design idea to shape a series of iconic chairs.

from left: basala - embryo -orgone- felt

from left: basala – embryo -orgone- felt

Imagine my frustration when I brought my bottle to Geneva and wore it for the first time after many months…. Gone…! I couldn’t almost smell anything. Just alcohol and then a strange, extremely volatile note coupled with the most unpleasant and hard to describe metallic element. I had already read ‘aldehydes’ included in the ingredient list but I would have never believed they exist until now. This volatile left over of the beauty my Basala once was, can only be aldehydes. Some sort of heavy molecular weight aldehyde that clings to the skin and stays there for quite long with a cold, metallic presence. Struggling with my frustration over the loss of a loved scent I kept going back and trying again to resurrect it. Spraying repeatedly, trying to clear the sprayer of any remnants of old juice that may have been affecting it. Nothing changed. And then I gave it a full wearing, tired and frail as it was. And the most mysterious thing happened: while the scent on my skin exhibits a fraction of its base notes, the sillage that I get is exactly as Basala should be. Every time I try to detect it on my skin I fail miserably yet it is there around me, as long as I don’t try too hard to capture it. A ghost of a scent or rather a scent-ghost lives with me. What I feared would be a review drawn from memory will eventually be like one of those photos of ghosts and fairies taken accidentally in the background of a family picture.

Basala normally opens with a herbal galore, rosemary, clary sage, mint and hints of resins. In this aromatic accord lavender is also incorporated but it is mostly the camphoreous aspects of the plant that are used. Although it was released in the 90’s it has all the characteristics of the 80’s, pungent and broad-shouldered thanks to the aldehydes. This powerful opening is soon met by a dried flower bouquet which continuous to echo herbal nuances: chamomile, marigold and black tea leaves is what I smell mostly. The herbaceous opening is now softened by what I can only describe as a ‘vegetal honey’ accord. The juxtaposition of camphoreous and honeyed herbal notes, supported by metallic aldehydes is still unique. Basala dries down into an exquisite humming noise that I suspect uses some kind of amber that meets the aldehydes and radiates in an almost mystical, ancient frequency. If you want to get a hint of what Basala smelled like, you have to smell Lubin Vetiver Itasca. It has the same deep forest feel but without the mesmerising aldehydes.

To this day Basala remains the perfume that has moved me synaesthetically more than any other. I could very simply describe it as travelling down a crimson rabbit-hole with a sphere of ambery-golden light as my guide. The synaesthesia works every time like clockwork, even today, even from my tired bottle. Every time I wear it the ghost of Basala becomes less and less transparent, as if it lives off of me, as if I had summoned it from the dead. The experience becomes more intense to the point that I question my judgement on the preservation of the juice. It feels as if Basala lives under my skin since the mid 90’s and revoking its remnants has awaken it in me. I become Basala.

Notes from Parfumo: Basil, Bergamot, Tarragon, Fruity notes, Green notes, Lavender, Clary sage, Neroli, Rosemary, Carnation, Jasmine, Caraway, Rose, Fir, Cinnamon, Amber, Oakmoss, Coconut, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Patchouli, Cedar

Shiseido Basala notes

Notes from my nose: rosemary, camphor, resins, chamomile, marigold, black tea, aldehydes

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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

7 comments

  1. This is a great perfume story, Christos. On one hand, it makes me wonder, Hmm, what is the real reason that this perfume’s smell seemed to have evaporated, in a sense, when you opened it after not having done so in so long … only to reappear later, to the point that you have a synesthesia experience when you smell it?!! Are you simply re-learning to smell it, I wonder.

    On the other hand, I like the mystery of this story so much that I don’t want to contemplate what accounts for the experience you have with it now. Enjoy your ghost! 🙂

    • If you are asking my honest opinion, I think the perfume is just gone. But as I wear it its memories become stronger to the point that only a fraction of its bouquet manages to elicit the entire spectrum of notes in my mind.

  2. Pingback: MiN New York Scent Stories Volume 1, part 1 : Long Board, Momento, The Botanist, Shaman, Moon Dust and Dahab | Memory Of Scent

  3. When I first started on my “deliberate” fragrance journey in the early autumn of 2013 (previously I’d only used fragrances given to me as an accompaniment to going out at night, or an aftershave splash in the morning), I was lucky enough to stumble upon Basala. I love Japanese styles. I have a collection of Japanese digital watches and fountain pens. So seeing a fragrance from that country with such a striking bottle… I was intrigued. The eau de toilette was quite pricey for my budget at the time, but the aftershave was still rather accessible. I picked up a slightly used 150ml bottle for about $50 USD. Little did I know that Basala was already on a nasty upward slide in value, and that I should have bought a 100ml bottle of EdT at $125 USD when the going was good.

    My neophyte nose was smitted with Basala aftershave. To me this was the Shangri La of male fragrances. Woody, spicy, and fresh/clean. I grabbed another bottle of aftershave a couple months later, new in box for $75. Then, a damaged bottle of partially used 100ml EdT came up. I talked the seller down a bit and got it for a very fair price. Now, the EdT has much more depth. Great to put on the aftershave first, followed by the EdT.

    However… I found something peculiar. I had decanted the aftershave into an atomizer. After about half-way through, it started to smell a little strange. It had lost its “punch”. There was a flatness with rough edges. An echo of what once was. And mind you, this was in a temperature controlled environment. I opened up the bottle that the decant came from and it smelled a little richer. Was air working on it? Not sure. In any case, at least with the EdT there isn’t much air mixing going on. But I have to wonder, Christos. How much of the liquid is left in your bottle? Maybe due to the composition of this fragrance, once used you have to plow through it until gone… otherwise, letting it sit for long periods allows it to degrade? There’s so little written about Basala, so it’s hard to know.

    In any case, now that I’ve had a full year of experiences across a good many well respected men’s vintage fragrances, I’m not as keen on Basala as I was originally. I still enjoy the EdT, but when considering dollar for dollar market value, there are other fragrances I’d rather buy a back-up bottle of than Basala.

    • My bottle is still filled at two thirds. I think time was cruel to it. Perhaps Dominique Preyssas used too much of a good thing, too much of a volatile ingredient that has betrayed the composition. Perhaps I waited too long, who knows? It is amazing however the way it keeps coming back to my memory and to present the longer I wear it

  4. Christos, did you ever get yourself another bottle of Basala? I’ve had mine for about 1.5 years now and it’s still smelling great. I find it works well layered over the aftershave. I’m still so sad that this fragrance ended up discontinued. There’s still inventory of it floating about, but at pretty ridiculous prices. You have to diligently hunt and be quick on the trigger finger to find something more reasonably priced.

    • It is so ridiculously expensive that I have never looked for another bottle. I settle for Lubin Itasca, not a dead ringer for Basala, much simpler, but it seems to be able to trigger the Basala memories

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