Scents and the city

Pe­nang- born fra­grance designer pays tribute to his home­town.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SECTION - By CHOW CING star2@ thes­tar. com. my

EVER won­dered if the scent in your city could be bot­tled up as a per­fume?

One Malaysian fra­grance designer has done just that, pay­ing tribute to his home­town – Ge­orge­town in Pe­nang – a her­itage city known for its rich his­tory and cul­ture.

Born and raised in Pe­nang, Josh Lee Chun Yee, 39, was ed­u­cated at St. Xavier’s In­sti­tu­tion up un­til Form Six.

A Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia ( UPM) grad­u­ate, the chem­istry de­gree holder con­tin­ued his stud­ies in Euro­pean fra­grances and cos­met­ics. He then ob­tained a mas­ter’s de­gree at ISIPCA ( In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute For Fra­grance, Cos­met­ics and Flavour) in Ver­sailles, France.

In 2004, he was awarded Best Stu­dent Award for the Post­grad­u­ate cat­e­gory by IFEAT ( In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Es­sen­tial Oils and Aroma Trade) based on his fi­nal year the­sis.

Upon his re­turn from France, he started his own brand Josh Lee Fra­grances in Au­gust 2012.

In 2013, Lee was se­lected as one of Pres­tige mag­a­zine’s Top 40 un­der 40 for Young Achiev­ers Award. The fol­low­ing year, he was listed as one of the 20 fi­nal­ists in the Al­liance Bank SME In­no­va­tion Chal­lenge, com­ing out as one of the top con­tenders among 500 com­pa­nies.

In 2016, he launched Ny­onya, the third fra­grance in his Malaysian Her­itage Col­lec­tion. As of now, his Malaysian Her­itage Col­lec­tion is com­plete with three fra­grances: Ge­orge Town, OUD and Ny­onya.

“I am al­ways in­spired by food, cul­ture and her­itage. That’s why my fra­grances are based on her­itage and cul­ture, which makes them more special rather than just stan­dard com­mer­cial per­fumes,” ex­plains Lee in a re­cent in­ter­view at Me­nara Star in Pe­tal­ing Jaya.

In the fol­low­ing Q& A, he elab­o­rates on his quixotic jour­ney as a fra­grance designer.

A per­fumer is not a com­mon ca­reer path in Malaysia. What in­spired you to be­come one?

When I was younger, my fa­ther used to spray his cologne on me be­fore I left the house. More­over, I grew up in a fam­ily that owns a bak­ing in­gre­di­ents shop.

The shop was al­ways filled with the aroma of com­fort­ing flavours like choco­late, vanilla, cof­fee, straw­berry and pan­dan. Since then, I have al­ways been in­trigued by dif­fer­ent scents.

Where does one go to learn to be­come a per­fumer? Are there any pro­grams avail­able lo­cally?

I am a dreamer who is pas­sion­ate about scents and all I wanted to do is study per­fumery. Un­for­tu­nately, there are no lo­cal pro­grammes ded­i­cated to fra­grance study. The clos­est course to per­fumery in Malaysia would be Chem­istry.

Af­ter my de­gree in Chem­istry at UPM, I was rec­om­mended by Al­liance Fran­caise in KL ( where I took French classes) to fur­ther study per­fumery at ISIPCA, the top per­fumery in­sti­tute in France. Orig­i­nally founded by Guer­lain, ISIPCA has pro­duced nu­mer­ous famed mas­ter per­fum- ers. Dur­ing the two- year pro­gramme, I learnt how to cre­ate and for­mu­late per­fumes, cos­met­ics and skin­care prod­ucts.

I also had to learn about busi­ness and mar­ket­ing in my sec­ond year.

Among your Malaysia Her­itage col­lec­tion, which one is your favourite?

I like Ny­onya the most. This fresh flo­ral fra­grance em­bod­ies the grace­ful fem­i­nin­ity of a modern Ny­onya ( also known as Per­anakan which refers to Straits- born women of Chi­nese and Malay her­itage).

This Eau de Par­fum is a blend of berg­amot, neroli, Ny­onya flow­ers ( pe­ony, rose, jas­mine, lotus, cham­paca and orchid), cedar, san­dal­wood and musk. This per­fume em­braces flow­ers as part of the Ny­onya cul­ture, which makes it so unique as com­pared to other per­fumes.

How dif­fer­ent are your fra­grances com­pared to in­ter­na­tional brands?

The unique­ness is high­lighted by in­dige­nous in­gre­di­ents such as hi­bis­cus and spices in­clud­ing nut­meg, cin­na­mon, jas­mine and san­dal­wood.

We are one of the first pre­mium brands to be cer­ti­fied halal by Jakim in Malaysia. We also have the IFRA ( In­ter­na­tional Fra­grance As­so­ci­a­tion) cer­tifi­cate. All of my fra­grances con- form to in­ter­na­tional qual­ity stan­dards set by the IFRA.

What is the process of cre­at­ing a fra­grance?

The first step is to come up with an idea and con­cept. The blend­ing process is not that dif­fi­cult, as the most dif­fi­cult is be­ing will­ing to spend a lot of time on re­search.

In the case of Ge­orge Town, I spent two to three months just try­ing to un­der­stand the city from a his­tor­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic per­spec­tive. Peo­ple would ask me “Why did you name it Ge­orge Town?” or “How does it re­late to the city?” Hence, I felt the need to cre­ate a fra­grance that was im­bibed with the his­tor­i­cal essence of the city.

Also, I made sure that it would re­late to the pop­u­la­tion’s imag­i­na­tion and per­cep­tion. Next, I will fo­cus on putting all the in­gre­di­ents to­gether. Af­ter mix- ing, we will run a few mar­ket tests to en­sure that the per­fume is ready.

The whole process, from con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion to the fill­ing and pack­ag­ing of the per­fume, can take roughly a year.

What were the chal­lenges be­hind the process?

For us, it was all about pub­lic­ity and try­ing to get peo­ple to be aware of a lo­cal fra­grance brand.

More­over, I own a small com­pany where I’m the only one per­form­ing the main re­spon­si­bil­i­ties which in­clude the de­vel­op­ment phase, mar­ket­ing, sales and even busi­ness de­vel­op­ment.

In spite of every­thing, I al­ways have time for my­self.

Be­sides Pe­nang, are you think- ing of any other state as in­spi­ra­tion for fu­ture fra­grances?

I’m al­ways in­spired when I travel to places that have di­verse cul­tures and food.

When I launched Ny­onya, I kept in mind that this fra­grance is a tribute to Malacca, Pe­nang, Sin­ga­pore and Phuket, Thai­land.

Ac­tu­ally, I am think­ing of Kuala Lumpur as my next des­ti­na­tion. How­ever, I would re­quire a pe­riod of time to study and pro­duce a scent that could re­ally rep­re­sent KL. Or per­haps I would get in­spired by our lo­cal food in­stead of other states in Malaysia.

Next year, I will be launch­ing an­other col­lec­tion that will also con­sist of three fra­grances. This col­lec­tion’s theme will be based on gar­den trees.

I am a dreamer who is pas­sion­ate about scents and all I wanted to do is study per­fumery. Josh Lee

— pho­tos: Josh Lee

As a fra­grance designer, Lee is in­spired by cul­ture and her­itage.

Lee’s Malaysia Her­itage Col­lec­tion fea­tures art deco square bot­tles that come with eco- friendly pack­ag­ing.

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