Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Introducing Josh Lee Fragrances: GeorgeTown

Josh Lee debuted his fragrance line in 2012 and the first scent was created to honor the perfumer's home town of George Town in Penang, Malaysia; a city of rich cultural heritage named to the UNESCO list of cultural sites in 2008. George Town is the first perfume created to honor a UNESCO cultural city.

I will introduce the perfume with Josh Lee's own words, illustrated by the photo above of the busy docks of old time George Town. "In the golden days of Colonial Penang, a merchant was sitting at the jetty of George Town while holding a cup of bergamot tea at dawn. While sipping the bergamot tea as it slowly diffused its refreshing and calming aroma, he looked out to sea and watched the ships docking at port. The cold morning air fused with the salty smell of the sea water accompanied him as he made his way to the busy trading grounds. As he inspected goods and shared trading banters, the fragrance of the pungent spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and anise mingled with the heady scents of local flowers such as hibiscus and rose as well as the delicious aroma wafting out of the kitchens in the vicinity, creating an intoxicating melody of fragrances. To him, this was the quintessential scent of George Town."

If you are a fan of Earl Grey tea, George Town is a must try! On first application the sparkling note of bergamot refreshes and enlivens the scent, quickly followed by tea notes. Sometimes tea in scent can be a bit harsh or too astringent but in George Town the tea scent is refreshing and smooth. The tea note is green tea rather than the black tea of classic Earl Grey, and this allows the note to compliment rather than overpower. It is subtle and wafts in the background.

Josh describes the opening of George Town as the freshness of bergamot and green tea, followed by the aquatic tones of sea water. Normally I am on guard when I see the term "aquatic", but in this instance it is a soft note of saltwater tang reminiscent of the sea, one fragrant component in the olafactory picture.

The second stage of the cologne introduces spices which remind Josh of the varied gourmet offerings of his island. It also harkens back to the days when the city was along the spice trade route, which is what influenced its unique heritage. Notes of  nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom flavor the scent but it goes nowhere near being a spice bomb of a fragrance. The notes just add warmth and a piquant tang.

Soft floral notes of rose and hibiscus represent the profusion of nature. These notes offer a quiet beauty and are not at all sweet or flowery. The cologne eventually settles into a base of sandalwood, musk, and patchouli. The scent is unisex.

I had sampled the entire Jo Malone limited edition line of tea fragrances the day before trying George Town, and Josh Lee's fragrance was more to my liking than any of the tea based Jo Malone scents. It starts with a refreshing cup of tea and takes you on a stroll through George Town to experience the flavors and scent of the place. It is an Eau de Toilette so longevity is shorter but it holds up better on my skin than the Jo Malone scents did.

Josh says his early life prepared him for a career as a perfumer. As a young child his father would spray Josh with his cologne before leaving the house. "I've always been amazed by different scents, from my father's cologne, grandmother's Chanel No. 5, the smell of incense in temples, smells of nature such as the sea, and the different smells of food," says Josh. "I always remember the refreshing yet salty smell of sea breeze at the school field which is near the sea, as well as the delightful scent of flowers in Penang Botanic Garden." Josh's family operates a shop that sells cake ingredients, and the air was always filled with the aroma of gourmand comfort scents of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee.
"My family shop, Hong Yap in George Town, was indeed the perfect environment for the making of a perfumer." ~ Josh Lee
After receiving a degree in Chemistry Josh decided to pursue his desire to be a perfumer and was a member of the first international class held by ISIPCA, a top institute in France for the study of fragrance and cosmetics. After graduating Josh developed his career for the next ten years in various roles of product development, and in 2012 he fulfilled his lifelong dream of establishing his own fragrance company. Josh's vision for his company is to promote the heritage and culture of Malaysia through scents. Josh developed his first scent to honor the place he has always called home, and has also been recognized as a city of historical significance. George Town, along with Melaka, were added to the list of UNESCO cultural sites in recognition of the living picture the two cities represent of an era of trade in centuries past. Both cities are positioned along the Straits of Malacca and were developed over 500 years of trading between Europe and Asia. George Town represents the era of British rule from the end of the 18th century.

"I have seen a lot of big brands promoting their own home city, such as Paul Smith's London, Burberry London, YSL Paris, and DKNY New York," says Josh. "Moreover, my French classmates encouraged me to do a fragrance based on George Town after they could not find a unique souvenir while visiting me."

I asked Josh what he enjoyed about life in his hometown, and how he would advise a visitor to spend the day. "Penang is a quirky island. You can see many colourful pre-war houses with beautiful carvings on the wall and windows. There are a variety of foods ranging from Chinese to Malay and Indian delicacies. If you enjoy nature, we have the beautiful beaches and lush green hills."
"If there is just one place in the world you must visit in your lifetime, it must be Penang." ~ Josh Lee
"For me, my favorite is the delicious food here. My perfect day starts with a bowl of Hokkien Mee, a spicy soup of egg and rice noodles in a stock made from prawn, friend shrimp, port ribs or chicken stock at Seang Lim's stall in Pinang Delicious Food Court at Macalister Road."

"Then for lunch my favorite food is Ah Leng's Char Koay Teow, stir-fried rice cake strips with cockles, eggs and prawns, at Tong Hooi coffee shop at Dato' Kramat Road. It is best to reach there early to avoid the long queues."

"For dinner it would be perfect to have some authentic Peranakan/Nyona food. This cuisine comes from the Peranakans, descendants of the early Chinese immigrants who settled in Penang, Malacca and Singapore. I would recommend to savor it at Auntie Gaik Lean's restaurant at Bishop Street. This old school eatery is famous for its loh bak, assam fish, kerabu, and nutmeg juice. Nutmeg is produced in Penang and is used in food, drinks, and even massage oils."

"If I am not tired, then I can chill out at Narrow Marrow, a simple cafe with a retro decor, or I can go to the Canteen at China house to have a good time listening to good live music."

Josh Lee Fragrances were presented at this year's Spring Sniffapalooza in New York City by Project Felicia founder Hiro Nakayama. Josh is looking to expand his fragrance line out of Malaysia, and it will be available in Singapore by quarter three this year. I very much enjoyed Josh's representation of George Town and look forward to introducing his other two fragrances in my next two posts.
Update: See my other reviews on Josh Lee Fragrances here and here.

For info on obtaining samples mail Josh at info@joshleefragrances.com.

Photos: Top two from Josh Lee website, Earl Grey tea from Google, Penang coast from www.shangri-la.com, stamps from www.smsphilatelic.com, Hokkien Mee from www.asaininspirationscom, food stall from www.classictravel.net, restaurant from www.kokcheehou.blogspot.com, Perfume samples from Josh Lee Fragrances.


Undina said...

It's not surprising that I haven't heard about this perfumer/brand but since I am a fan of bergamot in tea, George Town sounds very appealing (though I'm not sure which would be easier to find for testing - Jo Malone's limited edition or this perfume :) ).

Cynthia said...

LOL, I know what you mean!Sometimes the chase is half the fun for me. I have better access to the Jo Malone limited editions when I'm in Singapore because they love that brand. I think the lightness suits the audience. They always sell out really quickly. For me, the LE just fade way too quickly! Undina, I would be happy to send you the remainder of my sample of George Town if you will PM me your address. Have a nice weekend!