Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Nyonya by Josh Lee Fragrances

Nyonya is the third and newest scent by Josh Lee of Josh Lee Fragrances. Josh creates scents to honor the heritage of his home country of Malaysia and with Nyonya he celebrates the Peranakan culture which originated in Penang and Malacca. A Nyonya is a Peranakan woman of mixed Chinese Maylay/Indonesian heritage. They have a distinct mode of dress which includes the kebaya, a long tunic and embroidered overshirt paired with a batik skirt or sarong,  intricate beaded shoes, and nyonya jewelry, Traditionally they would wear their hair up and the bun would be encircled by a crown of flowers such as tuberose or jasmine.

Josh told me that while his family is not of Peranakan background, he admires their colorful culture and delicacy. "This fresh floral fragrance embodies the graceful feminity of a modern Nyonya," Josh said.  "She embraces flowers as part of her Peranakan culture: rose and jamine symbolizing her eternal beauty, lotus relecting her purity, champaca expressing hr eternal love, while peony and orchid portraying her nobility. Nyonya is a fragrance that celebrates the woman of today who are modern and yet preserve her culture and traditions."

The origins of this unique culture began over 500 years ago when the Chinese arrived in the area, sailing through the Stait of Malacca, their ship's hulls laden with silks, beautiful porcelain, and of course, tea. The Straits area was a good place to stop and trade before setting off for more distant destinations. The journeys were long and many of the men ended up marrying the local Malay women. This intermarriage of Chinese and Malays began a whole new subculture in Malaysia called Peranakans, or Straits Chinese. They combined their customs and come up with a new and unique culture which still exists today, though in dwindling numbers. The largest number of Peranakans are found in Melacca, Penang and Singapore.

When I first arrived in Singapore, which also has a Peranakan community, I was immediately attracted to the few remaining candy colored houses ornamented with colorful floral tiles, french shutters, and other embellishments. Their attention to detail in their surroundings was amazing and instead of the reds and blacks more common in the Chinese culture, or the browns and earth tones prevalent in the Indonesian fabric, the Peranakans seemed to favor bright eye-popping pastels.

The original Peranakans had early success in business and their homes and lifestyle reflected this. Some of the homes remain today and are characterized by long french windows, beautiful tiled walls and floors, inner courtyards, and often are painted in macaroon-like pastels. They would have been filled with dark wood furniture, Chinese porcelain, and the distinctive Peranakan pottery that is highly decorative and colorful.

 Peranakan cuisine is an amalgamation of Chinese food with Malay influences. Josh says Nyonya cuisine is very popular in Penang, where he lives.

This tribute to the feminity of the Nyonya is evidenced by the pretty pink juice in the bottle. The Eau de Parfum is blended with bergamot, neroli, the nyonya flowers of peony, rose, jasmine, lotus, champaca, and orchid, and then cedar, sandalwood, and musk. The first flush of the perfume smells like a transparent rose, but the peony note is quickly apparent on my skin. This is not a simple rose perfume; rose is the initial note I get but soon the other notes are joining in, and Nyonya begins to present as a more formal, complex perfume befitting its namesake.  I think it may be the lotus I'm smelling that gives a fresh yet intoxicating wet note to the perfume.As the notes intensify the rose retains its freshness and there is a little bit of a tang which makes things interesting. After an hour the rose is less distinguishable and the individual flowers are blending together, but the overall effect is a warm floral with a pleasurable fresh beauty.

I think Josh has done a great job of creating a perfume that illustrates the Nyonya life. He could have just gone for a sweet floral and been done with it; there it is, pretty, feminine. But instead he has created something really interesting that captures the spirit of the Nyonya; the delicate beauty of her traditional dress, the piquant notes in her native cuisine, and the spirit of the land in which she lives, surrounded by the ocean's trade winds and the vitality of the sea.

Here Josh Lee is pictured (center) at a launch party for the new Nyonya scent. Pictured to his left is Jean-Pierre Galland, Consellor for Cultural Affairs, French Embassy, Malaysia, and the woman to the right is Dr. Lee Su Kim, an award winning author and founding president of the Peranakan Baba Nyonya Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

Josh Lee's company motto, "Heritage Through Scent", is further explored by the addition of this third perfume to his line, which also includes George Town (reviewed here)  and Oud (reviewed here). I am eager to see the next aspect of Malaysian life he will illustrate fragrantly!

**The top two paintings are by Malaysian artist Yuen Chee Ling. She did a series of paintings called "Nyonya Reminiscence". Ling described the women she painted--"Nyonyas are known to be warm, sociable, and dedicated to things of beauty."
Sample provided by Josh Lee Fragrances. 


Unknown said...

I really loved this post! The history is so fascinating :)

Cynthia said...

Thank you, Nina! I would love a set of their colorful dishes!