Two Perfumers Make Scents Out Of Penang, Seremban, Borneo & More

What’s your go-to perfume? Is it Chanel? Dolce & Gabbana? Gucci or Chloe? What do they remind you of? Some will definitely say the sea, the forest or even chocolate.

What if we told you that there is a certain perfume that reminds you of the waves and beaches in Malaysia? What if you could carry certain perfumes with you whenever you travel, and it smells like … home? After all, scents trigger emotions and memories, right?

Yes, carrying home in your bag is now possible, thanks to two genius Malaysians who have immortalised certain aspects of our beloved countries in bottles. Meet Josh Lee of Josh Lee Fragrances and Aien Mokhtar of OLFAC3 – two individuals who love their homes so much and have decided to share it with the rest of the world.

Josh Lee, Creator of the George Town, Oud and Nyonya Perfumes

Image: Josh Lee

Josh Lee was inspired from a very young age – his father used to spray his cologne on him, and the family even operated a shop that sells cake ingredients (Hong Yap in George Town) such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry as well as spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

He is always inspired when he travels to places that have a great diversity of cultures, nature and food. For Josh, places like Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Provence & the Côte d’Azur in France have intriguing scents of flowers and herbs such as lavender, lemongrass, frangipani, rose and jasmine.

“I believe that we need to preserve our heritage in order to move forward into the new century and I am doing my part by preserving our heritage through scents. Hence, Josh Lee brand’s tagline is Heritage through Scent. All fragrances are inspired by the heritage stories and blended with the ingredients that are related to the heritage, culture and nature of Malaysia.” – Josh Lee to

Josh Lee Fragrances’ Malaysia Heritage Collection. Image: Josh Lee

On His Signature Scent, ‘George Town’.

Image: Shutterstock

“I was born and bred in Penang. And of course I was extremely proud when George Town received the UNESCO world heritage status.

“But, I wanted my friends to remember Penang long after their visit. I was looking around for a unique gift; something that reminded my friends of Penang and that was when the idea came up that perhaps there should be a fine fragrance based on the heritage of Penang.”

So What Does ‘George Town’ Smell Like?

“There are four main scents of George Town city: fresh citrusy scent of the sea, heavenly gourmet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom), romantic floral bouquet (hibiscus and rose) and woody incense notes (sandalwood incense is used in many Chinese and Indian temples at Penang).

And What About Nyonya and Oud?

“OUD captures the scent of Malaysian Rainforests with its rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. It opens with fresh notes of dawn break and followed by a medley of indigenous spices, herbs and flora before unfurling the elegant yet exotic oud accord of its precious trees.

Its blend is built with zesty bitter orange, bergamot, spicy clove, hibiscus petals, patchouli, agarwood, sandalwood and cedarwood.”

“Nyonya is inspired by the culture of the Peranakan. In fact, it is a tribute to the Nyonya ladies who love flowers a lot, so this fresh floral fragrance embodies the graceful femininity of a modern Nyonya. She embraces flowers as part of her Peranakan culture; with rose and jasmine symbolising her eternal beauty, lotus reflecting her purity, champaca expressing her eternal love while peony and orchid portraying her nobility.

This perfume is blended with bergamot, neroli, the Nyonya Flowers (peony, rose, jasmine, lotus, champaca and orchid), cedar, sandalwood and musk.”

More Malaysian Scents in the Future?

“Yes, I will be looking into creating more Malaysian scents. First, I will be creating more women’s fragrances which are inspired by the flowers in Malaysia and Asia. The sophisticated scents are blended with a bouquet of local exotic flowers.”

To check out Josh Lee Fragrances, visit this website.

Aien Mokhtar, Creator of Ombak, Borneo, Bunga and Matahari

A big part of what shaped Aien was travel. Living in different cities across Europe and in the Republic of North Macedonia, Canada and New York before coming back to Malaysia has seen Aien buy and collect perfumes from all the different places she’s been to for keepsakes and memories.

However, upon discovering aromatherapy and the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and natural ingredients, she started buying, collecting and blending new scents. Mainly self-taught as an Indie perfumer, Aien took up courses in Australia and France to learn about the inspiration behind the perfumers she loves.

“Malaysia offers an endless inspiration for the creation of new scents because of our diversity and our heritage. Preservation of our heritage and culture by any means is important, as it reminds us of where we come from and who we are. Scents can be one effective way of preservation because we can wear it and wrap ourselves in its blanket of nostalgia and appreciate it in the present moment.” – Aien Mokhtar to

On Malaysia Playing a Big Role in One of Her Popular Series, Memories.

Memories series by OLFAC3. Image: Aien Mokhtar

“Malaysia has been my key source of inspiration because of its natural and cultural diversity and I wanted to capture the feeling of growing up here. I wanted to interpret the essence of the different parts of Malaysia that I have experienced and discovered, to be able to relive them through the perfumes that I have created for the series.

“The Memories series is a collection inspired by the fond memories of places I have been to and how they made me feel. I hope that our  Memories Series will take our customers back to places that they have been, and make them want to go to places they have never been.”

What Does ‘Matahari’ Smell Like?

OLFAC3’s Matahari perfume. Image: Aien Mokhtar

“I was born in the small town of Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, and I spent a large part of my childhood there until I was 10 years old. Matahari, our best-selling floral-fruity composition in our Memories Series is an interpretation of memories from my childhood, growing up amongst the tropical fruit trees in my late great grandfather’s fruit orchard.

“It reminds me of simple, unforgettable times when I was bathed in sunlight shining between the trees, the excitement of watching the trees bear fruit and that sense of happiness when it was harvest time and we ate the fruits together.”

What Is the Best Thing You Have Ever Heard About Your Creations?

Borneo Malaysia Island
Image: Shutterstock

“My favourites include a customer who loves Borneo because it reminds her of her childhood, and in turn it reminds her mother of her own childhood too!”

Are You Looking Into Creating More Malaysian Scents in the Future?

“Yes, of course! I am working on a tribute scent for a legendary woman in Malaysian folklore which will be part of our Special Edition series. Also in the pipeline is a scent interpretation of our capital city, Kuala Lumpur. We may or may not release it. It feels a bit too cliché, to be honest!”

Why Do You Think the Work That You Do Is Important?

“Smell is not just a sensory perception, it is also an inextricable part of our social lives and culture. Scents are very much linked to our memories – it can affect our emotions and what we recall of our experiences. When we smell a certain scent, it often reminds us of a moment in time, a place, a feeling we once had or a certain someone. Through scents, we engage and communicate without words.”

If You Could Create a Scent for ‘Malaysia’ as a Whole…

“This is quite a challenge because of the fact that Malaysia is so diverse, from West Malaysia to East Malaysia! But if I am making an attempt, it would be in the direction of an aromatic floral for the day, incorporating the herbs that we can find only in Malaysian cuisine and Asian floral species. For the night, a gourmand oriental; incorporating the sweeter, more heady aphrodisiac flowers, Asian spices and precious wood.

“I would describe the end-scent as something complex and enigmatic, unique and unforgettable, like discovering a well-kept, captivating and wonderful secret, much like what Malaysia is.”

To check out OLFAC3, visit this website. OLFAC3 also hosts perfume creation workshops.

What do you think?

Written by Kathlyn Ursula D'Souza

Professionally a journalist, personally a lover of all things fried chicken, Gogorn (her big black German Shepherd) and ice cream.

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