Scent of an Island

Smell is apparently our most sensitive sense, evocative of deep emotions and memories. Perfumers use this to their advantage – and to ours.

Making Scents for a Hundred Years

Sheikh Muhammad Badjenid.p>

Located at the corner of Lebuh Pantai and Lebuh Chulia, S.M. Badjenid & Son is the country's oldest retailer of perfume compounds, attar oils, bakhoor1 and oudh2

The family business was founded in 1917 by Sheikh Mohammed Ahmad Badjenid, a Yemeni from Hadhramaut, and is now run by third-generation family members. Known for their high quality halal fragrances, the shop is a treasure trove for scents: "We have over 400 types of designer perfumes and attar oils to choose from," says great-grandson Sheikh Muhammad Badjenid. "All our scents are concentrated and without alcohol, which means they are longer-lasting and can be worn by everyone. It is rare to find pure perfume essences in designer fragrances today because for profit maximisation purposes, they have either been diluted with alcohol or water.

"Muslims are generally discouraged from wearing perfumes watered down with alcohol, so they are advised to use attar oils instead." Attars are essential oils derived from botanical sources like rose and sandalwood and were once highly favoured by the Mughal nobles of India. Though mostly used as perfumes, attar oils are also believed to have health benefits, including easing depression, tension and exhaustion of the nervous system, and regularising heart palpitations.

At S.M. Badjenid & Son, customers are also welcome to create their personalised scents. "They would have to be specific about the kind of scents they want as we mix the perfumes according to their preferences," says Muhammad, adding that in the past, they would help create signature scents for local retailers such as One Drop Perfumes. "We are also in the business of exporting perfumes to Medan and Thailand. There, the retailers will do their own branding and marketing to re-sell them."

S.M. Badjenid & Son is the country's oldest retailer of perfume compounds, attar oils, bakhoor and oudh.

S.M. Badjenid & Son is located at 184-186 Lebuh Pantai and opens Monday to Thursday (8am-5pm) and Friday toSaturday (8am-12pm, 3pm-5pm).

George Town in a Bottle

Perfumer Josh Lee seeks to capture the Penang identity in the scents he creates. "I want to preserve Penang's heritage as a multicultural centre and capture our journey in history, from past to present, by using local ingredients and essential oils that identify with our culture."

In 2012 Lee created the eau de toilette "George Town" as a tribute to his home city, under his eponymous company Josh Lee Fragrances. "The idea came to me when I was out shopping for a one-of-a-kind souvenir for my visiting friends . It was the perfect opportunity to elevate Penang's status, and why not, since international fashion brands have also had their products named after renowned cities, such as Burberry's 'London', YSL's 'Paris' and DKNY's 'I Love New York'."

S.M. Badjenid & Son boasts over 400 different kinds of designer perfumes and attar oils to choose from.

The shop is a treasure trove for customers looking for special scents.

To design the fragrance, Lee spent hours on research, understanding George Town from how it is generally imagined and from the city's historical, social and economic dimensions. "I wanted to create a sophisticated fragrance that blends historical specificity with popular imagination."

"George Town" is a nostalgic scent, featuring four main island characteristics: fresh citrus; the gourmet spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom; romantic floral bouquets of hibiscus and rose; and woody incense notes of sandalwood reminisce of the sandalwood joss sticks burned during prayers in temples.

Josh Lee.

Lee has since also released the eau de parfums "Oud", a woody oriental fragrance hinting at the rich biodiversity of Malaysian rainforests, and "Nyonya", a fresh floral scent that calls to mind the graceful femininity of the modern Peranakan woman.

Each perfume takes about a year to create. "All my fragrances are unisex; I don't believe in labelling them by gender because scents are personal. They are dependent on the character of the individual person. For example, "Oud" has strong woody and spicy scents and is recommended for someone with a pronounced personality. And even though "Nyonya" was inspired by modern Peranakan women, I have come across several male customers who feel they are better suited to the floral scent instead.

"We are one of the first premium brands to be certified halal by Jakim Malaysia. This is a great milestone, motivating us to reach a wider Asian market. The certification encompasses strict quality checking on ingredients as well as the production environment. Muslim customers can rest assured that all Josh Lee fragrances are without ingredients deemed haram or unhygienic; they are able to wear the scents during prayers without the need to wash them off first because the denatured alcohol contained in the fragrances is derived from plants. It is non-drinkable and will not cause intoxication."

The Josh Lee collection.

"I want to preserve Penang's and ensuring they are given shelf space alongside well-established perfume brands have been a painstaking effort. "As an up-andcoming local brand - and a niche one at that - I was overlooked by retailers in the beginning. I'd send my brand profile and proposal and would receive no replies. But it strengthened my resolve: I persistently called them until they agreed to meet me so that I could personally introduce my products to them. I learned that only then are retailers more willing to give local brands a chance.

Fragrances by Josh Lee are available at selected hotels, airport duty-free retail outlets, shopping malls andtourist attractions in Penang, Langkawi Island, KL, Sabah and Sarawak. They are also available online at

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from theUniversity of Wolverhampton.
1 Woodchips soaked in fragrant oils and burnt for their incense.
2Oil that is extracted from agarwood, or gaharu in Malay, and is highly sought after for its distinctive scent.

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