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Interview: Singapore’s first-ever Master Perfumer talks about his SG50 home fragrance collection

Scent can be a powerful emotional tool that stirs up old memories and brings back nostalgia. Understanding this, master perfumer Martin Koh conceptualised The Garden City Collection (as commissioned by lifestyle e-boutique Poetree) to honour Singapore turning half a century old. He tells Arman Shah about his special set of reed diffusers.

The Garden City Collection pays homage to Martin's childhood in Singapore 

What’s your motivation behind The Garden City Collection?
The people at Poetree and I were talking about Singapore turning 50 and what it meant to us personally. As I’m turning 50 as well this year, I wanted to do something meaningful and commemorative. Growing up in Singapore during the 60s and 70s, I remember how the words ‘The Garden City” appeared everywhere, be it on stamps or along the roads. So, I decided to come up with this umbrella collection of home fragrances that reminded me of my own childhood experiences in the Garden City.



What is the inspiration behind each fragrance?

I remember walking to school every day along Upper Serangoon Road and seeing all Flame of the Forest trees. When they bloom, the red flowers and green leaves are quite stunning to see. When it rains, all the petals and leaves come falling down, and that to me, really captures the essence of this fragrance. I incorporated lots of fruit notes like apples and peaches to represent the tree’s red flowers, and cucumber, melon and violet leaves to symbolise the tree’s green leaves.

Island Bouquet
My inspiration for this are trees that produce citrus fruits, just like the kumquat tree that my family puts up at home during Chinese New Year. This is also a festive period where people exchange mandarin oranges, hence the burst of orange you see on the perfume bottle. As I’m based in the UK now, this perfume really reminds me to catch up with the people whom I love and have missed for a while.

I was inspired by Orchard Road. It was – and still is – a meeting place of choice and has evolved from a humble road to a swanky boulevard. Orchard here has a dual meaning – it also refers to orchard trees. I associate it with two different types of flowers – roses and Lily of the Valley – which explains the pinkish tint to the perfume bottle.  I wanted to capture the essence of a modern floral bouquet that smells fresh, just like the buildings on Orchard Road that are new and modern, yet fresh and cool inside, thanks to all the air-conditioning.


Rainforest is inspired by Flames of the Forest trees


How did you settle on the different ingredients for The Garden City Collection?
Making a perfume is like solving a jigsaw puzzle; all the pieces need to fit together to produce a beautiful picture. It’s not a matter of throwing in a few things together; you really need to understand the art and science behind it. I carefully chose different combinations of florals, fruits and citruses based on the desired emotional effect and colour association. For example, lemons are invigorating while Lily of the Valley conveys tenderness. Beyond that, I was constantly thinking about how well the materials diffuse and evaporate. To create a scent for reed diffusers, you have to pay close attention to the technical requirements and select ingredients that evaporate quickly.

Each bottle is of a different colour and comes with its own unique visual. How did you decide on the packaging?
When I decide to create a fragrance, I can actually picture the scent in my head. Based on that picture, I know what colours the fragrance should be. For this collection, I worked closely with a graphic designer, who drew inspiration from iPad artist David Hockney and his iPad drawings. I didn’t dictate the design, apart from insisting on certain colours like red and green for Rainforest, pink for Orchard, and orange for Island Bouquet.


Island Bouquet is inspired by trees that produce citrus fruits 

Give us tips on where each reed diffuser from this collection should be placed in our house.
Rainforest would be perfect for the bathroom. Orchard is fresh and calming, so it’s great for the bedroom where you relax and unwind after a long day at work. It also contains rose notes – associated with feelings of romance, love and seduction. Island Bouquet would be fantastic for the living room because it energises you. Puts a spring in your step each time you leave home to face the day.

The Garden City Collection is available at Homes To Life pop up store (#03-04/05) at 112 Katong. Prices start from $79 for 150ml glass bottle fragrance (two packs of six reeds included), and $50 for 100ml aluminium can refills.