Not many entrepreneurs can claim success like Ken Lim, the founder of KENS Apothecary. Known for being one of Malaysia’s first niche beauty curators, Ken has spent over two decades introducing Malaysian consumers to a host of luxurious skincare and fragrances.
Chief among them would be Diptyque, Caudalie, Goutal in the earlier decades, and now for newer brands like FORNASETTI, Trudon and Omorovicza. Today, KENS Apothecary has expanded to six stores in KL and one in Penang stocking over 20 luxury skincare and fragrance brands from all over the world.
A KE(E)N NOSE
Ken’s olfactory journey has inevitably evolved with time. Over the years, he’s developed a fondness for woody and earthy scents, despite having more of a liking towards citrus blends at the beginning. He only wears woody scents now: “I’m very fond of wood because it’s more sensual and sophisticated.”
He’s always had a fascination with perfumes and scents, starting with known commercial brands in the 80s such as Calvin Klein and Dior, especially when he bought his first bottle of perfume at 12 years old with his RM100 ang pow birthday money from his father. He had spent it on his first perfume: ‘Sauvage’ by Dior.
“Perfume is like magic in a bottle,” he exclaims, adding: “It’s something to enhance your inner personality which can eventually become a personalised accessory and your comfort scent.” Even the perfume bottles were a thing of beauty to Ken: “I just love the bottles they came in as well, some of them are so exquisitely and beautifully designed.” It’s the whole package for Ken – the blending of the scent, the packaging it comes in and the branding of the overall product.
All of it starts with his ability to tell the quality of a scent. “In my time of building KENS Apothecary, I have encountered thousands of fragrances. I have about 40 fragrances in my office that I haven’t even tested yet,” says Ken. With that, he admits to having developed a good sense of smell along the way, as having a keen nose is a very important asset to have.
A purveyor of fine whisky like Royal Salute would also require a keen nose to be able to enjoy the flavours and depth of its make – specifically with the blending notes in a fine whisky. More than just its taste, that’s where one’s olfactory sense really comes into play.
Befitting someone like Ken who appreciates taste and tradition, is Royal Salute which has cultivated Kingdom – a place for people to share their passions for quality and craft. This includes the Royal Salute Olfactory Studio, where one can discover a delight in all the senses. Royal Salute’s Creative Advisor, the Master Perfumer Barnabé Fillion has shared that 95% of a whisky tasting experience happens in the nose. Transcending the usual traditions of whisky tasting, this also alludes to how it is synonymous with perfumes. It’s more than just an exploration of flavours and aromas, but an awareness that is attuned towards the Royal Salute blends.
STAYING TRUE TO HIMSELF
Much like his olfactory journey, Ken has also been consistently cultivating his personal taste. He relies on his instincts when it comes to the brands he brings in.
“I only bring in brands I personally like, and I always say that you don’t fall out of love with things you really like. I stand strong on that point,” he said firmly. All of the brands Ken carries in his stores are brands that he uses personally, and he’s very careful when it comes to their selection.
With that, he has always had high standards for quality. He likens this to whisky makers and perfume noses, as both are regarded as master blenders, with a commitment to quality, strong values and creativity.
For example, it wouldn’t be a stretch to proclaim that the Diptyque brand has become more well-known and mainstream in Malaysia, thanks to Ken bringing it in and stocking it at KENS Apothecary. He recalls his first encounter with the brand back in 1999, by way of Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Aesop, the luxury Australian fragrance brand. They were about to have a meeting in Melbourne when Ken was enamoured by the scent that Dennis was wearing. This was his first introduction to Diptyque, with the L’Ombre Dans L’Eau perfume.
Similarly in 2000, while in Paris, he stumbled upon Annick Goutal perfumes (now known as ‘Goutal‘) where he got to know the story of the perfumer and how she had created it for herself and her daughter. The scent, the beautiful feminine bottle it came in and the brand story was all he needed to decide to bring the brand into the Malaysian market. Needless to say, two decades on, it was a huge hit.
Even the whisky he drinks is held to his high standards. The Malts Blend by Royal Salute (as pictured with Ken) has a sweetness that is derived from apricots, vanilla and banana. The Olfactory Studio saw a creation of three different perfumes by Fillion each matching the three aged blends from Royal Salute: The Signature, the Malts and the Lost Blend. The perfume inspired by The Malts had a spicy profile that Fillion extracted from the malt itself.
Ken’s enduring success in the Malaysian luxury retail market has been cultivated by his curiosity to innovate and grow with the times. This includes embracing tools like social media and digital marketing, all while highlighting a bespoke shopping experience.
“I would like to think we’re a nursery of some of the smaller brands we bring in, but I will continue to bring in interesting brands for the Malaysian market,” he muses. “We really need that kind of excitement in retail – I encourage all entrepreneurs to have the mindset to bring something exciting so we are all more aware of what’s trendy and in style.”