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Georgia Lee

Become – High Profiles
May 14, 2015

Dr Georgia Lee has just gotten off a plane from L.A. and there’s no ounce of lethargy on her face. I’m ahead of schedule by 20 minutes, yet she’s already at The Drawing Room at St. Regis waiting for me. I was expecting a convivial tête-à-tête, but she has brought along her personal aide and with good reason. “I want her to constantly learn from me and understand all the aspects of my business,” says Georgia in a measured tone, before politely asking if I would like to order a drink.

Up close, Georgia is a vision in head-to-toe Alexander McQueen: her forest green peplum jacket is cinched by a belt, accentuating her lithe figure, while the subtle dark printed leggings show off her modelesque legs that seem to go on forever. In her Saint Laurent stilettos, she stands well over 6ft. “These heels are so comfortable! Every woman must have a pair.” She enthuses. I feel a sudden urge to get one.

As a prominent veteran in the aesthetics industry with 16 years of experience, Georgia is a walking embodiment of perfect skin. It is most striking and so luminous that I can almost see my reflection in it. “How does one get flawless skin like yours?” I ask, in a bid to uncover one of life’s greatest secrets – specifically for women. Georgia replies, with a whisper of a laugh. “Less is always more. I try not to use any makeup and I have completely cut out sugar from my diet.” That effectively explains why her coffee is black. Not surprisingly, her approach towards skin care has made her one of Singapore’s highly sought-after doctors, and her belief in providing her patients and customers with top-quality ingredients with an uncompromising attitude is nothing short of remarkable. “I have done my due diligence by visiting 6 countries and multiple manufacturers. Through these visits, I have learnt so many things – like how water varies in quality, texture, mineral content from source to source; therefore different serums need to be made in different places.”

Although Georgia is also in the limelight as a socialite-slash-fashionista, she seems comfortable enough to let it slip quietly into the background, choosing instead to focus on building her own brand. This shrewd businesswoman side is driven by her desire to create a beautiful and enduring legacy.

Conversations with Dr Georgia Lee

Founder, TLC Lifestyle Practice & DrGL
Text by Wy-Lene Yap
Photography by Yew Jia Jun

WY-LENE YAP: How did you end up developing your own range of skin care products called DrGL?

GEORGIA LEE: It was rather accidental. In 2004, I developed an allergy called fixed drug eruption (FDE) due to an antibiotic that I had taken – this is a very interesting allergy as the patient will develop blisters with pigmentation on a fixed area of the body like the face or mouth. And every time you take that particular drug, it will always be on the same spot. My reaction was so severe that I went to see my medical school professors and they couldn’t diagnose FDE – they thought it was something more sinister. I took the same antibiotics for a while, hoping to cure it, but it became worse and my whole right side of my face was covered with blisters. When I recovered, I developed quite bad post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is very common in Asian skin. Most of the products in the market were either too mild or too strong for me. So I invested in a small compounding company and started to create my own skin care products to treat my pigmentation. It seemed to work and my interest grew. Shortly after, I started to analyse skin care products in greater detail so that I could refine the existing process and design my own line that is suitable for my patients. The entire thing grew a life of its own and in 2009, we were offered a retail opportunity by some departmental stores.

WY-LENE: So officially, DrGL was launched in 2009?

GEORGIA: Yes. I spent a long time because we own all the formula rights to our skin care products. Some practices may have their own skin care products, but most of them are OEM – which you can buy and repackage.

WY-LENE: How long did the whole process take?

GEORGIA: 5 to 6 years – 2004 to 2009. I have done my due diligence by visiting 6 countries and multiple manufacturers. Through these visits, I have learnt so many things – like how water varies in quality, texture, mineral content from source to source; therefore different serums need to be made in different places. There is a criteria that we look for and they can’t use stagnant water – if it’s a Monday, they have to empty their pipes because they don’t work on weekends. In addition, we deionize the water in our products to remove impurities.

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WY-LENE: Tell me more about TLC Lifestyle Practice.

GEORGIA: TLC Lifestyle Practice is a clinic. We have 3 business models: TLC Lifestyle Practice is the medical part, DrGL is our skin care line and DrSpa is our spa service. The clinic and spa has been relocated to Pacific Plaza. The reason why we have 3 segments is because I have plans to scale the business. We have spent 16 years studying and understanding protocol, 6 years of R&D and many years scaling down medical treatments to import into the spa business. In 2013, we created a franchise model which comprises the medical and spa service so that we can enter overseas markets. Different markets have different levels of maturity and sophistication – some will be more retail friendly, while others will be more service friendly. Finding the right market with the right segment is crucial.

WY-LENE: Which markets are you looking at?

GEORGIA: At the moment, Southeast Asia.

WY-LENE: How many clinics do you intend to have?

GEORGIA: I’m going to start with one first. We have found a partner in Indonesia, and that will be our second outlet which is slated to open in 2016. I know there is a trend to open a lot of clinics, but it is interesting to look at the turnover – it might look impressive with the number of outlets, however, if the country’s footprint is very small like Singapore and everywhere is so accessible, it makes more business sense with the rising costs in manpower and rental to consolidate my resources and build a really good centre.

WY-LENE: Manpower and rental costs are the two main killers.

GEORGIA: I have been looking at companies which have been acquired – although they have many outlets, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a higher profit margin. You dilute yourself and it increases your costs.

We’re not a brand like McDonald’s.

WY-LENE: These companies might be looking to increase their market share and retail presence.

GEORGIA: I think it boils down to the kind of quality that you want. We’re not a brand like McDonald’s. I mean McDonald’s is very successful…

WY-LENE: Around the world, McDonald’s is losing money.

GEORGIA: [laughs] For the time being, we’re not like McDonald’s and I would like to keep it that way.

WY-LENE: What about DrGL then?

GEORGIA: I run my company separately. They are not under one roof. I have different teams to handle the retail and service segments because of different rules and regulations. I also adopt various marketing strategies – for instance, in retail, you have to be more creative.

WY-LENE: How’s your business doing?

GEORGIA: As a relatively young company, the growth has been very steep. However, last year, we grew by 43%. From a sales perspective, I try to grow based on my existing products and although it is slower, it’s also less risky. I’m quite risk-averse because of my medical background and that is also why I don’t perform any surgeries. If I bring a new machine or create a new skin care product, the first question I ask is: Will I use it on myself? If the answer is yes, then I will carry out the treatment/procedure or market the product.

A lot of people may think I’m crazy for spending so much on R&D, but if your product is done correctly, it will stand the test of time. Taking shortcuts will come back and haunt you in certain ways.

WY-LENE: How big is your company?

GEORGIA: 40 to 50 staff, excluding part-timers. I believe in empowering my team – I want them to gather more knowledge and develop a sense of belonging. I can’t be around forever but the brand needs to have lasting power. To date, we have spent about 8 figures on our skin care line and half of it went into R&D. A lot of people may think I’m crazy for spending so much on R&D, but if your product is done correctly, it will stand the test of time. Taking shortcuts will come back and haunt you in certain ways.

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WY-LENE: Currently, what is your best selling product?

GEORGIA: The Skin Repair Serum is our number one product. They sell out so quickly even before the stock reaches the warehouse.

WY-LENE: Are your products more expensive compared to other skin care products in the market?

GEORGIA: At first glance, yes. Our prices are similar to La Mer and La Prairie. However, I have received feedback that our prices are not that expensive – some of the cleansers can last for 6 months and all you need is a small squirt. Quality wise, we know the origins of our raw materials, so I would say that my products are definitely value for money.

WY-LENE: Do you conduct quality control checks?

GEORGIA: Yes. We are doing a soft launch of our skin supplement, but I am 4 months behind – the artwork took 6 revisions, and initially, I wanted the capsule to be green as the colour represents our brand, which signifies “life”. Unfortunately, the capsules couldn’t reach the standard and consistency which I wanted, and I threw away the whole batch.

WY-LENE: How many capsules were there?

GEORIGA: 20,000. Thereafter, I decided to have white capsules instead – you can’t go wrong with white, right? Interestingly, I asked my American manufacturer for the source list of our raw ingredients and he told me that single “A” grade is good enough. However, I requested for “AAA” grade for every single ingredient used in our skin supplement. Out of goodwill, he tried to dissuade me, as other companies don’t use such a high grade because it’s more expensive and harder to market overseas. I tend be very stubborn, so I stuck with my original decision.

WY-LENE: What is so unique or special about your products?

GEORGIA: The quality of our ingredients and the fact that we always uphold and adhere to an uncompromising standard for all our products. I studied plastics for 18 months and I went to visit packaging companies just to understand why certain kinds of plastics are not suitable for certain ingredients as they will erode over time.

WY-LENE: Will I get flawless skin once I use them?

GEORGIA: We try our best. My philosophy is “less is always more” for your skin and I advise my patients to try and go all natural—without any makeup. Maybe the only makeup you need is for your eyes. At the moment, I have some powder on my face, but on regular days, I try not to use any makeup. I’ll apply sunblock though.

I used to have a sweet tooth for many years. I drank 6 cans of coke every day. After I turned 40, I went cold turkey.

WY-LENE: What’s the secret to having flawless skin anyway?

GEORGIA: First, make sure that your pores are not clogged. Depending on the size of your pores, I believe that you shouldn’t apply one type of moisturizer – you need to have multiple layers when it comes to moisturizing. I will usually prescribe a light base and a few others to go along with it. For instance, one week before your period, your hormone levels will fluctuate so your skin tends to be more oily. Hence, a first layer of moisturizer will be sufficient. When you menstruate, your skin can get a bit dry, and that’s when you can add a second layer. Women’s skin tends to go through cyclical changes and depending on the time of the month, it is important to adjust your skin care routine accordingly. The second aspect is your diet. Sugar is bad. When you consume a lot of sugar, it increases your insulin and displaces your testosterone, resulting in acne – and not to mention weight gain. I used to have a sweet tooth for many years. I drank 6 cans of coke every day. After I turned 40, I went cold turkey and since then, I have completely cut out sugar from my diet. It takes 3 months to clean out your system before you can see a difference in your skin.

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WY-LENE: What is the biggest skin care faux pas that people tend to make?

GEORGIA: Applying too much makeup. That aside, not everyone needs to use a moisturizer. I only recommend it to my patients if it is necessary. A moisturizer will come in handy for people in their late 30s (even if they have acne-prone skin).

WY-LENE: What do you think of BB creams?

GEORGIA: I’m a crusader against BB creams.

WY-LENE: Why?

GEORGIA: The dimethicone does give you a smooth complexion. However, some formulations contain wax which clogs your pores. Imagine covering your face with wax so much so that your pores cannot breathe. At night, when you remove your makeup, the rubbing causes friction, and your pores will open – allowing some of the contents to seep in further. And if you use cold water to wash your face, your pores will shrink and everything gets trapped in your skin. If I were to rank makeup products by clogging factor, the first would be BB or CC cream, followed by concealer, foundation, pressed powder and loose powder.

WY-LENE: What do you think of CC creams?

GEORGIA: The lesser of two evils. There is a DD cream too.

WY-LENE: Yes, I know!

GEORGIA: What does it stand for?

WY-LENE: I have no idea. I can’t keep up.

GEORGIA: [laughs] Well, we do have acne cases caused by these creams.

WY-LENE: Do a lot of women go to you for botox injections?

GEORGIA: I have a wide spectrum of patients ranging from the very young to the very mature. My youngest patient is 4 and it’s for a birthmark removal. Teenagers come to me when they have acne problems and for hair removal procedures. Nowadays, nobody can be caught with armpit hair right?

WY-LENE: Some Italian women do have armpit hair.

GEORGIA: [laughs] In addition, women in their 20s see me for scar and preventive skin care treatments. We do quite a fair bit of botox too.

WY-LENE: I have the impression that a lot of young women are obsessed with preserving their looks.

GEORGIA: They don’t specifically ask for botox. There are three components that can make your skin look younger: texture, wrinkles and volume. Botox only takes care of one sixth of the components because it works on the muscle.

I don’t believe in using a lot of botox and if you’re looking for the over-botoxed look, I’m not the doctor for you.

WY-LENE: How much does botox cost per session?

GEORGIA: It depends on the amount used. We don’t have a package as each patient’s needs differ. The cost can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. I don’t believe in using a lot of botox and if you’re looking for the over-botoxed look, I’m not the doctor for you.

WY-LENE: How about fillers?

GEORGIA: Fillers are popular right now. Laugh lines are called stationary lines and even when there is no movement, they will still exist, so fillers are needed. Whereas if the lines are caused by movements in the muscle, then you will need botox. By the way, botox has been used for other medical purposes like bruxism (excessive clenching of the jaw) or hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Originally, botox was used to treat patients with strabismus (crossed eyes). As the patients grew older, the doctors realised that their wrinkles also disappeared and that was how the aesthetics part came about.

WY-LENE: Interesting… how often do you inject yourself with botox?

GEORGIA: Every 4 to 6 months – I use a little bit on my frown lines, forehead and axilla.

WY-LENE: Do you perform plastic surgery on your patients?

GEORGIA: No. However, I do make recommendations on which surgeons to go to.

WY-LENE: Do you believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

GEORGIA: Yes. I don’t believe in 100% perfection because sometimes a bit of imperfection makes people unique. Fan Bingbing’s eyebrow is a bit lopsided and her face is not totally symmetrical. Minnie Driver has a really square jaw, but it works for her.

WY-LENE: What is your definition of beauty?

GEORGIA: Having symmetry is quite important. You don’t need to have the perfect eyes or cheekbones, but proportion matters (the golden ratio). The person also needs to have an X-factor. I remember Charmaine Harn’s advice to me (backstage) at a runway show [2009]: “You will walk well when you think that you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” Her words definitely helped to give me the confidence I needed.

WY-LENE: How did your love for fashion start?

GEORGIA: I always had an appreciation for dresses at a very young age. When I was in primary school, my uniform had to be custom-made – the green was a darker shade than normal, and in order to appear neat, the material was wrinkle-free too.

WY-LENE: Which primary school were you from?

GEORGIA: May North. But the primary school is no longer in existence. The principal still remembers me… last year, she paid me a visit.

If you have a nice bag, but don’t present it properly in a boutique, it won’t sell. It’s all about presentation.

WY-LENE: How important are your looks to you?

GEORGIA: I think my looks are very important. I’m not going to lie and say that I believe in inner beauty – don’t get me wrong, it’s also important, but your outer appearance helps to draw attention to yourself, thereby giving you the opportunity to reveal your inner beauty. If you have a nice bag, but don’t present it properly in a boutique, it won’t sell. It’s all about presentation. As a mentor to young women, I stress the need to ‘package’ themselves well – when you’re attractive, people tend to be more patient when you pitch an idea to them. However, you need to have a solid idea and a great personality to go along with it.

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WY-LENE: You are known to be a fashion icon. What does it mean to be one?

GEORGIA: I don’t think I deserve that title. I take fashion very seriously. I want to understand how each piece is made, the detailing and how it feels on me. Comfort is quite important too. I like classic and timeless pieces; hence I collect quite a number of vintage Balenciaga.

WY-LENE: Have you bought any pieces from Balenciaga’s new collection under Alexander Wang?

GEORGIA: Not yet. He’s very talented and I do have some pieces from his namesake collection.

WY-LENE: You seem to be very bold with your fashion choices. Do you have any regrets after wearing them?

GEORGIA: No… I’m a person who can laugh at myself.

WY-LENE: What’s the most memorable runway show you’ve ever been to?

GEORGIA: Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2007 ready-to-wear collection.

WY-LENE: How long does it take to pick an outfit every day?

GEORGIA: Quite fast. I’m very organised. My husband is very kind and he gave me one bedroom for my clothes and another room for my shoes and bags.

WY-LENE: What’s one fashion item you can’t live without?

GEORGIA: [long pause] I guess my stilettos.

WY-LENE: How would you describe your style?

GEORGIA: I’m very adventurous when it comes to fashion.

WY-LENE: What are your thoughts on fur?

GEORGIA: I quite like fur. I do have some coats, but that was in my early days. I don’t buy fur anymore because it is politically incorrect.

WY-LENE: You’re well known for throwing fabulous parties. Are you going to throw one this year?

GEORGIA: No, but I will be having one next year.

WY-LENE: How does one get invited?

GEORGIA: My parties are all about forging meaningful connections. The theme of each party depends on the groups of individuals I’m bringing together. It is impossible to invite everyone as I have a huge database.

WY-LENE: Finally, what does success mean to you?

GEORGIA: Success is achieving your goals and from a vanity perspective, being recognised for it. Eventually, I hope to create an enduring legacy.