Josh Smith was completing his industrial design degree when he first began cultivating his interest in fragrances and experimenting with essential oils. Since then, Josh has gone on to launch Libertine Fragrance
, a sultry line of unisex, handmade and small-batch fragrances that ignore trends and focus on the things that make us human - artistry, beauty and complexity. On a mission to fill the world with beautiful scents, Libertine also aims to create a product that is ecologically and socially sustainable, using only responsibly-sourced ingredients gathered by fairly paid workers.
A few weeks back, Josh welcomed us into his wonderfully fragrant studio to show us how he singlehandedly and intimately experiments, blends, distills and packages his fragrances by hand. We also managed to discuss with him the experiences that helped him launch his business, what he wants Libertine Fragrance to embody, where he turns to for inspiration, and how his sense of smell influences the way he experiences the world.
How did you get your start in the perfume business?
I had been playing around with creating little blended room sprays with essential oils while I was in school for industrial design. I became incredibly interested in how the materials acted in combination with each other and started researching perfume formulation. Towards the end of my degree I combined my design education with my self directed scent study and created my first perfumes.
If you were to describe Libertine Fragrance in one sentence or phrase, what would you say?
Independent. This is the root of everything I am focused on, both in how I operate my business as well as the type of people I aim to serve.
What experiences - professional or personal - helped prepare you for launching your own company?
Being in school was a totally essential component of starting Libertine. The energy in design school is so frenetic. There are so many projects being done and so many inspired people around you all the time thinking and planning and trying things. It was a very easy environment to just start something without thinking too much about it. It is a very creative environment that anything felt possible in. I think had I waited I could have been gripped by over-analysis.
What were the most important things that you wanted this company to embody?
In my marketing and copy I talk a lot about beauty and sensuality and the slow enjoyment of both. I think in a word it could be boiled down to sensitivity. The world moves so quickly and we are engaged with so many things at one time. I wanted Libertine to embody the deliberate act of feeling and noticing. There are so many beautiful things, so many interesting, pleasurable sensations our bodies are taking in everyday but it feels increasingly difficult to disconnect from our thoughts to notice them.
Since becoming a perfumer, how has your sense of smell evolved and how does it influence the way you experience the world around you?
Realizing how chemically complex odours are has been really interesting. A rose essential oil may have 200 or so distinct, individual chemicals within it each with their own function or purpose for the plant. The aroma of rose can be broken down into 4 or 5 main molecules that give the typical rose scent. I think realizing that the world of scent is composed of a number of key aroma molecules that occur across all sorts of things. All this to say I guess now I am constantly trying to “break down” a scent to understand what is in the scent.
What do you turn to when looking for inspiration?
Much of my brand identity and even the name was inspired by the art and cultural milieu of 19 century Europe. It is such an interesting period of time and I love being able to think about how society is mirrored in the past.
How big a part did the design of your packaging play? What was the inspiration behind it?
Packaging is a big part of the process for perfume. Fragrances are essentially invisible products so a lot falls on the packaging to express the story of the scent, who it’s for, and how it’s meant to make people feel, etc.
What are some trends you foresee taking shape in the future of the fragrance industry?
The green trend is a big factor for the industry. There is much to be said for creating products that are safe and that people understand but I feel often times green marketing is far too black and white. The idea that chemicals are bad, natural or good misleads consumers to believe that essential oils have no consequences and doesn’t take into account other factors like sustainability.
If you hadn’t founded Libertine Fragrance, what would you be doing instead?
Likely some more proper form of design. Perhaps working on sets and production for TV & movies.
If you had to choose a favourite memory that you remember based on an associated scent, what would it be?
When I was 16 my family went to Zijuatenejo, Mexico. It was very dry at that time of year and the river that flows through the town was low and the exposed mud, etc.. smelled really terrible. It was so interesting to me because the scenery was so beautiful and captivating and alive and even though the river smelled foul it was a living part of that landscape. I think it showed me that beauty is often raw and unpolished and real. There are real moments of passion and beauty in places that are often overlooked.
Aside from Libertine Fragrance, who are some other perfumer’s that you are loving or at least keeping an eye on?
There are a ton of other indie brands with one or two people running the company that are popping up these days. I love them because they are so distinct. You can really get a sense of a person making the scent. Some good ones I have enjoyed are Jazmin Sarai from Montreal, Hendley Perfumes from New York and Fum Fragrances from L.A
What was the first fragrance you ever owned?
It was a bottle of Burberry Brit that I got when I was 18 but funnily I wasn’t really into perfume at all until starting to make it. I never really used that bottle, I just got it because it felt like I should have a fragrance. The big designer brands all sort of smelled the same and just never really captured my attention with their marketing.
Looking forward, where do you hope to take Libertine Fragrance and what are you currently working towards now?
Libertine is basically just me at the moment. I am doing a ton of behind the scenes work to create a more structured environment to make it a little bit more like a proper business. My big dream at the moment is to be able to bring some passionate, inspired people onto the team to allow Libertine to grow and represent more people’s lives and inspirations.