We had a chance to chat with the super-fascinating Josh Smith of the Canadian House, Libertine Fragrance. We are really excited to be featuring more houses from Canada and we are now shipping to Canada, BONUS!
Find out what the first (and only) fragrance he wore prior to his own line; how forestry played a guiding role in his life and how Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins guided his nose to becoming a perfumer.
Q. What is your title and when did Libertine start?
I am the owner, scent maker, main employee of Libertine which I started in late 2014 while in school for design.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your design degree, and how that weaves itself into your life as a perfumer?
When I started Libertine I was not particularly drawn to perfume. I hadn’t explored much of that world and what I had encountered didn’t really excite me. In school though we were exploring and evaluating the way products looked & felt and how that affected the user.
Q. Do you remember the first fragrance you wore? How old were you? How did it influence you?
I was really absorbed in the meaning that people place on physical attributes. It was in that mind frame I began to explore scents and started studying how perfume was formulated.
The first and only scent I had until starting to create my own was Burberry Brit. I purchased it when I was 18 and starting to date more. It was mainly just something I purchased because owning a cologne felt like a formality of dating.
Q. How long have you been interested in scent and perfume? How did you start learning about it?
I had read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins about a decade ago and the strange life of the girl in it with her apartment was interesting. It wasn’t until I began exploring scent in a design context that I began considering playing around with perfume formulation myself. I was first looking at how to find harmonies with a handful of essential oils to create scents for the home or other spaces. I devoured everything I could find online and before I knew it my collection of materials had grown substantially and I just kept working on it.
Q. You've talked about how you experience the world around you through scent. What was the most inspirational place, scent-wise, you've visited? How do your travels inspire your perfumes?
I live in Canada which is very beautiful but the growing season is pretty short. Any time I travel somewhere warmer or more tropical I am overwhelmed by the smell of vegetation that has ideal conditions to grow into lush layers of green.
I’m not super picky though, it is more about a specific scent placing a pin in my memory of a place. Smelling those scents can bring you back so quickly, even if they aren’t exactly pleasant. I went salmon fishing on the coast last year with my family and the docks were overwhelmed with the smell of brine and fish bits. It was a very intense aroma but now when I smell anything like it I am taken right back to that time.
Q. All your perfume is unisex, which is awesome. Why do you think certain notes -- rose, for instance, or tobacco -- have historically been gendered? What's the response (from critics, customers) when you talk about your fragrances being unisex?
It is no different than colors being gendered. We are always defining ourselves and showing markers of who we feel we are to the people around us. Colors, brands, types of perfumes, they become short hand ways of identifying and projecting who we are.
Gender is just one of the lines we have traditionally separated ourselves along but it is the main line in perfume. Women have an easier time crossing into more masculine fragrances. So many women have told me they usually wear “men’s” perfume. Some guys are a little more hesitant when they think something could be perceived as feminine. It is great to see the guys that are hesitant warm up to the idea though.
My main hope is that people approach perfume as something that pleases their senses, not as a flag for their identity. It opens up the spectrum of what you can wear if you aren’t trying to create a persona through the perfume you wear.
Q. How has your style evolved since you first began creating fragrances?
When I first started I didn’t know or care much about the world of perfume and what had been done inside the canon of perfumery. Since then I have found a ton of perfumes I love from brands big and small. In my early days I was only referencing things outside of the world of perfumes, things in my own experiences. As I have discovered perfumes that are truly moving I have begun to let some of the conventions of traditional perfumery come into my work.
Q. What do you want someone who wears your fragrance to know about you and your brand?
I guess that Libertine is essentially just me. The world of indie brands that are one or two people companies is so exciting to me. Trying fragrances from these brands, you can feel a total signature of the maker, from how the scents are composed to the labeling & copy and everything. It may not always be the fanciest but perfumes from indie lines feel so personal and I guess that is what I would like others to notice when they explore my line.
Q. Of all of your fragrances, is there one that stands out as your favorite? If so, why? If not, why?
They all have different seasons for me, I love Smoked Bloom when it gets hot out and Troubled Spirits in the autumn.
My favorite is usually what I have just completed though because the struggles of perfecting it are still fresh in my mind.
Q. What are you most proud of with your brand or your fragrance compositions?
I am just so happy when people connect with what I am doing on a personal level, whether the scents or the social media or the branding or whatever. I occasionally get messages from people that are so excited by the brand or a perfume in the line and it is really special. I started and continued to run Libertine after I graduated because it was an avenue to express myself and having people connect with that feels really nice.
Q. Tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I originally took forestry after high school and I worked running a chainsaw and woodchipper for a number of years up to and throughout my design education. I was very close to moving to small town northern Alberta to work in timbre harvesting in some capacity, probably to never buy another bottle of perfume past my Burberry Brit.
Q. If you could describe Libertine in 3 words, what would they be?
Sensual, personal, pleasure.
Q. What’s next for you and Libertine Fragrance?
I recently left my “pay the bills” job to focus on Libertine full time so I will be pouring more of myself into the project that is Libertine. As far as new for Libertine, I will keep exploring other fun things I can do within the umbrella of the brand to keep things interesting.
We were pleased to feature Troubled Spirits in the January 2020 Men's Collection along with Sex and Jasmine which was featured in the April 2020 Collection for Women. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram!
Photo credit: Libertine Fragrance
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