In this edition of A&H we dive into a detail that many men forget about. We focus so much on what to wear and how it should fit, little details are always passed over. One of our strongest senses is smell and it’s a detail that most neglect. However, the man behind West Third Brand puts it at the forefront. From cigarettes and YSL, to how results come at the perfect time, we speak with Michael Probst of West Third Brand.
A&H: Give us a little background.
Michael Probst: I am Michael Loring Probst, Founder and Creative Director of West Third Brand. At an early age scent became an integral part of my life. I was fortunate to be raised in several places such as the small hippy-surfer enclave named Half Moon Bay and the cultural rich city of San Francisco, plus spending hot summers in Sonoma County on my family’s ranch. However, it was during this magical time in the vineyards of my youth, surrounded by grand redwood trees, blooming honeysuckles, and apple blossoms which grew abundantly in the family’s orchard that as a small child my mother, Jeanne’, would lift me up so that we could inhale the sweetness of the flowers together and my life-long love of fragrance was born.
Born to parents of French decent, albeit beatniks at the time, needless to say my childhood’s soundtrack was the rhythmic beats of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, and of course there was the saunter of incense wafting throughout our home. When not studying, my time was often spent exploring nature…anything and everything that kept me outside. I just loved being there in the elements, rain or shine. I had to feel it, touch it, and smell it. I always had an appreciation of natural textures, the dimensional visuals the sunlight would cast during different parts of the day, and especially incredible olfactory layers that nature would create during those times.
My scent portfolio continues to evolve with a variety of influences. I fondly recall as a young boy my grandmother, Fayette, and I would frequent her favorite department store, I. Magnin. I would beeline to the perfume counter where the glamorous sales ladies would share the latest scents from Europe with me. One of my best memories was each of my mother’s friends wore a trademark scent. One lady, I distinctively remember, plus she was the sexiest lady, Mrs. Robinson…I kid you not that was her name! She always smelled faintly of cigarettes and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium. Because of her tangled fragrance combination, it was uniquely her own. Growing up in 1970s San Francisco, the city itself was a diverse mixture of high-end department stores, beatnik cafes, art galleries, and antique shops each marked by a mix of bohemian patchouli, sandalwood, musk, and oriental scents. To which I attribute my experiences for my love of deeper, more sensual and complex fragrances that are found in West Third Brand’s trademark fragrances today.
A&H: So how did West Third Brand get started?
MP: I worked 16 years as a Creative Director for several notable companies that included a home fragrance brand and a home furnishing company in which I globe trotted designing products and creating fragrances for Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Barney’s, Tommy Bahama, World Market, Target, etc. After leaving a successful and rewarding career, West Third Brand was an organic progression. My desire was to create an artisan company with emphasis on fragrance. A company that provided quality, hand-crafted American made goods.
A&H: What is the viewpoint of the brand?
MP: Keep it simple. Quality fragrances, unique product, and simple, understated packaging. More importantly, being American made…that’s very important to me and our customer base, really.
A&H: We have seen such a rise in American made product lately. Do you see this continuing?
MP: I do hope it continues. There has been a slow progression towards buying American made goods. I feel this movement has organically formed; I like to think of it as a grassroots movement that is happening. I am grateful that American made goods are gaining traction. There are incredibly talented craftsmen and artisan brands here that are true to their craft. To me, this is truly American. This is how we are built and this is how America was built. I feel, largely as a society, we have forgotten this. The brands, designers, craftsmen, artisans…these underdogs are carving the way, again, and they are truly inspirational to me. I take my hat off to them.
A&H: How did you come to the decision you wanted to work for yourself?
MP: I dabbled throughout my career with several start-ups: Talisman Los Angeles, which was an all natural bath care and candle line, then there was Glow, yet another all natural bath and skin care company. Glow had a free standing store on W. 3rd Street in Los Angeles, plus sold product to Bergdorf Goodman and the spas at the Ritz Carlton’s. I have an entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit; I like to push myself in new creative ways plus share with others through our products my wild adventures. Maybe they can find a simple joy in the chaotic lives we live. Even, perhaps, connect to W3B products on a personal level—whether it be scent memory or find comfort in our Americana aesthetic.
A&H: With starting any brand/company, there are good and bad times. What are some things you learned along the way?
MP: It is okay to say “no.” That’s what I have learned and exercise within W3B. Any brand/company shouldn’t be all things to all people. Stretching in the sense of trying new things, for sure, risks are important to take. But always being true to yourself and the brand is key—next to time management skills. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and each day we deserve balance. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
A&H: Thoughts on E-commerce?
MP: I am old school. I am learning daily about e-commerce and the vast social media outlets that are out there. Where I am old school is I believe in supporting Main Street stores—the mom and pop retailers. These stores tend to be very loyal customers. I believe America was built on small businesses. I also believe small businesses today need to have an online presence with a website alongside a FaceBook page. West Third Brand has a website, an online boutique, and we have always maintained a FaceBook page. Plus, we are looking into making it easier for our wholesale accounts to order in a snap via an online portal. We recently got on board with Twitter and Pinterest. We’re now perhaps tackling a blog, too…maybe. I am meeting with a friend that has a company that is going to help me understand the web of social media. So, we shall see.
MP: I had always blended fragrances for myself, Vintage Patchouli being one. Indeed, our bottles read Body Spray but it really is classified as an Eau de Toilette. Eau de Toilettes have between 5-8% of fragrance whereas body sprays have 1-3%. Yeah, people are usually surprised and delighted by their potency. Funny thing, people’s perception about W3B fragrances is that it airs to the masculine side. In truth, I blend our fragrances to not be gender specific. True that, our aesthetic is definitely appears more masculine. I can’t help myself there! Women are still our biggest market segment, but who doesn’t want to smell good daily, too?
A&H: What all goes into creating a scent?
MP: Ideas for our fragrances are born out of intuition, but most importantly imagination and influences past or present and then appears that little red thread of what the market will bear that hangs in the balance during my creative process. I am not to suggesting that this red thread weighs heavily on my conscience while creating, but it is there, hanging out. And then I do the opposite. But creating fragrances in the classical sense in the way we do takes time—lots of time—nurturing, patience, endurance, and most times many, many tries before the definitive product is born.
A&H: If you had to live with one scent that you have created forever, what would it be and why?
MP: That’s a great, yet, hard question to answer. The first thing that comes to mind is it hasn’t yet been created. The fragrance that I desire is subtle and mischievous, more mysterious than revealing, and leaves one to imagination and fodder. Our Vanille de Santos comes very close, but I personally prefer a little more grit in a fragrance for my personal taste.
A&H: If you could go back in time and give a young adventurous Michael one piece of advice, what would it be?
MP: I was always in such a hurry as a young adult. So, I would say pack light, slow down, be patient with yourself, and revel in each experience of the journey. I am not suggesting not to strive. Just take it easy, kid! It just happens when it’s supposed to happen. Actions equal results, but results come in the perfect time and not before then.