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Liberty's Fragrance Destination

Artisan soap shop Bittersweet Soap & Apothecary brings the lavish spirit of European perfumeries to the Northland

Article by Nyonu Branch-Watkins

Photography by Nyonu Branch-Watkins

Originally published in Northland Lifestyle

Scent, beauty, and style have long evolved alongside one another. Their long, interwoven history is one of sacred regard. Perfume, which fittingly translates to “fragrance of the gods”, initially took the form of herbs, spices and plants, and oils. The mixtures were applied ceremoniously in historical settings as a way to prepare humans to be received by a higher power after death. Later, as the use of fragrance spread from Africa to Europe, first royalty, and then, the aristocracy began to partake in perfuming: from infused baths, clothes, walls and tableware and even the hollow handles of canes. However, it wasn’t until the late 17th century when flowering plants and fragrant herbs were replaced with synthetic aromatics, that perfume became mass-marketed and has strongly influenced our sense of opulence ever since.

With 24 years in the business of curating unique personal care and beauty products, Jill McDowell-Lincoln has reenvisioned the landscape of purveying fragrance in Midwestern America. For her shop, Bittersweet Soap & Apothecary in downtown Liberty, she draws much of her inspiration from the high-end boutiques of France to inspire her fine soaps and cosmetics. You can hear her eagerly imparting to her customers that she keeps her ingredient lists simple by combining only unrefined, natural elements and focuses on making the most sustainably informed choices as she formulates each of her products.

In addition to offering a selection of products with the quality typically reserved for metropolitan hubs, Jill also presents to her customers the opportunity to personalize their collection of body butters, salves, bath salts, room sprays, and, of course, perfumes. She uses her gifts of disarming approachability and generational knowledge of scent-building to help guide newcomers through the shop’s “scent-your-own” department. 

“The easiest way to start mixing scents with customers is to ask if they enjoy a spice, floral, or citrus scent,” she says. “It doesn’t intimidate that person and typically, they will immediately have a preference.”

As she prepares her inventory for a shift into the holiday season, her busiest time of year, she rattles off the names of the scents she can’t wait to share with her clients. Her fall and holiday lines differ from year to year, many of the fragrances originating from her own imagination. 

“We’ve got ‘Persian pear’ coming in, as well as ‘twilight,’” which she says will return from previous years and notes that “dragon’s blood” and “nag champa” will also be returning to the shelves.

One of the scents she is most excited about is the foundation of a self-care line now featured in-store. The new fragrance, “Sunday morning,” is a warm, nostalgic mixture of raspberry and vanilla, which scents soaps, candles, bath salts, perfume, room and body sprays, and oil diffusers. The line will also feature luxury spa items including genuine fleece-lined slippers, fuzzy pajamas, and chocolate bars.

Jill has been dreaming up her line of fall and winter aromas since mid-summer. Her manufacturing process requires four to six weeks of preparation and development, a proceeding she embarks on with infectious enthusiasm. 

“You know, as a soap maker, I could make the same scents all the time,” she says with a mischievous smile. “The reason I don’t is for selfish reasons. When I go into the studio to make a soap, I’m like, ‘Oh, I get to make this soap today and this is going to smell amazing.’ There’s no set routine. I’m very, very lucky”.

It’s easy to understand why she refers to her shop as her “second home” and revels in being a great hostess. 

“It’s kind of like people are coming into my home, especially because the shop is in an old home, and I think that’s cool,” says Jill. “This is definitely like my second home so I feel like it’s a privilege that people feel comfortable the moment they walk through that door.” 

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