We are so thrilled to be in the May issue of Big Issue Taiwan. We got a whole spread! And lots of pretty photos! Funnily enough of course, the interview is in Mandarin. But I thought it might be fun to dig up the original interview I did with the author. Here it is (in English :)
Please tell us a bit of your background before starting MCMC? If there was a fortune teller telling the younger you that you will be making perfume for a living in the future, what would you have thought? How did you decide the brand name MCMC?
Growing up I was actually quite a nerd, but I always had a creative streak in me as well. My mother is a painter so art and craft was a part of my home growing up. I think I must've absorbed this creative energy growing up, so even though being a perfumer is such an unexpected career, at the same time it feels natural that I would be in pursuit of something artistic.
The brand name was easy. It's derived from my (maiden) last name, McClain, and really made sense once my sister joined the company, two years in. I love the simplicity and symmetrical look of the name, and I wanted something simple because the fragrance names are what are really supposed to stand out.
You have a passion for everything perfume related. Do you think the jasmine candle you bought when studying abroad in Nepal got the MCMC ball rolling? When was the moment that you really thought making perfume was your true calling?
I definitely think that the jasmine candle I bought in Nepal was a revelation for me. It just smelled so good! It was like discovering a taste I really loved, or an album. I think in the same way that someone can love music, it's possible to love scents and that was the revelation I had. But it wasn't until a few years later when I took a natural perfume making class that I realized I wanted to actually make perfume myself. That evening, at the very first class I saw instantaneously that perfume was my calling. I love it's connection to nature, which is very close to my heart as well.
Did you think long and hard before wrapping up everything and moving to the perfume capital of France to study? You prepared to learn the art and craft of perfume making. Did you encounter any challenges during your study? What was the least expected knowledge about becoming a perfumer, if any?
The timing for moving to France to study just kind of all came together. I had been studying on my own for about two years, and was working at a design agency in Soho. It was around the time of the 2009 economic crash and the company I was working with was losing clients and it didn't look like we were going to sustain much longer. I applied to the Grasse Institute of Perfumery not knowing if I would get in (they only accept twelve students each year), but I heard back very shortly after and had just six weeks to move.
Living in the south of France was an incredible experience. It's so beautiful there, and it's such a luxury to be able to study what you love, and this was also before I had a family, so I was very free. There was one tough thing I encountered, and that's that the perfume industry is traditional. I went to school intending to be an entrepreneur - to come back and start my own company. That was not an easy concept for my teachers there to understand. They wanted to see the twelve of us stay in Grasse and apprentice with small companies. I was the only American student at the time, and didn't plan on moving there permanently.
Your logo is subtle and quite unique. Would you please share your thoughts behind the image? What did you try to convey? A set of watercolored hands symbolizes giving, does that sum up pretty well as the core of the company?
I was connected to Paul, who does our graphic design for us, through a friend. At the time, I told him about the company I wanted to start and my passion for perfume, and he interpreted it as the gift we were giving the world. He asked his friend, a painter, to draw a set of hands. The watercolor medium really made sense to me, because perfume is kind of like bottling memories. The memories are more beautiful than real life, and blurred and simplified. Each scent has a different color of watercolored hands, depending on the mood of that fragrance.
What satisfies you the most since starting your own business? Any frustrations? How about the most memorable moment?
Starting my own business has been nice because I get to work on my terms. There are some days that I accomplish a ton, and work very long hours, but there are other days that I can take more time to be creative, and I get to set my own deadlines for that. At the same time, because I work for myself, there is no roadmap. There is no one telling me exactly what to do, and how to do it right, so I invent a lot, and have learned some things the hard way.
One of the most memorable moments I had was the first time seeing MCMC at Anthropologie, a nationwide store. I couldn't believe that we had made it into a store that's all across the US.
Design-wise, where do you get your inspiration from? Would you please use a product as an example to share your creative process with us? What is the most popular product so far? I know every perfume has it's own story. If you had to pick one, which would be the most meaningful to you?
A lot of my inspiration comes from travel. I feel free when I travel, and am so inspired by the feel of different places, especially those in nature. The smells, the tastes, and sounds in the air. For example, MAUI is about a summer I spent on the Hawaaiian island. I was young and decided to go there for the summer on a whim. I got a job as a waitress, and rented a condo with my sister and her boyfriend. We had so much fun! We went to the beach all the time, and I met some amazing friends. The backdrop to that experience is what became the fragrance - the salty air, the bamboo forest, white flowers in the breeze, and young ginger shoots on the side of the road.
If I had to pick one fragrance that is the most meaningful to me, it's probably NOBLE. It was the first fragrance I made, and I love Indian jasmine and Haitian vetiver, two of the ingredients, so much.
Small batch, handmade artisan style allows you to pay attention to all the details including ingredient selecting. What are your rules regarding sourcing ingredients? Besides using clean materials, are there any other environmentally responsible manners you apply while running your business?
It took a few years to get a really good handle on sourcing our ingredients. We started off as such a small company that we didn't need a ton of material at first, so we bought from many vendors. As our needs increased, we needed larger, more reliable sources for ingredients and we started to narrow down our sources to just a few companies. We also were able to meet the minimum of some larger, more high quality ingredient companies. Because my training was so much about ingredients, I still smell everything that we've ordered before it goes into a batch of anything.
We are also conscious of our packaging. Our paper tubes are made with 70% post-consumer recycled paper.
Fashion has seasons. As a perfumer, how do you pace yourself for creating new perfume? Or do you just go with inspiration flow? I read that you enjoy making custom fragrances for individuals a lot, why is that? Please share a unique request/story with our readers.
I actually have more ideas for fragrances than I do opportunities to release them. Perfume brands usually have a fairly tight assortment; any more and it can be confusing for the customer. That's one of the reasons I like to work with individuals and other brands to make fragrances. It gives me the chance to be creative and do my craft, but not always for my own line. A really good friend of mine came to the studio recently to make herself a custom fragrance and told me the inspiration was the woods around her house in upstate New York. I loved making that.
The Humanity Project sounds like a very interesting idea. You have done three editions so far. You taught a six week perfume making class to twelve young women a couple of years ago which I think is especially meaningful. Did you learn something new while teaching those young girls? Do you intend to continue the Humanity Project? What will be the number one reason for you to keep doing it?
The Humanity Project is such an important part of the work that I do. I loved the Third Edition with El Puente and working with the young women. I had never really interacted so much with teenagers before and it was really fun working with them. We spent a few sessions just uncovering what their personal inspirations for a fragrance would be and reminded me of my younger self, except here they were in Brooklyn, twenty years after I was a teenager. I realized that the human experience is really similar, no matter where or when you grow up, and in that way, a fragrance can resonate with so many audiences.
I do intend to continue the Humanity Project. I have two kids now and that has slowed my latest edition, but they are also my newfound inspiration.
Do you have a vision in mind for MCMC to grow into or a goal to reach? If so, please do share.
Today is MCMC's 8th birthday! I'm so happy to have gotten here, and am really looking forward to marking our ten year anniversary.
Please share your easy and practical tips for using perfume to change one's mood, environment or energy field in daily life.
I change my scent depending on my mood, and pink one for the occasion that will enhance that mood. I sometimes even wear perfume just at home when I'm hanging out! I love a warm cozy scent like HUNTER for an evening at home, or a more energetic floral like LOVE for a spring picnic with friends.
Any advice on how to shop online for perfume?
We're lucky that these days a lot of online perfume stores and brands offer samples. I always wear a new perfume for a few days to make sure I like it. The drydown (the scent that lingers on your skin after a few hours) can often be quite different than the initial top notes.
Naomi from The Lifestyle Edit came over to my home recently to interview me. We talked about business, life, and the future. I thought it was fun when she asked me the five steps I took to start MCMC Fragrances. I had never really thought of it as a linear sequence before. Click over to the full interview to hear my answer here.
Our friend John came over and photographed me at home with my kids for Nico and Nate recently, a sweet site that interviews families with two brothers. I'm so happy to have "real" photos of my family, not just all photos taken with my phone!
West Elm came to our studio for a visit recently and took these photos of us during production, doing our thing. Click over to hear about a typical day in our studio, and what inspires us.
Our sweet friend + ceramicist Helen Levi was asked by Vogue recently what her ideal hostess gift would be and she said our Desert Rose Atmosphere Mist. Check out the full piece here to see what other chic women like Padmi Laksmi and photographer Alice Gao are hoping for.
One chilly night a couple of months ago, the gorgeous Padma Lakshmi came by our studio to get a crash course in perfume making. Tazo is debuting a new chai tea latte and who better to be their spokeswoman than Padma, who grew up drinking her grandmother's chai every day. We smelled everything from Japanese yuzu citrus to fresh jasmine together, talking about how flavors and scents meld to concoct fragrant recipes. Take a peek at our video above!
Last Saturday my friend Joanna invited me to Madison Square Park to drink milkshakes (yum!) at Shake Shack and model Hatch's new Spring/Summer line of maternity clothing. Her friend Anna came along too, and we dished on what life with two kids will be like. I'm due June 15th - so soon!
You can see the full post with more photos here. I ended up taking this trench home with me. I'm hoping it will be good for post baby too!
I was so incredibly honored to be included in The New York Times' Food Section last week for their column, Close At Hand. Each week, writer Ligaya Mishan seeks out a New Yorker and photographs him or her in their home with a precious kitchen object. I chose my mom's lacquer trays. Growing up, my mom would always serve me an after school snack on a tray. I didn't know it at the time but the trays are all antiques, hand-carved about a hundred years ago. They're a symbol of her care for me, and remind me to be a kind and gentle mother with my own son.
Check out the full piece here!