“I’m painting a story with smells.”
I first became aware of Anne McClain because of her workshops, which take place the first Monday of every month at Le Labo. Subsequently after that, I would receive e-mails periodically about her brand MCMC Fragrances. One particular e-mail mentioned she was launching a new fragrance called Maui and that she would be at the Brooklyn Flea. Maui was the place I got married, so it holds special meaning to me. I’ve heard a lot about the Brooklyn Flea but never been. These two facts posed an opportunity to meet Ann and I’m glad I seized the moment. On this hot summer day, after looking around for her booth, I finally stumbled upon it and it was an oasis in the middle of stuff. There she was, a Brooklynite that produced and sold her products in Brooklyn. I was brimming with pride when I met her. As a born and raised Brooklynite myself, stories like hers makes you puff out your chest just a tad bit more. As we began talking, she told me a story about being in fragrance school in Grasse and how her classmates looked at her oddly when she mentioned she wanted to take what she learned back to Brooklyn and start a business. It recalled a line from the rap song Crooklyn Dodgers that seems so apropos, “Straight from crooklyn better known as Brooklyn never taking shorts cause Brooklyn’s the borough.”
Where did you learn the art of creating fragrances?
I originally began by studying on my own. I took evening and weekend workshops on any topic related to perfumery (which in New York City actually tended to be aromatherapy classes), read lots of books, and even did a correspondence course with natural perfumer Mandy Aftel. At a certain point, I felt that I had exhausted all the learning I could do in America and I applied to the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in southern France.
I spent one year in Grasse in an intensive training program with just twelve students. It was very hands on and classes ranged from raw materials to chemistry to genealogy and creation. We also visited farms and production facilities. In the small village of Grasse, there were really no distractions for me (I didn’t have a phone, TV, or even internet in my apartment!) so I was really able to focus on my studies, and concepting for my line, MCMC Fragrances.
Share the story about people frowning in Grasse when you mentioned wanting to create your own line in Brooklyn.
The one thing that was difficult about studying in rural, southern France (as opposed to New York City) is that no one could really relate to me wanting to start my own line. Independent perfumery is not very common (although I see more and more niche lines all the time) and it’s still a male-dominated and family-owned trade. For a newbie like me to come from Brooklyn and say I wanted to start my own line right away was very shocking to my classmates and teachers. But like so many other creative people, I just wanted to do my thing and had no fear!
What is the concept behind MCMC Fragrances?
Before studying perfumery, I was a photographer. I love to travel and the feeling of those fleeting, ethereal moments that we are so lucky to have in life. My photographs were an attempt to flatten these experiences and preserve them. However, after my very first perfume class, I realized that this was the medium for me to work in.
So all of the fragrances from MCMC Fragrances are based on an actual experience from my life. Maine is based on a day in Maine falling in love; Noble is about four months I spent living in Nepal with a Tibetan family and the jasmine and incense that permeated the house, and Hunter is about an old friend who lived in the woods and harvested maple syrup. I’m painting a story with smells.
What sparked your desire to create your own collection?
I have so many stories I want to tell in scent, and so much inspiration, that I knew I had to create my own collection. Working for a corporate perfume house as a perfumer, you are receiving briefs from clients to create their dreams, and their visions. I just couldn’t wait to put my own creations out into the world.
What’s your earliest recollection of fragrance?
Well, I know that the first perfume I ever wanted was Angel by Thierry Mugler. My sister gave it to me when I was 15 for Christmas. This baffles me now because it’s so strong and I’m surprised my 15-year old self was attracted to that, but I’ve always loved woody, oriental scents.
As for my first meaningful recollection of fragrance, while I was in Nepal (I was 21), I bought a jasmine candle at a place called Mike’s Breakfast. At the time I didn’t know that the scent was jasmine – I didn’t know the name of any scents then, really – but I was so in love with this candle. To the point where even after it had burned, I brought home the little wax stump and kept it in my closet for months. To this day, jasmine absolute is one of my favorite ingredients.
How would you finish this statement. “My most memorable fragrant moment would be…?
…smelling a beach plum rose on the coast of Maine while falling in love, mingling with the scents of cool air and dried seaweed.