This aromatic interview looks into the inspiration and upbringing of Anne McClain, the nose behind MCMC Fragrances. After living between Rhode Island and Japan, and a childhood spent outdoors; this perfumer has brought her global perspective to Brooklyn and into the science of her sweet-smelling world.
If only computers had scratch and sniff capability…
Nativen: How do you think growing up in Rhode Island specifically influenced your choice to start making perfume?
Anne: I was born in Providence, but I also grew up in Japan because my mom is from Japan. I had a dual cultural thing going on.
Living in the Rhode Island was very nice and natural, kind of like a typical American upbringing. We played outside a lot. Living in Japan we did the same, but it was a very different environmental atmosphere.
I think just having those two cultures be equally strong inside of me, really made me interested in the world, and made me interested in exploring.
I also think perfume is something that not a lot of people do. It's pretty different. But the different-ness didn't feel scary to me. Maybe because I've traveled a lot, if that makes sense…
Nativen: It does! That’s amazing.
So when did you realize that you wanted to be a perfume maker? Was there a specific event?
Anne: Yes, there was a very specific event. I was maybe about 25 and was already living in New York. I had moved to New York after I graduated college, and I was taking various classes in my free time. One night I took a natural perfume course.
It was pretty much instant that I fell in love with it. I took the class at a place called the Open Center, which was just like a one evening thing, and I loved everything about it.
Just the look of it, the smells, how mysterious it was, how close it was tied to nature...I just knew right then and there that that's what I wanted to do forever.
Nativen: That’s a great intro, especially since it's so specific. Most people, I think, when they have a vision of what they want to do it becomes some sort of ambling kind of journey that they come to.
Anne: No. It was like 7:00 PM, maybe, and I just walked in five minutes later and I was like, oh my God I love this, I'm done looking.
Nativen: That's fantastic! So, what do you love most about Brooklyn now, and how is that integral to your work do you think?
Anne: I love my studio space. We're at a place called the Dobbin Mews, which used to be horse carriages. It's an industrial street but this is the only one that's cozy. The rest of the buildings around here are tile and stuff like that.
I share a studio space with Odette New York Jewelry and Talon NYC Jewelry. Across the hall there's a florist and ceramicist and textile designers. This creative environment, that I think is very specific to Brooklyn, really motivates me and helps me to keep going because all these small businesses are able to thrive in a place like this.
Nativen: A couple of rapid‑fire questions. In Brooklyn, what's your favorite restaurant?
Nativen: Mmmm... That's a good one. Do you have a favorite home goods store?
Nativen: Do you have a favorite clothing store?
Nativen: Favorite park or outdoor space?
Anne: The waterfront park in Williamsburg. So beautiful!
Nativen: I feel like it just keeps getting better, too.
Anne: Yes. Not on the Smorgasbord days, because it's too crazy, but on a weekday, I love it.
Nativen: It's great. It's really amazing to see New York in times when it's not crowded...
Anne: Yes, that's the best thing!
Nativen: Like being in SoHo at six in the morning, before anyone else is up.
Do you have a hidden gem in New York that you...?
Anne: It used to be all of Greenpoint, I feel like was a hidden gem, and not so much anymore. My own rooftop is a hidden gem.
Nativen: I think rooftops are the secret sanctuaries of New York City.
Anne: From mine you can see everyone else's backyard. We get a good vantage point.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in New York?
Anne: I often say that I don't think I could do this anywhere else but New York since it's such a well‑connected place. There's so much happening in terms of trade shows and press.
I feel that perfume is pretty close to fashion, at least whom I communicate with. It's always on a very tight deadline and if it's press, they need materials delivered by end of day.
I think if I weren't here, I wouldn't be able to deliver in this timely of a manner because everything is focused. New York is the epicenter of commerce and media. I couldn't be anywhere else and really deliver on time.
Nativen: Agreed. This is that question that's like asking you to pick your favorite child, but is there a fragrance that you've made so far that's your favorite?
Anne: I generally like the newest thing I've worked on, because I'm always learning something. The next new thing I make has the accumulation of all that knowledge, whether it's a technique or an ingredient.
Once in a while I'll circle back to things. Lately I've been circling back to Kept, which is dark roses, leather and clove. A couple of people have mentioned it recently and it re-sparked my interest in it again.
Nativen: That's the nice thing about fragrance. It's such a personal experience. It's not tacked down.
Anne: Visual things you sometimes get tired of. I probably haven't worn Kept in six months or something. Then I was like, "Oh, wait a minute. I can wear this again."
Nativen: That's great. What part of the process brings you the most joy?
Anne: The beginning, the creative part of it. Yesterday I was working with Emily, who works with Talon NYC, and we were collaborating on a perfume amulet. She's making an amulet necklace that has these poppies on it and I'm going to make a fragrance to fill the amulet with.
Yesterday, we were playing with different ingredients and coming up with, "What would be your signature scent?" Pulling the ingredients and getting inspired and thinking about that initial direction is the most exciting part.
After that it becomes quite tedious. It's about nailing your formula and making precise measurements. There's a lot of math involved in that. But in the beginning steps you're so free.
Nativen: The playtime.
Nativen: What part of the process do you think is the greatest struggle for you?
Anne: The greatest struggle is when I decided that I wanted my own perfume company. I didn't know what that entailed as far as all the different business aspects of it. There are really so many of them.
Nativen: What's the one thing you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?
Anne: I would like to go to India for at least a month.
Nativen: Wow. That would be amazing. Will that be your next trip?
Anne: India is probably too big of a trip for my next destination. We have been talking about doing a girls trip to Tulum.
Nativen: Amazing! Have you been before?
Anne: No. Have you?
Nativen: Yes. It's incredible. How do you think that might inspire or alter your work?
Anne: I would maybe get some peace and relaxation [laughs] and then come back ready to really go for it again.
Nativen: If you weren't a perfume maker, what do you think you would be?
Anne: I used to want to be a documentary photographer or an international journalist, so maybe something along those lines... I like to travel a lot.
Nativen: I don't know if you listen to music while you work, but do you have a song that you have on heavy rotation at the moment?
Anne: Sometimes I need to do really repetitive work at the studio, like bottle 200 Dude No.1 Beard Oils, so I like upbeat music that will keep me going. My song of the moment is Latch by Disclosure and Sam Smith. Cheesy goodness.
Nativen: Haha. What are three words that sum up your work?
Anne: Ethereal, rare, and smelly [laughs]
Nativen: [laughs] That's good. Is there anything that you do with your work to specifically connect with your community?
Anne: There is a series of fragrances I make...The umbrella name of it is the Humanity Project, and they're inspired by different volunteer experiences, and we'll be releasing an edition of three of them in March of 2015.
For one, I volunteered at El Puente, which is on the south side of Williamsburg with a group of 14 and 15-year-old girls.
They each made their own perfumes based on their life experiences, and then I made three perfumes based on my time with them.
Nativen: What a cool project. What is the most helpful advice you've received, or what's advice that you would give to a creative who is looking to start their own project?
Anne: I think it's good to have mentors, because I've had a few different mentors along the way or people that have been in the business longer than I have.
I think every creative discipline is so specific and the issues that you might run into are so specific. So if you have someone who can give you a little bit of advice, take it so you're not blindsided when you face an obstacle.
I think the advice that I would give is when you're starting a business you have to be 100 and percent committed because it's not just the creative aspect of it.
You can run into a million different types of problems‑‑like sourcing. There’s a lot that comes along to support the creative, and unless you are motivated to just bust your way through those problems, you can't really do your creative thing.
Nativen: That's great. That's sound advice. Who's your hero? Who's someone whose maybe helped greatly influence your work?
Anne: In perfume, I would say Jean‑Claude Ellena, because he's my favorite perfumer. He's kind of the minimalist school, so I really like his style of perfume, and so I would say he is a big influence on how I wanted to come into perfumery.
Nativen: That's great. Very cool. How did you find out about him?
Anne: I started smelling a lot of different perfumes, and all of my favorite ones were his [laughs]
Nativen: That's funny. That's interesting. You were on the same wavelength.
Nativen: What are five objects you can't live without?
Anne: Five objects I can't live without? My phone, coffee, my son (he's not an object, but he's so cute), my new rug, which I love…and plants
Nativen: Plants are crucial I think.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
Assistant Editor: Emily Murphy (This interview has been condensed & edited)
all images are copyright of Nativen