Perfume is to many a luxury, a supreme art form that is sometimes too abstract to understand; but to Anne McClain, the brain and nose behind MCMC Fragrances, it’s also “a form of adornment”. She says thoughtfully, “In that way, it doesn’t have to be too precious. One can wear perfume just to have a fun smell for a few hours, like a secret.”
Perhaps this was exactly what motivated her to create MCMC together with her sister Katie McClain back in 2009. “Our vision is to make fragrances that fit our lifestyle – easy to wear, but unique. The fragrances are somewhat understated, but the compositions are complex,” she reveals. “I like to envision the wearers of my perfume to feel comfortable in their skin. Fragrances have a way of transforming and smelling different on each person, making it unique and a part of you. I want people to think they smell so good they sneak little sniffs of their wrist all day long.”
Having worked at an interior design firm in New York City, McClain has always had a creative streak. But it wasn’t until her 20s that she discovered the world of perfumery. “I love the idea that plants, flowers and resins from the natural world are distilled down to their most concentrated form and then mixed into beautiful combinations and applied to the skin as a form of adornment. It’s so traditional, and a way to feel close to nature.”
Her journey led her to Grasse, the world’s capital of perfume, where she trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and learnt the entire library of perfume ingredients. It was also in Grasse where the idea of MCMC Fragrances was born. “I was so inspired after coming back from training school,” she remembers. “My sister Katie was working in the buying department at Bloomingdale’s so she understood that world. It was an organic thing that we began working together.”
In April 2010, the two sisters finally brought this idea to life and released the first MCMC perfumes: Hunter, Noble and Maine. To this day, McClain says Noble is still her signature scent, not only because it was her first creation under the brand, but also because it’s based around her two favourite ingredients – Indian jasmine and Haitian vetiver.
“I’m inspired by ingredients,” says the perfumer. “I’ll have a love affair with Italian bergamot and want to use that, or lately, it’s been violet.” But she also takes inspirations “from travel, from memories, from bits and pieces of life and music that is then blurred by time”.
“I like when a memory or experience has become ephemeral, and that attempt to capture something in scent,” she adds.
“I usually have an idea for a new perfume in my head long before I sit down at my scale and start formulating. Iliketohavea strong vision so that once I do start mixing ingredients, it’s like there is a goal and I am just trying to reach that goal.”
Another source of her inspirations is her volunteer experiences. With the intention to share the feeling of compassion and give back to communities, locally and abroad, she started the Humanity Project a few years ago. “The goal is to show that perfume can live in other worlds, besides a purely superficial one. For each edition I volunteer with an organisation and create a collection of fragrances inspired by that experience; a portion of the proceeds from the collection are then donated to that organisation,” she explains.