MCMC founder Anne Serrano-McClain and her partner and sister Katie McClain talked to us about how their fragrance brand got started ten years ago and all that goes into making scents.
As a Visual Arts major in school, Anne was fascinated with capturing memories and experiences through photography. While working as a project manager in design she decided to take a perfume making class in Soho, NYC. When she smelled the ingredients she knew within ten minutes what she wanted to do: inspire memories using scent. After two years of experimenting on her own, she applied to one of two perfumery schools in the world, both of which are in France. The Grasse Institute of Perfumery doesn't require a chemistry degree so she applied and went, one of twelve students and the only American that year.
After graduation she came back to NY and founded MCMC Fragrances. In the meantime, her sister Katie was working in the buying office at Bloomingdale's and the costume department of several TV shows and would help Anne do pop up shops and holiday markets in between jobs.
The brand took off and Katie was able to join the company full time. When asked if it's difficult to work together as sisters Katie said they hardly ever disagree. She said, “There is an inherent trust on both sides and we spend a lot of time together outside of work so if we do disagree, we usually have to squash it right away because likely we have social plans together later that day or the next.”
Their unique scents conjure elements from around the world: Indian jasmine, Haitian vetiver, Italian neroli, and inspire “memories of long ago friendships and adventures”. A safe way to be transported to happier times during a pandemic! Besides their scents Cloud Cover, Garden, Hunter, Noble and their Dude Collection for men, they have collaborated with other brands like the beloved Brooklyn jewelry designers Mociun.
Anne says staying true to themselves and making sure the products reflect what they believe in are important to them. The Garden fragrance is inspired by the Ananda Harvest, a group of urban farmers who come together each weekend in upstate New York to teach themselves and others how to farm, strengthen the local food movement, and give back to the community. Their scents come from a place of “deep inspiration and it takes time to work through the process of inspiration to final scent. By now I’ve memorized over 500 ingredients and still know to some degree several hundred more. For this reason, I do consider myself an expert in perfume ingredients and so when it came to sourcing them, I was extremely particular. We now work with just a handful of trusted suppliers but it took a few years of ordering samples, working with the ingredients and ensuring they stayed consistent batch to batch, to get a handle on our sourcing.”
They carefully select their fragrance ingredients and use a combination of botanicals and synthetics. The natural botanical ingredients used are essential oils, absolutes and CO2s. The reason they sometimes use synthetic fragrance materials is because they can create a larger range of scent and in some cases, can even be better for the environment. As an example, Indian sandalwood is a vulnerable species so they substitute it with both Australian sandalwood that is grown sustainably, and a synthetic sandalwood replacement. They also use synthetic musk, in order to keep their fragrances vegan and cruelty free.
When choosing synthetic ingredients, they make sure they are free of known allergens and skin irritants and don't use phthalates or parabens or chemical stabilizers such as BHT. Therefore, they consider the synthetics they use to be “safe synthetics,” as they are safe for both the skin and the environment.
Part of keeping the brand aligned with their beliefs is thinking through their packaging to avoid plastic and minimize waste. “It's important for us to be low-waste and sustainable. Our paper tube packaging actually once won a sustainability award! It is made from 70% post consumer recycled paper. Aside from our hand sanitizers, we only use recycled glass bottles. We almost always reuse packing materials and boxes that are shipped to us, rather than simply recycling them.”
“Having been in business for ten years now I think the challenge has shifted and has more to do with how do we keep this feeling true to ourselves, as we evolve as people. Do the products reflect what we believe in? Are they in alignment with the world as it currently is? It’s easy to conceive of a brand or product line that is trendy and of-the-moment but it’s harder to have a brand that is so deeply personal and have it connect with an audience over time.”