We’ve all been there (or are currently working through it) – you’re in a job or role that on paper sounds super cool and to your peers seems enviable, but that in reality, you don’t feel totally fulfilled in. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve worked your way up the career ladder only to discover, close to the top, that it doesn’t quite feel right. Anne McClain was working as a project manager for an interiors company – a job she loved – but something felt off. A creative at heart, she started to wonder how she could honour the artist within, and just like that, her interest in fragrance and perfume developed and grew, and in time, MCMC Fragrances was born.
Isn’t it funny how life seems to fall into place as soon as you follow your intuition? That first break often seems like a leap of faith, but rather it’s just the unfamiliarity of you listening to your inner voice – letting it guide you rather than shutting it down. One of only twelve students, Anne graduated from the Grasse institute of Perfumery while rising above the naysayers that thought she was crazy for starting her own label rather than going into the corporate sphere. “My teachers and classmates were all totally baffled when I said I wanted to go back to New York and start my own business,” she recounts. “It was disheartening sometimes, but it also made me more determined to succeed.”
Small steps led to big changes; she spent some time researching and brainstorming ideas, got friends on board to help with design and production, found a laboratory, made her first samples and set about connecting with the owners of her favourite boutiques and stores. Her husband volunteered to take a salaried job to help sustain the growing business (a job he loves), and just like that, life started to feel right again. We talked to Anne about getting MCMC off the ground, how her working relationship with her sister was an organic appointment, and how she manages entrepreneurial life as a mother.
ON FRAGRANCE CREATIONG BEING HER CREATIVE CALLING: In 2005 I moved to Brooklyn, NY from Providence, RI. I worked in interior design for four years as a project manager. I loved my job, but I had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t quite found my artistic calling. As I became more and more interested in perfume – or really the art and craft of fragrance making – it was clear that this was what I was meant to pursue. I just loved making perfume so much. The ingredients, in all of their various colors and consistencies, and their scents were like little worlds of their own. In a sense, it was not so much courage that drove me but passion. And, I was very naive when I started the business, which I think was good because I didn’t know how hard it would be to be an entrepreneur. I just knew that I had to make perfume, and to keep making perfume, I had to make a living so I tried my best to learn the business side on the fly. My earliest recollection of being mesmerized by fragrance was back in 2003 when I was studying abroad in Nepal. I bought a jasmine candle at a gift shop and loved it so much I brought the tiny bit of wax at the bottom of the candle home and stored it in a closet for over a year. Ever since then, jasmine has been my favorite floral scent. Our first customer order on the website came in on March 26th, 2009 after DailyCandy (remember them?!) wrote about us and it’s been a full-time business ever since.
THE FEARS SHE OVERCAME TO LAUNCH MCMC: I had to get rid of my fear. Sometimes when I’m afraid to do something, I’ll imagine the worse case scenario. Oftentimes, it’s not that bad. The other thing I try to practice a lot is gratitude. As a business owner I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful. But sometimes I will gently remind myself to look back at what we’ve created so far and be proud of that, rather than thinking about what I haven’t accomplished yet. Deciding to pursue perfumery felt to me like jumping off a cliff. I had to remind myself that I had nothing to lose. I could always get a job as a fall back if I didn’t succeed but I just had to jump. I was engaged to be married at the time and my husband was also working for himself. We decided one of us should get a salaried job so he volunteered while I initially started my business. He ended up loving the work he got into, and MCMC took off so we’ve been happy career-wise ever since. I went to a very small school, The Grasse Institute of Perfumery in the traditional perfume town of Grasse, France. They accept just twelve students each year and I was the only American in my class. It is essentially a vocational school, training one to work in a corporate environment. Perfumery is still a really traditional institution and it’s nearly unheard of for perfumers to strike out on their own let alone an American woman! My teachers and classmates were all totally baffled when I said I wanted to go back to New York and start my own business. It was disheartening sometimes, but it also made me even more determined to succeed.
ON STARTING SMALL & LEAN: I asked my friends to make a logo for me, and I built my own website on the old iWeb program. I ordered the smallest quantity of bottles and ingredients I could, and for basically the first year I did everything myself – production, shipping, customer service. After the first year, there was enough money to hire my sister full-time, and relaunch with our current packaging, which was the first big investment I made. We’ve been working with the same graphic designer from the start, and he’s amazing. We work with a few product photographers who make our products look amazing and put them in context, a bookkeeper, and a production assistant who is a bottling whiz!
THE FIVE KEY STEPS SHE TOOK TO LAUNCH MCMC: The first step was having a vision. I took a year brainstorming every aspect of how I wanted my business to look, feel and smell and where I wanted to sell. The second step was setting up a laboratory. The third was creating a visual identity: the logo, website and the first iteration of packaging. Next was going door to door to my favorite boutiques (I can’t believe I was brave enough to do that!) to sell my fragrances. The final step was reaching out to press. I would absolutely follow these steps if I had to do it all over again, though these days social media is much more important to a business than it was in 2009 so I would incorporate too. In many ways, the business is similar than it was when I started, just bigger. We still do direct sales online, we still wholesale to amazing and stylish boutiques all around the country, and we still make custom fragrances.
HER WORK DYNAMIC WITH HER SISTER, WHO MANAGES THE BUSINESS SIDE: Katie was always really supportive of MCMC and joined me at all the holiday fairs and events I did in the beginning. When I started the business, she was working in the buying department at Bloomingdale’s but she left that to do styling work for films and photoshoots. That schedule left her with some weeks off here and there, so she would help out at the studio. One holiday season I was so busy she helped bottle, ship and invoice during the months of November and December. In January, she said she liked working at MCMC and didn’t want to go back to styling so I hired her full- time. It was a natural fit. She now handles the wholesale side of the business, along with having the final say in creative with me. We draw boundaries between work and family time. We tend to not talk about business too much when we’re hanging out with other family members.
HOW MOTHERHOOD CHANGED HER APPROACH TO WORK: Before having children I very much identified with being a perfumer and business owner. Now I’ve got a whole other facet to who I am. I have to draw boundaries between work and personal because my kids could hardly care what I do! My boys are four years old and eight months and when I walk in that front door I am just “mommy” to them. Regardless of how busy I am, I cook dinner every night. I try my best to get home at 6pm so that I can have a home-cooked meal for my family on the table, and we all sit down together and eat.
GROWING PAINS: As a business, we’re always learning. Some new obstacle will present itself and we’ll have to find a solution. That’s one of the harder things about having your own business. There is no roadmap so you’re constantly changing course. To this day international shipping perplexes me! I love that we get orders from all over the world – Turkey, Japan, Australia – but there are times I cross my fingers that the package actually reaches these far-off destinations.
THE FUTURE: With a fragrance line, I think it’s important to keep the collection tight. That’s why I love doing collaborations and custom work. In ten years’ time I hope to still be building the MCMC brand but working creatively with others so I’m always using my nose. I’ve always wanted a flagship location, but only if it’s done really right, so that’s in the dream too.
THE ADVICE SHE WOULD HAVE GIVEN HERSELF AT THE START OF HER JOURNEY: Not to sound cliché but, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” There are so many moments when I’ve utterly panicked – a package has gotten lost or I’ve spilled $500 of rose absolute on the floor. There’s always a solution, and with time any momentary emergency fades. Now I try to maintain a level of calm through every little crisis.