We once heard it said that smell is the sense that has no language, that the vocabulary used to describe scents (bright, warm, spicy, etc.) is borrowed from our other sensory experiences. But even though it might lack a specific language, nothing can conjure up a past experience quite like a familiar scent: the heady fragrance from freshly cut lilacs brings us back to our grandmother’s garden, just like the clean citrus smell of the aftershave our father wore causes us to look up expectantly in the hopes that he’s in the room. Few people understand the power of smell more than perfumers, and Anne McClain of MCMC Fragrances has made an art form out of the chemical reaction that occurs each time we catch a whiff of something.
Having graduated from France’s renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery (which only accepts a dozen students each year) in 2009, McClain returned to her home in Greenpoint and opened up MCMC. “I knew I had found my true passion,” she tells us, “and I didn’t want to work within other people’s boundaries.” Each of the scents McClain has crafted—including those named Maine, Maui, Kept, and Love—evokes something special to her: “They’re all based on different experiences: sometimes people, sometimes trips I’ve taken, sometimes even short moments. They’re all memory based.” And just like Proust built a narrative around the taste of a madeleine, McClain’s perfumes are all packaged with a slip of paper detailing the memory that served as their inspirations. But even though each scent comes with a story, they also invite you to create your own. As McClain reminds us, “It’s the sense that we leave out; it’s all around us, but it’s usually one of the last things we think about manipulating. But for me, it’s really nice to focus on something that’s invisible that you can really use to change your mood. You can feel comfortable and identify with a scent, and then fragrance can be so much more than you’d ever thought.”
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