Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sharking into Summer: A Conversation with Evonne of Darling Clandestine

First, I'd like to put it on the record that I haven't even thought about summer, let alone spring, but sadly, fashion and beauty seasonal releases have yet to to fall in line with what I think is appropriate - though I maintain that Sears needn't release their summer catalogue in January. So while I did raise an eyebrow at the first announcements of summer releases, I have accepted my fate and tried to imagine a world in which I wear sandals again. I should probably book a pedicure soon.

To her credit, Evonne, the proprietor of Darling Clandestine, did say her upcoming release was an early summer release. And I got a chance to talk to her about the early summer release, eggs, books, and plans for the actual summer and beyond. Evonne is always a delight to chat with, and for some reason let me have free reign to ask her questions. 

Evonne and Jason. Image courtesy of Dalrling Clandestine.

We’re coming up on two years (in a couple of months) since DC became your full time job (congratulations, by the way). What have you learned? Anything you’d do differently? Anything you’re surprised about?

Oh, these are such great questions. Thanks for the congrats! :D 

So, the main thing I’ve learned working for myself---and for my amazing customers---is that I have to allow my creative ebb and flow to happen at its own pace, rather than forcing myself into a 9-to-5 schedule. Self-employed folks will all agree, I think, that the thing about working on your own schedule is that you’re ALWAYS working. There are no more on/off hours. Sure, I have the freedom to do stuff that other folks can’t do because they’re expected to be at an office or shop or other *place* of work for a set number of hours, but it’s difficult for me to do stuff that I picture “normal” people doing---coming home from the office, having dinner, sitting down for a few hours to watch TV or play ball with their kids or whatever because they’re off work and they’ve earned their downtime. It’s very hard for me to relax. “Relaxing” for me usually involves, say, working on product plans while sitting in the sun, or answering these interview questions on the laptop on my back patio while a bunch of chickens come wandering over to ask me for snacks. 

With my freedom to choose my own schedule also comes a vague sense of “guilt” that’s pretty much eating at me all the time. I’ve always been a somewhat guilt-ridden person (my dad used to yell at me, “What is your deal? The family is Catholic but I didn’t RAISE you Catholic”, lol), feeling like I should be doing more about everything and nothing. There’s always a voice in the back of my head whispering, “Get to work.” Even when I *am* working.

Compound that with a husband who also works his own hours---he’s a freelance journalist with a focus on video games and technology---and you’ve got *two* people in a household who feel like they don’t “deserve” to relax. Our evening leisure time usually involves eating a quick dinner in front of a Marvel Netflix series and then wailing, “OH, I’VE GOT SO MUCH WORK TO DO” when we’re tempted to let it run to another episode. Even when we take a trip out of town, we’re often working on the road---him making article updates for his editors or even doing actual from-scratch *writing* at a fast-food restaurant, me answering Etsy conversations from customers or ordering supplies I just remembered I needed. When I’m doing what I consider the most important part of my job---fulfilling and packing your orders!---even then, I’ve got that voice nagging me, “Get to work.” Heaven forbid I enjoy writing you shark-notes. I got guilt, man!

But I’ve come to recognize that guilt as a *constructive* thing. It’s a sense of responsibility that pushes me to do more than is required of me, and to keep evolving and not get stuck in a rut. And I’ve recognized that I need to take advantage of creative bursts when they hit me. If I’m performing a repetitive task like batch-pouring vials and suddenly I get the urge to go try something wacky with the new essential oils I just got in the mail, I shouldn’t feel guilty about that urge. I should allow myself to drop what I’m doing and go for it. I need to recognize that just because something’s fun, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to the business! So I guess what I would’ve done differently is figure that out sooner, lol. 

I’ve also learned to pay more attention to real sales numbers and not just what I *think* is cool to make. (You touch on that a bit in a later question down there, and I’ll elaborate a bit there as well.) I’ve invested $$$$ in supplies for a concoction *I* think is super awesome, just for the joy of having it around, and I’ve brought back fragrances because one or two customers asked. But when those items don’t sell as well as others, I’ve got to take a hard look at more lucrative investments and not worry so much about accommodating every request. Especially since this is my only source of income.

Let’s talk the early summer (lol, I think Texas is getting to you) release. What have you been drawing on lately? And tell me about these body spritzes!

Haha, I was born and raised a Northerner, and I’ve always been one to pine for summer sometime around February or so. It’s what keeps me alive! Even though I now live in South Texas, where we’ve already had a couple of 90-degree days in March, it hasn’t changed the way I *smell* summer on the wind. I still get that little rush when I detect the hot crackle on the air---”Ooh, in a couple of months I’ll be able to go swimming!” . . . even though it’s technically warm enough to go swimming right damn now. :P

So anybody who follows me knows that I’ve got music constantly in my brains. For years I’ve wanted to make a summer fragrance that hit me somewhere between Bowie’s “Janine” and “Hang On to Yourself”. It happened a little bit with La La La, All Right, which debuted a few years ago, but that eventually took a Velvet Underground-wardly turn while I was waiting up on Lexington 125. I keep coming back to that vein for that summer fragrance, something that’s more pink-and-orange-and-purple to complement La La La’s green-and-gold. This year I think I’m on it. Now, since Bowie’s death, I’ve been reluctant to overtly say “YOU GUYS, this is a David Bowie-inspired fragrance”, because that seems tacky as hell. But for those paying attention, references to my musical loves have always been part of my creations, threaded sagaciously through my shop and the stuff I share on social media, for doting fans to appreciate. 

Anybody can slap an overt fandom label on a product, but I think there’s a lot more artistry in *subtle* references. For example, one of my favorite indie releases in the past few years was Shiro Cosmetics’ Seven Kingdoms collection. I don’t think Caitlin mentioned “Game of Thrones” once in the descriptions, and I don’t think it was just for copyright’s sake. It’s obvious she’s not only into the HBO series but also has an intimate knowledge of the ASoIaF books. From the names of the colors to the color blends themselves. Golden shimmer under lilac for Master of Whispers? Augh. Deftly done, my little friend.

So yeah, I’m not going to be advertising these as “David Bowie perfume” or anything like that, in the descriptions or in the tags. I’m sure I could make big ol’ bucks for doing that, but I can’t stand the sound of cash machines shrieking on the counter. I’ve needed to make this happen for a while, and it seems that if it’s going to happen in time for any summer, it should be this summer. Turns out, I needed to make *two* fragrances to do that inspiration any kind of justice. At least two, lol. They are two vastly different fragrances. One’s all sweet ice candy and cream and hops and bright vinyl and the other is is a deep, rich arrangement of botanical extracts. Folks have traditionally described Bowie as a “chameleon” with his morphing persona and musical style that runs the spectrum from glam-polished to troubadour-raw  . . . but I’m not really down with those things being contradictory. I think they’re all threads of the same gorgeous tapestry. Like red plastic sunglasses on a wild and windy beach. So, the official descriptions:

Popcreme: Reminiscent of shaved ice soaked with the retro “tiger’s blood” syrup flavor---candy watermelon, strawberry, and a splash of coconut---and then drizzled over with cream, spilled onto a vinyl dashboard, and endrunkened with the sharp, hoppy froth of an India pale ale.

Light Machine: A nostalgic all-botanical blend starring palo santo, marzipan, immortelle, black currant, ylang ylang and a couple of transitions I’m still tinkering with, this might be the “five orchestras” complement to Two Chords. Light Machine *will* be a little more costly and will be a relatively small batch because of $$$$$ ingredients (I don’t have the pricing finalized yet, and don’t even want to get roped into an estimate at the moment), but there will be a few Light Machine body spritzes up for grabs. 

As for the body spritz formula, I hate to be boring, but there’s really nothing revolutionary here. While the fragrances are of course my own original creations, the spritz *base* is is not a from-scratch formula. One day I would love to formulate my own base from scratch, but of course formulating and testing take months and months. And honestly, water-based products terrify me, as far as getting the right balance of preservative and antioxidant and such. Safety of course is the first priority, and I’m much more comfortable with oil-based products in that regard. So yeah, a few customers requested something in “spray” form, and I wanted to give folks more portability and applicability with their summer fragrances, so I started with a tried-and-true FDA labeled base. I’m totally picturing these bottles in everyone’s beach bags this summer. ;)

Recently, you started an egg subscription box, and you had the DC TEA release in the winter. Do you see a future for DC in involving more food/drink/snacks?

Yaaaaasssssss, egg subscriptions! Most of y’all know that I have an adorable flock of chickens (if you follow me on Instagram, I’m sure you’ve had quite an eyeful of them). I often have plenty of eggs to share, and many of my customers care deeply about cruelty-free products. I’d had great success with mailing eggs to friends and family (and was delighted to find that the U.S. postal service is totally cool with it). It makes me really happy to be able to share the bounty with folks all over the country. The egg subscription is not officially part of the Etsy shop; it’s just something I do on the side. But since the chooks have become such a big part of my life and my brand personality, they’re certainly DarlingClandestine eggs!

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine.

So, as far as other edibles, I have toyed with the idea of small-batch candies---particularly exotic seed brittles and unusually spiced fruit fudge. But I have no specific plans to take that on anytime soon, for the same reasons I’ve never gotten into soaping and have placed the TEA on hiatus. First, the investment is $$$$$$$, especially when you’re devoted to having ingredients delivered fresh. And there’s labels, packaging, a whole suite of equipment devoted solely to the creation of those particular goods, and myriad other things. Second, I need room to FLAIL WILDLY. Even though my workshop is nice and roomy, I find that cleanup is hell between products. I am very meticulous about surface contact, and transitioning between, say, tea and perfume is time-consuming and exhausting. One need only look at my kitchen after I’ve prepared one small meal for myself and used like thirty utensils . . . ay. It’s one thing to tip little vials and tubes into each other for perfume; it’s another thing entirely to cook for hundreds of people.

As your skills evolve as a perfumer, do you find yourself wanting to revise scents? Scrap the GC and start over? How do you balance personal whims with what makes good business sense?

Oh, man, I don’t know how many times I’ve found myself methodically re-brewing a general catalog scent, carefully measuring each ingredient according to the old recipe (bo-ring, lol) and then been overcome with the urge to grab an ingredient that is *not* in the recipe and just dump it in there. I’ve literally had to smack myself a couple of times. Because obviously changing up a formula without warning is going to result in some upset customers. There are a few fragrances in my catalog that I think are absolutely perfect, that I wouldn’t tamper with for all the world---Inked is one of them. Vardogr is another. But there are a few that would be fun to modify with a twist, or a little simplifying, or a little complicating. That’s actually a pretty good idea for a themed release---GC with “mods.” XD Maybe for Halloween! “Circassian with Telescopic Eye.” “Maudlin & Bedlam with Automail Spiderlegs.” And so on. Welp, I *do* tend to make good on my jokes, don’t I?

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine.

As for what makes good business sense, yeah, that’s another excellent question. As you know, I like weird. I’ve found that a lot of people also like weird, and that’s why my business exists . . . but there are degrees of weird, and it turns out the majority of folks like the *idea* of weird more than actual weird, lol. There are also several fragrances in my catalog that are seriously underrated, and I’ve found that I sometimes have to let a product go out of circulation for a couple of years before folks start to realize that they *miss* it. I greatly value the input that my customers give me, and on any given release I try to balance the selection with equal parts what I wanna make and what my customers are really buying. Sometimes the batch of what I wanna make is small and it takes forever to sell. But I’ve got to keep doing weird, or I will wither and die. :P

What are you reading right now?

Classic Gothic novels. Contemporaries or even predecessors of Byron and Shelley. I plowed through Melmoth the Wanderer a couple of months ago and was struck by how Nabokovian the style was and, sure enough, looking back through his work, I see that Nabokov himself made some very specific references to Maturin. What’s also striking is that the Gothic style is not just a bunch of self-indulgent spooky sadness and couch-fainting (there’s that, too, obviously), but also quite a bit of spiritual struggle---coming to terms with the dogma of organized religion versus an actual relationship with God. So . . . that’s fascinating. 

Any teasers for other summery things? Are you going to bring back Field Shark to appease me? Do you see yourself adding more forms of scent in the future?

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine.

YES, you shall have your Field Shark! Here’s the thing, though. The formula will be completely different. And more effective. SCIENCE from the Entomological Society of America found recently that the only “natural” alternative that performed competitively against mosquitoes, compared to products containing DEET, was a product that used lemon eucalyptus oil as the active ingredient. I thought that was pretty cool, so I tinkered with a new formulation that features lemon eucalyptus. I’ve been running it through field tests here in the buggy Gulf of Mexico, distributed a prototype among friends while camping in Illinois-river-valley woods last summer---and DC friend Michelle took it on a ziplining excursion in San José del Cabo. I really like the texture and I do find it to be significantly effective for discouraging the little blood suckers. The scent is more pleasant to me than the neem-based scent, but it is hella lemony and can be overpowering after a while. I may work on blending in a few more ingredients that may help temper the OMGLEMON while preserving the potency.

And ahh, the future. There may come a day when I’ll emerge with an excellent, extra-silky lotion that blends seamlessly and is my very own from-scratch concoction. But it is not this day. There may come a day when I perfect the ultimate leave-in conditioner---one that quenches my very dry, curly “mixed” hair without oversaturating other folks’ fine hair. But it is not this day. I will probably eventually expand offerings of balms and solid fragrances, and explore ways to make them more portable, and I do look longingly at bath bomb supplies (SHARKS!!!) . . . but I have no specific plans to release those formats at the moment. We shall see.


As far as teasers, definitely expect a couple of brand-new items from me later in May, and speaking of underrated, here’s a . . . eh, forget teasers. SPOILERS. Limerence.

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine.

Huge thanks to Evonne for her detailed answer and the promise of Field Shark this summer. I'm running out, and I know that I will be attacked by the evil mosquitoes while trying to read and have a beer on the porch this summer. Mosquito bites make me even crabbier than usual, which I would like to avoid. 

The early summer release is officially April 18th, but there's a pre-order for Popcreme in the shop this weekend. In addition to Popcreme and Light Machine, a handful of scents returning: Harpy, La La La...All RIght, Tilt-A-Whirl, and Halochrome. Hop over to the DC Facebook page for updates, times, sharks, and chickens.

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine.

2 comments:

  1. This was such a great interview. Evonne's instagram has been, no exaggeration, life-changing for me. Chickens and song lyrics are such a pick-me-up.

    I really, really, really want to try Popcreme, but I'm super hesitant about the vinyl element because plasticky scents are a major migraine trigger for me. You would think scent-sensitive migraines and extremely poor sense of smell would cancel each other out, but no.

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    1. I preordered the Popcreme body spritz. I will report back - I'm super picky about things that smell plasticky so hopefully that may give you an idea, though I'd probably avoid altogether if it triggered migraines in me.

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