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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Interview with Evonne from Darling Clandestine 2016!

It's a new year and I managed to snag another interview with Evonne from Darling Clandestine!

So first of all, how are you doing?

DC: Awww, I’m doing well! :) Lots of spring cleaning here at the little ranch house (yeah, I know it’s January, but to a Northerner like me a Texas January is spring), and I’m feeling excited about new possibilities with the shop and my little flock of free-range chickens---which, if you follow me, you know are pretty much my LIFE. Thank you for asking!

So, I've been getting excited by all the tea previews you post on your Facebook and Instagram pages! Tell us more about the tea collection! What's the inspiration for them? How did you decide to go make teas?

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine

DC: That’s right; if you haven’t heard, Darling Clandestine is about to release five varieties of loose tea. I’ve always been a tinkerer in the kitchen, and making tea allows me to share those culinary adventures with you in a way that travels well. I bought SO MANY SUPPLIES, you guys. This is a serious undertaking.

What makes these tea uniquely DC?

DC: What makes these teas uniquely DC is their tendency toward the unconventional, and the complexity of the blends. As you’d expect from me, right? And I wanted the flavors to be as true and clean as possible. The blends feature very fine quality tea leaves and very fine quality culinary ingredients. Leaves, seeds, berries, pods, flowers, stems, roots, fruits. I’m as gentle as possible with the leaves and flowers, and the various other ingredients are roasted/ground/broken/gently smashed into my mortar for maximum deliciousness. There is NO “flavoring” additive in any of these tea blends; the flavor comes from the plants themselves.

Shall I unveil the whole collection preview right here? YES, I SHALL:

VERDIGRIS RADIO: Green, green, with a whisper of Asian-fusion flair. Organic, fair-trade China Green and Bai MuDan tea. Thai kaffir lime leaf. Lemongrass. Green cardamom. Chamomile flowers. Greek oregano. Sage leaves. Green peppercorns. Frankincense tears. Cracked ginger. Basil leaves. Verdigris Radio is savory and superb on its own, or tuned for kicks with coconut milk. 

COY BOY: DC’s cheeky take on Chai. Organic, fair-trade Black Ceylon and Darjeeling tea. Green cardamom pods. Madagascar vanilla beans. Telicherry peppercorns. Allspice berries. Hand-picked cloves. Cracked ginger. Toasted organic sesame seeds. Crushed raw nutmeg. Crushed roasted almonds. Crushed dried banana. Black lava sea salt. Be flippant and lavish with your cream and sugar. 

LA MALINCHE: Enjoy Mexican mole dishes? This is a tart dark dessert melange, first sour and fruity and then rich and toasty. Organic, fair-trade certified Assam black tea. Organic hibiscus flowers. Frankincense tears. Mild ancho chile peppers. Roasted organic chicory root. Roasted organic Inca corn. Dried pumpkin and dried plantain, ground very fine. Raw organic cacao powder. Raw white cacao beans. Raw organic cacao nibs. Mexican vanilla beans. Black lava sea salt. And certified organic fair-trade roasted—gasp—coffee. Traitoress! More treacherous with milk or cream and a spoonful of sugar. 

MERAXES: Fiery and smoky and not for the faint. You might sneeze when you sniff it. Firewood-roasted organic Lapsang Souchong smoothed with China Black. Fine-cut rooibos. Crushed habanero and ancho chile peppers. Dried persimmon. Tart-dried pomegranate seeds. Black and red peppercorns. The finest Spanish red saffron. Organic hibiscus flowers. Hawaiian Alaea sea salt. Served without embellishment, Meraxes is savory. Served with honey, it is sweet and hot at once.

RUBYTHROATED: A flurry of blossoms. Superior organic White Peony (Bai MuDan) tea. Organic hibiscus flowers. Rose hips and rose petals. Lavender buds. Chamomile flowers. Jasmine flowers. Basil leaves. Spearmint leaves. A dollop of honey or agave syrup makes for a fine floral nectar.
Many of my customers like to know pricing in advance as well, so here’s the run-down on that. 

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine

These sound amazing! How much will they cost?

DC: A beautiful twenty-serving tin will be priced at $23 to $28 (Rubythroated to Coy Boy). I imagine some folks will find that a bit on the steep side (haha, “steep”! See what I did there? Nobody steal that for a scathing---ha---review ‘cause I’ll find you), but again, keep in mind the pure and excellent quality of the ingredients, the fact that there are NO “flavoring” additives, and the fact that I totally had to take out a loan to invest in this high-end $$$$ stuff, dudes, no joke. :P My stupid brain keeps trying to make me feel *guilty* for charging high-end prices, but believe me, the prices are very nice.
And YES, of course, I’ll have SAMPLES! The samples come in ADORABLE mini tins, about two servings, for $6 each. AND! AND!! For the first week of the release I’ll have an introductory special offer for the samples---buy 4, get the 5th free.

And ALSO, if you participated in Shark Friday 2015, your package may have arrived with a bit of advice from a certain savvy shark on the back. He may have told you to remember something. Now is an excellent time to remember!

I heard you're actually turning the joke perfumes you mentioned in our past interview into actual perfumes! That's exciting! Can you take us through the creative process of how you came up with these scents?

DC: Haha, yessss! I’ll be releasing Mushyflowers and Bicep of the Parrot #42 at the same time the TEA collection goes live, THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00 AM CENTRAL STANDARD TIME. I’m calling this release TEA/VD.

For Mushyflowers, I toyed around with my belief that perfume notes you normally “hate” can be tamed and coaxed to reveal their inner beauty, lol. You know how a lot of “almond” fragrances either smell like nuclear cherry cough syrup or like cinnamon-dominated “pralines”? Yeah, I’m tired of that. So I worked on my own interpretation of almond, with a bunch of ingredients that are not almond fragrance oils. And that’s one aspect of Mushyflowers. The other aspect is florals. Floral fragrances are supposed to be heady and sweet and cloying, right? Not this one. For this I was inspired by magnolia. I didn’t use “magnolia” fragrance oil, because I haven’t found one that gets *my* kind of magnolia right. Have you seen and smelled an American magnolia tree in spring? I think they’re so cool because the big, succulent blooms come out before the leaf buds, so you have these striking pale pink flowers on gnarled, spreading silver branches. The flowers are thick and waxy and easily bruised, rather like lilies, and while they do have a heady sweetness to them, they also have a green-ness, a bitterness, a muskiness, almost a fleshiness. That fleshiness is what I wanted. And I used a number of other elements to capture that. So what you get in Mushyflowers is the succulence of magnolia poured over a base of toasted almond.

For Bicep of the Parrot #42, I kept picturing a green jungle bird in a mosaic of a fountain filled with copper pennies. I dunno, man, that’s just what I pictured, okay? So I went for the metallic overtone of copper, splashing water, high breezes, and an elaborate concoction of sun-baked jungle plants and flowers. So there you have it---description wins over “notes” this time again. See question #6, everybody! :D

Oh, and remember the gorgeous bottles I used for last year’s Valentine’s Day release, with the copper minaret caps?

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine
I’m using the same ones for Mushyflowers and Bicep, so they’ll be a continuation of the collection. Last year’s VD releases (Bouquet of Scorpions, Noose Jewelry, and /r/Hug of Death) will NOT be returning this year, however.

Speaking of your creative process, is there particular notes you hate using? 

DC: There are certainly notes I hate *smelling* when they’re done certain ways in certain fragrances! But man, it’s like you read my mind, ‘cause I just talked up there about how I firmly believe that just about any note can be beautiful if it’s properly blended.

Cinnamon is probably my nemesis in some regards. I enjoy cinnamon, don’t have a problem with cinnamon. But it’s kinda *predictable*, and it can certainly go on a rampage in a blend if not properly managed. Sometimes that’s good, as it is in Falchion. Many of the cinnamon and “Cassia” blends by Lou Lou’s Soaps, Scrubs & Scents are fantastic examples of how bold cinnamon notes can make a gorgeous presentation.  But cinnamon can also be gorgeous as a *subtle* addition, such as in Brasao y Kinolau. If I could use cinnamon *secretly* in blends, I’d probably enjoy using it more, because I know what people think when they hear something has cinnamon in it. But cinnamon is an ingredient I can’t use secretly, because it has the potential to irritate sensitive skin, and I want my customers to be aware if I put it in.

On that subject, I actually stalked the DC Discography and found that your top 3 most commonly used notes are green, wood, and leather. Do you consider those types of scents as DC's strengths? Or are they just your favourite notes to use?

DC: Heh, they probably are my favorites---at least for balancing other notes, because you know I like to have a dichotomy in every blend. But it also may simply be that those are the “notes” I’m willing to disclose for description’s sake. ;) I think you know where I’m going with this, and I’ll elaborate in the response to the next question. I try to shake things up as much as possible, and my greens aren’t always the same green, my woods aren’t always the same wood, and my leathers aren’t always the same leather. And I’m not just talking about single fragrance ingredients here, either. Again, more in the next question.

Scent descriptions for some of your scents like Boss Fight are more of stories than a list of notes. Is there a particular reason you wrote them that way? And on that note, I've encountered several people who are going, "AAAAARGGHH!! But what are the notes???" Any tips for them to help them decide if the scents are for them? Or is the surprise part of the fun?

DC: I swear I’m not trying to keep people from “smelling” my fragrances before they buy! I have a  few reasons for being vague on notes. One, to discourage folks from thinking that “notes” are synonymous with “ingredients”. Two, to keep folks open-minded about notes they think they “hate”. (Lol, “Hate” = the theme of this interview?) And three, because a list of notes does NOT tell you what the fragrance smells like in its completeness.

There are many fragrance manufacturers out there that supply natural and synthetic fragrance supplies to me and my fellow perfumers. Their offerings are vast. I imagine that for some perfumers, making a fragrance that features notes of, say, cucumber, jasmine, and sandalwood involves simply taking “cucumber”, “jasmine”, and “sandalwood” commercial fragrance oils and mixing them together in a pleasing measure . . .  and there you have the fragrance. Often the results are beautiful, and everything’s cool. But that’s not really what I do. To me that seems too easy, and if things are too easy, I tend to be unsatisfied, or worry that it isn’t “art”. (Inb4 overly complicated cucumber/jasmine/sandalwood fragrance next year.)

I like to make things more complicated. I might be inclined to use a “cucumber” fragrance oil, but not to make “cucumber”. (I’ll use *other* stuff to make cucumber, for the PRINCIPLE of the thing, lol.) It’s not haaaaaaard enough, so it doesn’t feel original. So I *make* it original. FOR EXAMPLE. Late last year when I released “Blueberry Fate”—a special-edition of McFate with a fresh blueberry twist—it was not simply a matter of me dumping “blueberry” fragrance oil into McFate. Nooooo. There was a barrage of new ingredients that I combined to not only make my interpretation of juicy blueberry, but also to make it jive well with the original formula. Which is why I had so dang much of it left over, lol. And you know how I talked about the “almond” in Mushyflowers up there? It wasn’t a case of me finding a well-executed commercial interpretation of almond. I made my own, out of other fragrance oils that are totally not “almond”. And I made it taking into consideration how it would blend with my “magnolia” component, because that is equally important in a fragrance that has multiple facets.

Sometimes, when reviewing a fragrance, folks will go down the list of notes and say, “Well, I can definitely smell the W, but I don’t really smell the X. Ah, there is the Y, and I like Y, but I also smell Z and I don’t like Z.” A truly inspired fragrance should unfold its various notes in fascinating and surprising ways, not simply smell like all the things on a list, lined up in a row.

I would encourage people to not think so literally when it comes to my fragrances. They’re not supposed to be a “spot the note in the puzzle” game. Descriptive words like “green”, “woody”, “dark”, “crisp”, “warm”, “sweet”, etc. are not there to deceive you---they’re there to give you a better idea of how the fragrance will begin, continue, and finish on your skin.

If it’s difficult to think of this in “indie terms,” think of the big-name fragrance designers. In their ads, they don’t even bother to give you a *hint* of the “notes”—it’s all about evoking emotion. And let’s be honest: When you research the notes on a big-name designer fragrance, even they don’t really give you a solid picture of the fragrance you’ll get. If only the internet had scratch-and-sniff magazine samples. If only I could be a virtual Clinique counter, ambushing you with a squirt of DarlingClandestine as you stroll by on your way to look at handbags!

So, what can we expect from DC in 2016?

Lol, I don’t know! This is as far as I’ve gotten this year! I’ve been setting up a new workspace with much cooperation from my fantastic husband, Leif (the same fine fellow who did the design for my TEA labels), and between that and introducing all the new stuff I don’t have any definitive announcements for you quite yet. Still looking at new ways to make as many products available to y’all as possible while maintaining my flow as a one-shark show.

Oh, and I want to make one note about solid fragrances and balms---any “cookable” items. They may not appear for a few more weeks, even after the TEA/VD release dies down and the general catalog returns. I’ve had some respiratory issues this winter---nothing too terrible; don’t worry, but it occurred to me that standing over a hot stove cooking fragrance for hours on end probably wasn’t the wisest thing for my recuperating lungs. So if you were hoping to get your hands on a solid perfume, I appreciate your patience while I take a little breather. Literally, I guess. ;)

Kind of a tough question. Some people say that DC perfume oils aren't safe for collection since your carrier oil contains oils (grapeseed, almond, rice brand) with shelf lives of only 1 year. How true is that?

DC: "Safe" is a dangerous word on the internet, isn't it? ;) If you ever, ever, ever feel a product is unsafe, don't use it. A little background: Most readers know that a perfume suspended in carrier oil won't last as long (smell-wise) as one suspended in perfumer's alcohol. But the very reason many people prefer oil-based fragrances is that they don't have the "bite" of alcohol that makes you smell like you sprayed on a bunch of perfume. So we have to come to terms with the fact that our oil-babies won’t last forever, and we make the most of the time we have with them. Like a beloved parakeet, lol.
How long different carrier oils will last is the subject of much debate, and you’re right; it IS a tough question, because it seems to me that different people have vastly different experiences in this regard, and have strong feelings based on those experiences. I’ve had people email me and tell me “I’m so glad you use X oil and not Y oil because (reason)!” and I’ve had people email me and tell me the exact opposite---“I wish you would use Y oil and not X oil because (same reason)!”

A quick Google search turns up sources that compare various carrier oils and list shelf lives as though they’re set in stone, but there are many, many, many factors that influence the longevity of a carrier oil. There’s the age of the oil when it reaches you versus the age of the oil when it was expelled. There’s the *blend* that goes into the oils—some ingredients may hang on tighter to their carriers than others. There are the conditions that the oils have been exposed to during transport and storage (and that applies to every single individual ingredient in the blend within the oils—each ingredient probably had its own journey). There’s the aging process of the blend—some blends become increasingly awesome over the course of a year or two, some tend to simply fade as they age. Oils that are stored in vault-like conditions can smell gorgeous three years later, while oils that are kept on a steamy bathroom sink will probably fare less favorably.

Experienced perfume oil users will know the difference between an oil being “rancid” and one that has properly aged. And inexperienced perfume oil users should simply go with what smells good. :) And that’s really what it boils down to in the end. I do my research, but I’m not a chemist. I follow industry guidelines for safety, and when it comes to quality I trust my nose. I choose oils that are practical and less likely to interfere with the fragrance itself. I buy from a supplier that ships their oils extremely fresh, and the oils get introduced to their blends within a week of me receiving them.

ALSO, here is a little secret: there is almost NO grapeseed oil in any of my blends these days. I used it in some of my early blends when I first started selling perfume, but in my experience I’ve found that grapeseed is an oil that tends to break down and pull back from the perfume with an obvious “stale” odor when it’s past its prime. I’ve allowed grapeseed oil to remain on some of my labels and in some of the online descriptions as an “and/or” in my list of carrier oils, because at some point I may have brewed one of my older blends with grapeseed oil, and it’s not out of the question that grapeseed *could* have come into contact with the blend, so I figure it’s just good practice to disclose that until I make a big shift and revamp every one of my labels. (Which will be VERY time-consuming, so I have to be absolutely sure.) Same with rice bran oil---I haven’t phased it out on the labels until I make a complete shift, so I stick with the “and/or” in my descriptions. Nearly all of my blends use sweet almond oil and jojoba these days, and I am considering phasing those carriers out to fractionated coconut oil, since the consensus seems to be that it has both longevity and an unobtrusive odor. IN FACT, fractionated coconut oil is the carrier for the two new Valentine's Day fragrances, Mushyflowers and Bicep of the Parrot #42---so be on the lookout! :D

I have several international friends who are discouraged from trying out DC because international shipping from DC is higher than a lot of brands. Even if you refund shipping differences, it's still a pain point for international customers. Is there a reason why DC's international shipping is so high? Do you have recommendations on how international customers can save on shipping?

DC: TALK TO ME, BABES. My shipping estimates are not based on what other brands charge. They are based on what Etsy charges *me* for an average-sized package. I have to pay shipping on every package, and I don’t get any breaks. Your actual cost will depend on the weight of the package, and I cannot precisely calculate that in advance, so I’ve priced my shipping based on the average weight of the items I sell.

The image I’ve included is an example of Etsy’s shipping label interface on a package to Canada. (Personal customer information is blocked out.)

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine

As of this writing, Canadian shipping is $8.51 for a package between 5 and 8 ounces. My packages average between 6 and 13 ounces; they’re almost never under 5. To Canada, I charge $7.00 for the first item and 50 cents for each additional item, so if you only buy one thing from me you’re actually getting a very nice price break. If you buy three items, you’re paying what I’m paying (minus a penny, of course). After the third item, the actual cost versus what you pay up front starts varying widely depending on weight. I automatically REFUND your extra shipping costs at the time I print your shipping label if you overpay by two bucks or more. (But not for a buck or a few cents, because that is a royal pain in the ass.) If for some reason I forget to refund your extra shipping, please give me a nudge!

I use Canada as an example because Canadians are my biggest international customer base. My other common destinations for shipping packages are Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, and Indonesia (thanks, Monolid Make Up!). I have less experience with other destinations, though, and once again I base my shipping charges on what Etsy charges me. I AM BAD AT MATH, THOUGH. IT’S A PROBLEM THAT AFFECTS MY LIFE IN SOME KINDSA WAYS. If you think my estimate is waaaay off, it very well may be! Let me know and I’ll fix it.
As a general rule, if you buy one to three items, you’re getting a better deal on shipping than I am. If those items are heavy, you’re probably getting an *amazing* deal. But if you’re buying, say, ten Bitsies, your up-front costs start to add up. So here’s my tip:

If you find that you’re getting nervous because you’ve got a big pile of items in your cart and your shipping costs are climbing, please get in touch with me. I can give you a better estimate of what your package will actually weigh and cost. I *won’t* make you a special listing for all the items together, because not seeing them in my queue screws with my inventory. But I will either refund you the extra or—if you don’t have the cash to overpay in advance—I’ll send you a discount code to defray the costs. Or something. We’ll work it out. But you’ve got to talk to me. Don’t be secretly mad at me on the internet, TALK TO MEEEEEEE. I won’t bite! Unless you’re into that or whatever! I’m easy!
Also, international customers who have worked with me in the past know I’m extremely flexible about holding and combining orders. If you, for example, want to buy something I’ve got in the shop today, and you also want to grab some things at the upcoming TEA/VD release, message me and I’ll send you a free shipping code that you can use today. Then I’ll combine today’s order with your TEA/VD order.

Image courtesy of Darling Clandestine
What I *won’t* do is hold an order indefinitely for a release that I haven’t announced yet. If I don’t know for sure when the release date will be, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to hang on to your orders until then. But depending on how my turnaround time overlaps with the not-yet-specified release date, I might! Message me and I’ll be able to give you a more accurate prediction.

By the way, you’ll likely get your shipping refunds faster if you use a credit card when you check out (Etsy’s “Direct Checkout”) rather than PayPal, because I can work directly from your order, see exactly what you paid, and refund you from the same page, whereas with PayPal I have to go fumbling back and forth between systems and work from PayPal’s very literal search function. So that’s another tip, I guess, if you’re in a hurry. :P

I want to thank you again for hosting this interview! :D I know I say lots and lots of words, and I’m still hella impressed that so many people seem to have read all the way through last year’s chatterfest. You have awesome readers! I love you and your community. XOXOXOXOXO

Thank you so much Evonne!

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