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Monday, February 23, 2015

Interview with Evonne from Darling Clandestine!

I had the awesome chance to interview my favourite perfumer ever, Evonne from Darling Clandestine!

She captioned this picture "Duckface", which made me giggle nonstop.
If you've read my previous Darling Clandestine (DC) reviews, you'll know that Evonne makes the most unique perfumes in the world. Even if you don't like the scent, you'll still be blown away by her creativity. DC scents are so unique, I've once sniffed someone wearing a DC scent and could immediately identify it as Supernova Sway. I got so excited, I ran around the hotel lobby sniffing people, trying to figure out who was wearing it. I only stopped when I remembered that my passport comes from the world's largest Muslim nation, and it's probably a good idea not to run around hounding down Americans in America.

I hope you guys are as excited as I am to hear from Evonne!


So first of all, how are you doing?

Aww, thanks for asking. :) It’s been a pretty whirlwind couple of months—some huge releases, some intense family activity, a whole bunch of all-nighters, and many changes here on the homestead. And you know that recently I had to say goodbye to my little pug-friend, Buckley (in fact, it was the morning after my sell-out-in-seven-minutes Valentine’s Day release), and I very much appreciate all the love and kindness my customers have sent my way.

I’m doing all right—I’m thankful that here in Texas I no longer have to deal with the POLAR VORTEX like the unfortunate brethren I left behind in the American Midwest. It really makes a difference to be able to go outside several times a day, and do some nice fulfilling manual labor, and hang out with my new baby chickens and ducks! SO CUTE! I’ll send you a new pic. LOVE THEM!
And every day I really am uplifted by the fact that I really do have a unique kind of independence. I work for myself, and that’s thanks to all the folks who shop at DarlingClandestine.

From the DC Facebook page: "I told them I was busy, but they showed up anyway. Meet Balerion, Meraxes, Vermithor, Vhagar, and Syrax."

Your last two launches were insane, with scents sold out in minutes. Were you expecting that at all?

Heh, the sell-out of the Falloween release back in September certainly was a shocker, but it prepared me a little bit for the Winter and Valentine’s Day releases . . . though I must admit I still stood there slack-jawed while the Etsy notifications poured in. I was giggling with equal parts delight and terror, lol.

I made relatively large batches this time, but the worst part was still the huge influx of messages from people who were disappointed that they weren’t able to grab all of the fragrances. That’s really nerve-wracking for me, because on the one hand I want everyone to get what they want, but on the other hand I know that there’s a limit to my resources, my funding, my time, and my physical ability. It’s one thing to sell a bunch of stuff and make a little chunk of money, but it’s another thing entirely to fulfill each and every one of those orders with love and personality, in a timely fashion. I want my customers to be thrilled with every package they get, and I don’t want to go for bulk and big bucks if it means compromising the unique flair my loyal customers have come to expect.

I thought long and hard about how to accommodate the people who were begging for more. In the end, I made one more batch of Reddit Hug of Death, and I’m pleased to say that one took a whole week to sell out! :P But as I predicted, just recently I had to put out another reminder about what PREORDERS mean . . . folks begged me to bring it back even though I insisted it would take more time, and now folks who bought the preorder listings (“The batch is still steeping . . . please allow at least three weeks to ship!”) are already asking me where their packages are. Like I said, nerve-wracking.

What's the inspiration behind the reddit themed perfumes?

Reddit Hug of Death was the missing piece I was looking for in my Valentine’s Day collection. I’d been tossing around the idea of a hilarious trio ever since a conversation I had last September when my buddy Matt was visiting us here in Texas. He was utterly freaked out when we explained to him that it was possible to encounter scorpions IN THE HOUSE and horrified when we advised him to check his bed for scorpions each night. During one of our sightseeing trips, he was looking for the perfect gift for a gal he was dating, and I suggested that he get her a “bouquet of scorpions.” I was tickled at my own idea, and thought it was a pretty hilarious name for a fragrance—especially since folks really dug Tiny Ice Bees, name courtesy my pal Mindy.

A few weeks later, my bestie, Akeela, who’s always sending me wacky ideas for making big bucks on Etsy, suggested that I make and sell “noose jewelry.” Like, say, a necklace that was formed like a noose, or a necklace with a noose-shaped pendant. I told her that I suspected this had already been done, and sure enough, there were several results on Etsy. But I thought it’d be nice to come up with a way to sell noose jewelry all the same.

Finally, a lovely lady named Michelle, a longtime customer and dear friend to DC, warned me around the time I was planning my Shark Friday release that a lot of folks on Reddit were gearing up for some heavy purchasing. She told me I was going to get the “Reddit hug of death.” I knew I’d found the third in my trio. She came back with a pretty funny “description”, which I included in the listing. I took a bit of a detour from her tongue-in-cheek suggestion for the scent, though, which was “sweat, blood, money, computers, and LOVE.”

There are many different online forums where people show serious enthusiasm for DarlingClandestine, including Facebook, various beauty blogs, and Reddit—and most recently the subreddit IndieMakeupandMore has been a furious source of traffic. Those folks are proud of their signature scent!

Does reddit play a huge factor in publicizing DC? How else did your fans discover your brand?

In the past year, most definitely. Folks tell me all the time about the discussions going on in indie beauty subreddits, especially IMAM, and I get pretty frequent “Hello from Reddit!” messages in my orders, lol. I do my very best to keep my nose out of the discussions, though. I like the idea of people having a forum where they can talk about my products without feeling like I’m hovering or influencing what they say. Not everybody is going to 100% love every fragrance I make, and that’s absolutely okay! My scents are complicated and quirky and sometimes downright weird. I want people to talk among themselves about what works and doesn’t work for them, and if a scent turns out to be not their thing, they can swap it with someone who’ll love it. And in sporadic instances when somebody refers me to a specific IMAM thread and I do take a peek, I’m extremely pleased to see that even on the rare occasion that somebody’s having an issue with my stuff, the majority of users are like “It’s okay, just email Evonne—she’ll take care of it! She’s easy to talk to!”

I know that there are brand owners who actively participate in many of the indie subreddits, and that they’re often more than welcome to contribute to the discussion—but for me, I think it’s best that if somebody wants to talk to *me* about a product, they can message me directly on Etsy, and if they’d rather talk to their fellow Redditors they can do that without me all up in their grill. Plus, at this point, I don’t think there’s any way I could keep up with the discussions even if I did participate, and I’d be terrified that if I responded to one person’s question but not another’s, there’d be some hurt feelings. So no indie beauty Redditing for me!

DC has a long history of loving supporters, though, all over the internet. Much of my early success was thanks to a few veteran beauty bloggers, indie enthusiasts sharing the love on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and—believe it or not—fellow indie brand owners. I think it’s awesome that my fellow indies have been so supportive in spreading the word. I will always be grateful for the customers and supporters who have been around since my humble beginnings and continue to show me love and kindness to this day. Some of them are even on Reddit! ;)

And, of course, having Etsy as a platform was a great way to get discovered in the first place. I highly recommend that an indie seller just starting out—or even a veteran indie seller looking to expand sales—take advantage of the Etsy community. Sure, it’s not as folksy as it used to be, but it’s a major traffic driver and a trusted interface, and it certainly offers services that can be a lot more difficult if you’re trying to run your own website. I am proud to say, though, that nowadays only about 1% of my hits on Etsy come from people who are just generally searching for products. My number one search term now? Darling Clandestine. :D

And I should also give a shout-out to my super-cool bunch of Facebook fans. Relatively, I have a pretty tiny number of fans compared to a lot of other shops. But these guys are truly an example of quality over quantity.

I also have an Instagram account, though it’s quite new, and it’s not so much a traffic-driver as it is a place where you can see kick-ass photos of my chickens. You’ve really gotta like seeing photos of chickens, though; fair warning.

If you have to describe your brand is about in a paragraph of less, what is it?

Okay, don’t make this DC’s “official brand paragraph,” but this is what comes to mind today, heh. If you walk into a room wearing a new outfit, or a new haircut, or a bangin’ makeup job, what would you rather somebody say to you? “Oh, you got a haircut”? Or “You are amazing”? The latter is what I’m going for with DarlingClandestine. A style that’s not just one pinpointable object or genre, but a mélange of organic amazing.

When was the moment you realized DC has gotten big enough to be a full time job?

I think it was about a year and a half ago, when I found myself more often than not frustrated with the silly machinations happening at my “real job.” I couldn’t wait to get back home to make perfume and answer the messages from my sweet customers.

I worked in marketing, but often found myself trying to sell a product that didn’t work the way it should because the people who made it weren’t involved in the discussion. Or not being able to communicate with the people who were handling the front lines of customer service, or fighting against a hierarchy of bosses who didn’t see the value in adapting to fit the needs of their consumers.
And the MEETINGS. Ugh. I spent so much time thinking, “Okay, great . . . but can we get to work now? Because I know that I’m the one who’s going to have to *do* the thing you want done and it’s gonna take a while.” And the big bosses would continually demand to see the “value” of things like social media, would ask again and again to see “measurable” outcomes of the humble efforts my team and I were making, even though people were obviously taking action as a result of the media we produced. And it was so hard to convince them that, say, Facebook was worth our time.

But then I started bringing my phone to meetings, and my phone has the Etsy app, and the Etsy app has this awesome alert that goes CHA-CHING! when you make a sale. And I’d be in the midst of one of these discussions, and I’d hear CHA-CHING! and I’d think, there you go. There’s your measurable outcome. There’s your value. There’s proof that your “call to action” on silly cat-loving Facebook drives results. And I *knew* the results were real because I was making the product myself, and talking one-on-one with the customers who were buying it. It was a fantastic feeling, and very liberating.

For years, my in-laws had been trying to convince my husband and me to move closer to them on their ranch in South Texas, and one day I realized, yeah, I can do this, because I can work from anywhere. And I got chickens and named them after my favorite former coworkers!

Pic from DC's Facebook page!

Do you think you'll ever go mainstream? 

We’ve talked about this privately, and I appreciate the opportunity to reiterate publicly. First, though, I want to add that even though I make a fairly comfortable living with this little shop, I’m not rolling in the dough—neverending student loans and Obamacare ftw, right? Anybody who runs a popular space on the internet will tell you that internet fame does not equal internet fortune. #thanksobama
But I have something better: my community, my creativity, and my very haphazard way of running things which NO reasonable human could be expected to adhere to. ;) Like we talked about in PM, it’d just be cruel for me to have employees, lol. My formulation notes are embarrassing—they include things like “Halve the formula next time, dumbass” and “Get that sandalwood from that one seller with the name that sounds like a kind of insect”. Hell, many of my master bottles aren’t even labeled. I just “know” them. THEY ARE MY BABIES.

I’m sure there are folks out there who think I have a “duty” to make my fragrances available to anybody who wants them, whenever they want them, as much as they want, and that the next step is hiring staff or wholesaling or what have you. Wholesaling isn’t out of the question for me, but if I did that it would probably only be for a few “staple” DC scents, while I continued to own all of the creative elements. I posted this recently on the Facebook page, and I think it sums up the way I’ll feel for a while:

Loves, I want you to understand that YOU MEAN THE WORLD TO ME. I am grateful every single day that I’m able to make a modest living on my own terms, and I can do that because you love my products and my customer service.

One thing I am NOT interested in, however, is becoming a multiple-person corporation. What makes this endeavor special is that it’s done by me and only me. I really don’t have the desire—or the organizational talents, honestly—to hire staff and make my business bigger, especially since mad rushes for new releases are only seasonal (the rest of the year, business is moderate and just enough to pay the bills). I *enjoy* being a one-woman show.

When your grandma knits a very special sweater for you, you understand that Grandma won’t be hiring staff to make hundreds more sweaters. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers go on tour and Flea breaks his leg, you don’t want the band to hire ten people who are not Flea to do the work of one Flea. I’m like a cross between your grandma and Flea.

As a perfumer, what's your favourite material to work with? 

Well, it was certainly an honor to work with some wonderful oud in the making of Grace and Tyto . . . that’s something not every little perfumer gets to experience. Thanks to the AMAZING generosity of a seller in Indonesia, I was able to score agarwood oil at an insanely nice price. Such a treat. And it really is as good as the hype. Truly. My goodness.

On the regular, I really enjoy working with sharp, herbaceous, pungent essentials like clary sage, galbanum and marigold. I like how they wrestle with darker notes and temper florals. They make appearances as sneaky background elements in a few of my fragrances, giving them a little crackle where they threaten to go soft. I’m considering bringing them to the foreground sometime this spring or summer. Y’know, when I find the time. :P

What's your personal favourite perfume?

Don’t make me chooooooose! If we’re talking fellow indies, I have some darlings from Sugar and Spite, OHWTO, and Antimony Blue. For commercial scents, no lie, you’d probably laugh at me . . . I am woefully out of touch with the designer fragrances of the last, oh, FIFTEEN YEARS, and I haven’t bought anything but indie since I can’t remember when. If I happen to sniff a commercial fragrance on the street and enjoy it, chances are it’s a men’s fragrance, though I couldn’t tell you the names of any of them. Women’s fragrances of late seem far too cloying, and not even in a floral way but in a the-wrong-vanilla kind of way. I tell you, out of touch. Some of my favorite fragrances aren’t even technically “perfume”; they’re odd Spanish drugstore powders or bath oils, or unbelievably cheap fragrances from the early ‘90s that it embarrasses me to name. It cracks me up when people contact me for recommendations and are all, “I like Christian Dior’s Mushyflowers and Chanel’s Bicep of the Parrot #42” and I have no idea what those smell like. (Those are joke names, folks; inb4 the names for DC’s next Valentine’s Day collection, amirite?)

Of my own fragrances? The hard and muddy and uncomfortable ones, like Gram-Negative, Inked, and Vardogr.  And Mishigami, because it’s such a perfect contradiction and exactly what I wanted. And and and. So hard to choose. So hard.

I'm a newbie and want to try a good selection of DC perfumes to get a sense of what DC's like. Pick out 5 scents for me!

You got it. Serpentina is a must for newbies; it’s one of my simplest fragrances and a good primer for DC. You get the dichotomy of green and clean versus dark and smoky. Most DC fragrances begin with a contradiction, two opposing elements that you’d think would make chaos. Serpentina eases you into that. It’s also a good fit for someone who wants a little edge but is afraid of a fragrance being too odd or too “masculine.” I’m not terribly interested in labeling fragrances masculine or feminine, but I know a lot of folks do take that into consideration because of their skin chemistry. Though I’ll never forget when this big burly biker guy approached me at a fair where I was vending years ago, asking for a “manly” fragrance. After sniffing several different samples and disapproving, he finally picked up Serpentina and said, “Now THAT’s a scent for a MAN!” I never get tired of that story.

Inked is the other end of the comfort spectrum—it’s terrifying, and good for someone who wants to dive in headfirst and get a good idea of how rough DC can be with you. There is no “eh” with Inked. You either hate Inked or you LOVE OMG LOVE Inked. It’s raw, incredibly complex, and sexy as hell . . . though occasionally I’ll get someone who takes a quick whiff of the salty topnote and says “it smells like popcorn” and it makes me weep.

Step Right Up is nostalgic and indefinable for many people; it has a complexity that is reassuring rather than unsettling. Most folks say that it reminds them of a particular time or place, but no two of those settings are alike.  The nostalgia is a good way to develop a “trust” relationship with DC, I suppose, lol.

That seems a little dramatic, but for reals, folks can be very dramatic about their fragrance-fears. I’ve gone back and forth in conversations for days with people who weren’t sure whether they should buy a $5 Bitsy vial. Reminds me of trying to convince somebody to try a spicy dish at a restaurant . . . they have a billion questions and I’m all OH MY GOD WHAT IS THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? IT MIGHT MAKE YOUR INSIDES TINGLY, SO WHAT. I think those people are seriously imagining the “spicy” experience being like the cartoons, where smoke comes out of your ears. Maybe they also imagine that a failed perfume results in literal stink-lines coming off your body (and by the way I hid a DC discount code earlier up there in the interview; it’s the joke Dior scent).

For the fourth and fifth, I’d go for the “hates”. If you “hate” florals, give Limerence a whirl—it features the green and bitter elements of flowers rather than the heady and cloying. Not a fan of sweets or gourmands? Pyrotechnik rolls cantaloupe around in the dirty woods. Aquatics too bright? Mishigami pulls you under the waves and does it dark. Secretly a fan of fun and cute and fruity but don’t want to smell like a ten-year-old? Tilt-A-Whirl will do you proud. Hate honey? Honey, you haven’t gotten sticky with Maudlin & Bedlam. Want “earthy” but not “dirty hippie”? La La La, All Right lets you ride that highway.

Just a couple of days ago it occurred to me that I hadn’t updated the DC Discography for a while. It’s a handy reference for folks who want a complete list of DC fragrances, their basic “notes”, and when they should expect them. I started to edit the document and I was all UGHHHHHHH I DON’T WANNA IT’S SO HAAAAARD. So I enlisted the help of Kellie, who evidently *enjoys* organizing things into spreadsheets and lists (what is that like, even, I can’t even imagine), and she whipped the list into shape. I *believe* I have them all in there; please feel free to let me know if I missed anything!

Thank you so, so very much for the interview! This is probably enough words now, huh? ;)


  1. I love that you asked her about "DC for newbs" scents! I've definitely been interested in trying some of her perfumes but have had no idea where to start.

    1. Omg I looooove DC. Let me PM you on reddit with recommendations!