Indie Love: Interview with DarlingClandestine

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hey, everybody! I'm excited to share an interview I had with Evonne of DarlingClandestine, one of my favourite indie perfumers. I hope you enjoy!

Evonne is the proprietor behind, an independent shop that sells handcrafted original fragrances for all sexes, natural beauty products, and the occasional piece of handmade jewelry. DarlingClandestine started out as a hobby for Evonne, and she currently creates in her “spare time” in addition to her full-time job. In the past couple of years, the business has really blossomed, with an enthusiastic fan base, and Evonne has some big plans for the shop in the near future. In this interview, she reveals some insider details about her creative process, admits a couple of things that bug her, gives shopping tips for DarlingClandestine first-timers, and shares some exciting news with us!

DarlingClandestine Supernova Sway fragrance oil, one of many scent options

B ∞ I: There are stories that go with your scents—do you come up with the scents first or the stories? Or does it differ between the blends?

DC: It does differ among the blends! Sometimes I start out experimenting with notes, combining unlikely ingredients that seem to conflict with one another but might turn out to be wonderfully harmonious, and then I name the fragrance based on that odd harmony. But in the majority of cases, the story—or at least the concept for the story—comes first. As an example, Monstre Délicat was inspired by the intangible sense of longing that often accompanies a sense of feeling “stuck,” a desire to make change and excitement happen by any means necessary. The name came from a line in the poetic series by Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal, in which he described the ennui that ensues “because our souls, alas, are not bold enough!” For the scent, I wanted something rainy, murky, stony, charged with a fierce electric blue. Monstre Délicat bloomed in a wash of blue.

B ∞ I: How long does it take to brew a scent?

DC: Anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on how much I tinker with it! The steeping process is key—the elements need to “fall in love and get married,” as Jacques Pepin would say. Sometimes I’ll crack open the bottle after a week or so, sniff, and say “Omg perfect!” and other times I’ll fuss over the scent, order more ingredients, add a bit of this or that, sniff, steep, fuss, sniff, fuss some more. Many of my scents are so complex that when they’re first mixed they smell *nothing* like the final product. That’s so much the case that sometimes while I’m recreating a blend I’ll second guess myself—“umm, did I miss a step somewhere? Is this the right bottle? Holy cow, what’s happening?”—but then I’ll check my notes again, seal up the bottle, and visit it again in a week or so, and magically it has “become” exactly what it was intended to become.  

B ∞ I: Who does the photography for your labels? 

DC: So folks will notice that each fragrance has a representative image, which corresponds to the scent “story,” and these images are featured on the top labels of the solid perfumes. Most of these photos were taken by my husband, Leif Johnson; I borrow very frequently from his photographic archives. Some of them were taken by me. Still others were taken by my internet friends around the world! I’m so grateful to the friends who have agreed to share their art to illustrate DC scents. For those photographers who aren’t me and aren’t my husband, you’ll find links to their individual photo collections in the scent listings. Also, I’d like to add that I do all the product photography, and Leif does the prettiest of my graphic design. Some of you gamers might know Leif, btw; he’s this guy:

B ∞ I: How do seasonal releases work?

DC: Oh, my beautiful customers, I love you so very much, and nothing warms my heart more than when you ask when a sold-out scent is coming back! I do my very best to keep as many scents in the shop as I can, but my time and my funds are limited, so I have to pace myself, lol. I also have to be realistic about promising re-releases sooner than I can deliver them, so I’ve given myself a wi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ide range for seasonal release dates. Spring scents can appear any time between January and April. Summer scents happen between March and July. Autumn scents are released August – November. Winter releases happen October – January. Again, I know that’s a bit vague, but I never want to promise you something I can’t deliver! Also keep in mind that I’ve been known to announce surprise re-releases without warning. Usually it’s because it just so happens that I was able to purchase the ingredients I needed/realized I had the right ingredients in stock/had a reeeeally productive weekend. If you ask about the re-release of a certain fragrance, and I tell you it might not happen for a while, but then lo and behold it appears shortly thereafter, I promise it’s not because I was trying to keep secrets! I’m often as surprised as you are. :P To get a better understanding of what scents appear during what season, check out the DC Discography on my Facebook page:

DarlingClandestine perfume oil samples

B ∞ I: Do you offer samples?

DC: Yes, I do offer samples on request. I understand that folks might want to test-drive a scent before they commit to a full size! But I’ll tell you a secret that’s very frank and a bit whiny: I used to list samples regularly in the shop, but I had to stop listing them because there were a number of people who would *only* buy samples—a huge number at once!—and it became overwhelming (and rather painful on my hands) for me to pour and snap those little suckers 15 or more at a time. Sadly, it seemed that many of the folks who were buying samples were using the samples themselves as their cheap personal perfume supply, and didn’t have any intention of deciding on a favorite and coming back for a full size. That’s the purpose of my samples—to give you enough to make an informed decision on whether or not a scent works for you. I know folks love a “good deal,” but I’m running an independent business here, not an outlet store. If you’re ever interested in samples, please just send me a quick message and I’ll be happy to list them for you! I sell samples in sets of three, for the modest price of $3.50. I think three is the perfect number to truly make a sound decision about scents. More than three fragrances slathered all over your skin at once (I know, it’s tempting to do!) is just going to be overwhelming, and I want customers to really get to know each scent in turn. They often morph into something very different on the skin! And if you ever want recommendations on scents, please send me a message anytime. I’m very happy to give you honest advice on what might (or might not) work for you, or help you choose scents based on your preferences.

DarlingClandestine Bitsy vials

Also! Recently I brought back my Bitsy vials, which have been wildly popular in the past. The Bitsies are a great option for folks who don’t quite have the budget to buy a full size, but who want something more substantial than samples. Bitsy vials are adorable little one-dram amber glass vials, with a sturdy screw cap, with a hand-stamped featuring the image of my choice, with the name of the scent handwritten on the label. I sell Bitsies for $5 apiece individually, and I also offer a set of three for $13. By the way, hand-stamping the Bitsy labels is a truly enjoyable labor of love for me—I love matching the scent with what I think is an appropriate image, often in juxtaposition with the other scents. When you order a set of three Bitsy vials, I want you to know that I very deliberately chose those three images for you! And also that I love you.

B ∞ I: What should a first-time buyer know about your scents and the ordering process?

DC: When you visit my shop, you’ll find that there’s a LOT to take in! There are elaborate stories, highly complicated scents, lots of imagery, and many many options to choose from. So, a few tips to help you sort out all the different scents:

  • Start with the Suites. My shop listings are currently arranged into four scent suites: the Hot Suite (bright, spicy, fruity), the Wet Suite (green/blue, aquatic, rainy, fresh) the Deep Suite (earthy, mossy, herbal, dark, sultry, complex), and the Sweet Suite (gourmand/dessert). I hope these will give you a starting point based on your preferences, and divide your choices into sections.
  • Check out the Discography! Since I have more than 40 original scents, I’ve had to arrange them into seasonal releases, so please note that not all of my scents are available all the time. But the DC Discography on my Facebook page gives you a concise breakdown of what the scents are like without wading through all the stories first. 
  • Speaking of Facebook, like the page: It’ll keep you in the know about exclusive offers and new releases.
  • Contact me any time. ANY time! The best way to get a hold of me is via the Etsy Conversations feature, and I nearly always respond within 24 hours, often much sooner. Don’t be shy! I am very happy to help you decide on a scent that might work for you. 

And a few things to remember when considering each scent:

  • “Notes” don’t always equal “ingredients”! My scents will never smell like a bunch of separate things mixed together. When I’m describing a scent, you’ll find that I often use a few “notes” as a starting point, but more often you’ll find that the real description is in the adjectives—“dark,” “herbal,” “green,” “bright,” “earthy,” etc. My scents often contain many, many more elements than the “notes” imply, and just because a scent contains an ingredient, doesn’t mean it’ll smell like that ingredient! Complexity is key. Again, if you ever have any questions at all about a scent, do not hesitate to send me a Conversation. I’ll be very honest with you—e.g., “I think you might find X scent too sweet,” or “You might be pleasantly surprised at X even though you don’t like [note],” etc. 
  • Oil-based perfumes often smell significantly different on the skin than they do in the bottle or tin. If you uncap a scent and take a sniff, don’t assume what you’re smelling is what’s going to happen when you apply the scent! My fragrances unfold many layers on the skin, and often become something much more delightful.
  • My scents are made to be a bit weird. ;) Plan to be surprised, and prepare for the unexpected. 

And once you place an order, keep in mind what it takes to get it to you:

  • I’m one person, working diligently in my kitchen, often in the wee hours after my day job. I pour, “cook,” label, wrap, and lovingly package each order one at a time, in the order it was received. 
  • I have a “turnaround time,” or TAT. That’s the time between you placing your order and me placing your package in the mail. At the time of this interview, my TAT is 7 to 10 *business* days. Sometimes my TAT is shorter; rarely would it ever be longer, unless you’ve bought a “preorder” listing. Please don’t send me a mean email, asking me where your order is before the turnaround time is up, because it makes me super sad ;_;
  • And once again, please feel free to contact me ANY time! Whether it’s “What scent should I wear to this garden party?” or “How the heck do I do this checkout thing?” I am very glad to help.

DarlingClandestine Serpentina Body Balm

B ∞ I: What’s the rhyme and reason behind your sales?

DC: Lol, there is no rhyme, there is no reason—they’re pretty much spontaneous every single time. I know everybody loves a good sale! And I’ve gotta say, my sales are pretty darn sweet. ;) I try to keep them fun, surprising, and very generous. But I’ll be frank again; there are a couple of things re: sales that make me a little sad:

  • When folks ask me when I’m going to have one. Oh, my sweets, I know why you’re asking! It’s because you’d like to buy some stuff but you don’t want to buy it only to find that I’ve announced a sale the next day. I know, I know! But the thing is, when you ask (especially when you ask publicly), it puts me in a sticky situation. If I say there might be a sale happening soon, it means everybody’s going to wait to buy until the mythical sale comes around, and meanwhile I don’t make any money and therefore really can’t afford to have a sale. Also, please keep in mind that the everyday prices in my shop are, quite frankly, amazing. No, seriously. Take a look at the sizes, the amount of product, and the fact that you’re getting 100% personalized customer service from an actual person who makes everything by hand and loves you very much, and the fact that you won’t find anything like these fragrances anywhere else on earth. And compare my prices to those of commercial companies. My prices are VERY modest. And when you ask me, “Hey, when can I give you less money for these things you made lovingly with your own hands,” it hurts my feelings a little bit. I know you don’t mean to! But seriously, it does. I’m sensitive, okay? ;_; ;_; 
  • When I do announce a sale, and somebody says “Oh no, I just placed an order yesterday—can I have a refund?” No, babe; I’m so sorry. I can’t do that. Because there’s no statute of limitations on how far back “just placed an order” goes. But if it makes it a little sweeter for you, keep this in mind: A sale is an opportunity to grab that item you’ve had your eye on but couldn’t quite justify buying! And I’m always happy to combine orders to save you money—if you like, contact me before placing an additional order and I’ll send you a free shipping code so I can combine your packages. There’s always a plus side. ;)

B ∞ I: What's the deal with the sharks?

DC: Heh, it’s one of those things that happened organically, thanks to my hilariously awesome community of customers. Folks who visit my shop and my Facebook page will note that sharks are a pervasive theme. I’m a big fan of sea creatures in general, and I guess the shark thing evolved from three directions—one, my rampant use of the “shark” (^^^) symbol on Facebook; two, the “natural history” theme that is woven through my branding; and three, the amazing people I communicate with on social media daily. They send me shark stuff—memes, videos, surprise gifts—and it absolutely blows my mind how fantastic these people are and how much love can come from the indie community. I created my fragrance, Love & Sharks, to honor that community, and our buddy Christopher drew the silly shark image for the labels without realizing what he’d gotten into. ;)

DarlingClandestine Love & Sharks solid perfume

Also, funny thing about Love & Sharks: The scent contains a lovely raw vanilla oleoresin that tends to separate itself from the rest of the perfume because of its density. When it’s “cooked” into the solid, it lends a lovely toasty scent, and it often left little syrup-colored patterns in the solid. When I first released the fragrance, I included a note in the listing to let everyone know that the oleoresin spots were not a flaw but part of the fragrance. Every so often someone would get quite a bit of resin in their solid and would send me a photo to show it off—we started calling those resin patterns “sharkbites” or “sharks.” Over time I was amused to discover that people were actually *disappointed* when they *didn’t* get sharks! So I’ve started deliberately making more sharks by coaxing the oleoresin drops to the top with a gentle heat and stirring them into swirl patterns. I call this “sharklification.” :P I think it is so, so, so cool that, rather than be all, “Ew, this is weird,” my fans demanded more sharks.

Basically what I’m saying is you guys are super amazing and stay weird and SHARKS 5EVA <3 <3 <3

B ∞ I: What's the best part of owning DC and working as a small business?

DC: Oh, man, all you guys who are reading this. Seriously. YOU are the best part. Because I make a living based on how happy I make you, and I really love making you happy. It’s the best feeling ever—to have an income that directly and positively correlates with how creative I can be, how high-quality my product is, how hard I work to deliver you an experience that is truly original. I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my day—a LOT of jobs—and nothing has been so purely rewarding as this.

DarlingClandestine Cretaceous lip balm

B ∞ I: Any big news on the horizon?

DC: Y’all ready for this? Omg, is ANYBODY ready for this?

At the end of June, I’m quitting my day job. I’m quitting my day job and moving to south Texas. My in-laws have a ranch out there, and as they get older they could use some strong hands. They have a guest house, and Leif and I will be renting it from them. Leif has built a successful freelance career, and I have DarlingClandestine. I’ll be able to do DC full time! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I know I’m a Chicagoan now, but I grew up a country girl, so this won’t be as much of a shock for me as folks might think it is. But it will be an amazing adventure. I will keep you all in the loop as best I can in the meantime, but in the coming year, expect some exciting things for DarlingClandestine. Thanks to all of you, I’ve managed to turn this teeny little hobby into a lucrative business—just think what I’ll be able to do without that pesky day job getting in the way. This will BE my day job! Again, I say, Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

So, hey, B ∞ I, I really want to thank you for the opportunity to spill some guts here on your pretty blog! I look forward to sharing more in the future, and I welcome all newcomers to the DC community. You are all seriously amazing. I am so very grateful to be here.


Thank you so much, Evonne, for the awesome, thorough answers! It's so exciting that you'll be able to devote more time to DC in the upcoming future! I definitely can't wait for what you come up with next. :D

To see what's currently available to delight your senses, check out the DarlingClandestine shop. For all the latest happenings, be sure to like the Facebook page!

All photos except that of Circassian solid scent are by DarlingClandestine and used with permission.

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  1. Her packaging is to die for and good for Evonne for following her passion!
    Great interview!

    1. Thanks! She is an amazing perfumer and person!