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June 2017

Packaging the Park

How an Adirondack entrepreneur found a global market

Photograph by Jamie West McGiver

Photograph by Jamie West McGiver

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba—China’s version of Amazon.com—is one of the richest people in China, worth an estimated $29 billion. In 2015 he purchased a 28,100-acre chunk of the northwestern Adirondacks.

Ma’s property, known as Brandon Park since William Rockefeller established the preserve in the 1890s, includes trout ponds, a fish hatchery, a mountain, miles of the St. Regis River, and numerous grand homes and cabins. It’s a Great Camp and grand spread, complete with an elite owner and entourage. But what might seem like a Gilded Age revival has a twist: Ma, a member of the global board of directors of The Nature Conservancy and co-founder of the environmental conservation organization Paradise International Foundation, bought the property for $23 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, “as an occasional personal retreat,” but “principally for conservation purposes.”

The altruism of Ma—and the Paradise International Foundation, which is involved with the property, now called New Brandon—stretches beyond the flora and fauna it protects: Locally hired staff maintain the estate; regional artists and artisans contribute to its decor and stock it with their Adirondack-made products. And this spring, if all goes according to plan, Ma and his foundation will further their mission to conserve the landscape and the livelihoods of those who rely on it when some of those products—among them lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner and insect repellent made by Marcy Miller, of Pure Placid, in Lake Placid—will appear under the New Brandon brand on Taobao, one of Alibaba’s online shopping sites.

Pure Placid is about to go global.

Miller’s bath and body products are made with Lake Placid lake water and other natural ingredients, packaged in recycled bottles and, in a nod to the Adirondack Park’s Blue Line border, wrapped in a sapphire ribbon. The 39-year-old’s Pure Placid line also tells Miller’s story of living in the Adirondacks.

Clementine and Balsam, Miller’s most popular fragrance combination, was inspired by hikes up her namesake Mount Marcy. She and her family would rest on the summit while snacking on clementines, the smell of the trees carried by the wind.

Her Sweet Lemon and Vanilla is a tribute to Donnelly’s twist cones. A Memorial Day weekend visit to the roadside ice-cream stand outside of Saranac Lake was a family ritual that signaled the start of summer.

Mountain Cedar comes from summers at Whiteface Inn. Miller and her friends would play tag around the cedar bushes; she’d stop and rub the leaves onto her wrists.

Other scents are Sparkling Ginger—final summer ginger-ale toasts at Lake Placid, candles twinkling in floating coconut shells; White Birch—smoky, crackling campfires; Maplewood—flapjacks for breakfast, jumping in piles of crunchy leaves in Brant Lake, where her dad, Robert Doyle, was a forest ranger.

What Miller has created is an olfactory map of Adirondack memories. Bottling them, she says, “is my way of sharing this place.”

And it’s working. Since opening her Pure Placid boutique on Lake Placid’s Main Street in 2015, she’s seen double-digit growth. Much of that has to do with availability. Fifteen years ago, when Miller, her mother, Claire, and sister, Sarah, were operating Speedy Spa, in Lake Placid, her concoctions were just for friends and clients. Later, you had to catch her at the farmers’ market in Keene. The Pure Placid store—and the Ma connection—came with support from the Adirondack North Country Association. But Miller’s success is ultimately the result of a quality product—the culmination of decades of practice, including natural products tutelage from AVEDA founder Horst Rechelbacher.

Then there’s the marketing.

Martha’s Vineyard has its Black Dog, Maine’s got L. L. Bean, and Ben & Jerry’s celebrates Vermont’s dairy tradition and its political and pop culture. Our region is abundant with iconic symbols—the Adirondack chair, pack basket, pine cone, guide boat, loon and lean-to—but generic loons painted on dinner plates and Adirondack chair wedding-cake toppers don’t say enough. The challenge continues to be how to brand the Adirondack experience.

Miller’s answer is an authentic sensory message. It’s a way for people who care about this place to keep it with them: by smelling it you remember it, take it with you, or explore it for the first time, even if you’re as far away as China.

Soon after Miller signed her deal with the Paradise International Foundation, she made contact with scent superstar Ann Gottlieb, the nose behind fragrances by Calvin Klein, Dior and Carolina Herrera. Looking for a mentor, Miller had reached out, and Gottlieb, who “liked the product and story,” according to Miller, offered to help. They’ve met in New York City and, together, are fine-tuning Pure Placid’s formulas.

“My life is like a fairy tale right now,” says Miller. She never imagined that Pure Placid’s reach would extend beyond these peaks and ponds, or that she’d have such powerful people on her side who also care about this landscape. “I want to use this platform to promote the Adirondacks and do good things for the place that I love.”  

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