DAWN AND SAMANTHA GOLDWORM
Powered by synesthesia, a US company has taken SCENT and spun it into a SUBLIMINAL marketing STRATEGY.
how twin sisters used synesthesia to create the world’s first olfactory branding company
Our sense of smell is our most underestimated sense,” says Dawn Goldworm, one half of the world’s first olfactory branding business, 12.29. “Before we’re born, our sense of smell is fully developed. Therefore, after we’re born, as our other senses develop alongside our ability to process language, we begin to talk about what we see, hear, taste and touch. But because we’ve been unconsciously smelling for the entire time, we don’t speak about what we smell, unless it’s a bad smell and it indicates danger or fear. Because of this, we fail to create a vocabulary for smell.”
But despite this lack of vocabulary, Dawn and her identical twin sister, Samantha Goldworm, have built a multi-million dollar business by creating a vocabulary for smell, and developing custom-made scents to enhance the brands of global businesses such as Mercedes-Benz, Rodarte and Porsche.
Both twins have the neurological condition synesthesia which, in their case, means they don’t simply smell an odour or read a word or number, they ‘see’ them as colours and textures. But it’s Dawn who’s the ‘scent specialist’ and who studied to be a perfumer, or ‘nose’. She previously worked for Avon and Coty in New York and Paris, developing and designing fragrances. Samantha, meanwhile, is the business brains of New York-based 12.29 – named after December 29, which is their birth date, their brother’s birthday and their parent’s anniversary. She brings a background in consumer insights and marketing for major corporations including American Express, Unilever and Lancôme to the table.
“Dawn had this idea for olfactive branding and taking fragrance beyond skin application,” says Samantha of the decision to set out on their own. “She has this love affair with scents and really wanted to explore that in different ways, so brands could utilise the power and emotion of scents and create this connection far beyond anything that you can see or touch or hear. Together we had this idea that a brand could be used to create a loyalty with consumers [by] using a unique, specific custom scent.”
The idea is that a customer could, over time, walk into a space or touch some sort of marketing collateral that they’d immediately associate with a brand.
“Scent can build a stronger connection than anything else a brand utilises,” says Samantha, who is a nose-in-training.
Our brain’s ability to remember smells is one of the largest and most acute parts of our memory, and the areas of our brain that process emotions and smells are closely interconnected.
“The odour and emotion are forever linked together in our olfactive memory so that every time we smell a particular scent, we feel the same way,” explains Dawn, who also has synesthesia with things she hears and touches. She didn’t realise she and her sister were synesthetes until she was at perfumery school (it’s hard to tell something is different if your twin has it, too).
Opening 12.29 in 2009, the Goldworm twins’ first job was for a friend, Gabriele Moltedo, a son of the Bottega Veneta family. In 2004, three years after the family had sold Bottega to Gucci, Gabriele began his own exclusive accessories line, Corto Moltedo, and later opened his first shop, in Paris’ Palais Royal.
“Dawn spoke to Gabriele and said, ‘I have this crazy idea that we should scent your shop. It will create loyalty and a certain dynamic in your store.’ And she explained that the Ritz was scented and that Colette had just introduced candles in their stores,” says Samantha. >
Customer response was immediate – many commented on the wonderful scent while many more were asking if they could buy candles to take the scent home. Not long after, 12.29 was tasked with scenting American luxury label Rodarte’s 2009 show.
“It really all started with people who understood, and wanted to explore, the idea of scent. So we scented more fashion shows and arts events, traction grew and we then moved into hospitality, retail and, more recently, we started scenting banks.”
The scent creation process at 12.29 begins with in-depth client branding discussions, which generally take about two hours, to dissect all existing brand references including colour, texture, sound, target market and typography, to understand the brand from a ‘multisensorial perspective’. The sisters also determine what the client wants to achieve with their scent. At the end of the session, Dawn generally knows what a brand “smells like”.
“For Prabal Gurung’s Spring-Summer 2014 runway show, his collection was designed around a very feminine pastel palette of soft pinks, violets and greens with the contrasting structure of a masculine harness,” says Dawn. “So the scent was diagnosed around a ‘petally’ pink rose with a coffee truffle note to add the masculine bite.”
In a physical space, scented oils are atomised into a gas and distributed via air conditioners or, in some fashion shows, via portable diffusers.
In 2012, Dawn worked with Studio Toogood and Penfolds in Australia to create scents based on different wine varietals for an installation in Sydney and Melbourne called The Blocks. Based on five different types of wines, she created accords – simple perfume formulas – that smelled of the taste of each wine.
“The accords were then sent to the Penfolds sommeliers to categorise. If we did our job well, the sommeliers would match the correct accord with the correct varietal – which thankfully they did!” recalls Dawn.
One of 12.29’s biggest projects is the One Thousand Museum, a multi-million dollar apartment tower by Zaha Hadid Architects. The Goldworms created custom scents for the entrance foyer, spa, fitness area and aquatic centre.
“They want the residents of the building to feel they’re in Miami. Normally you can smell the beach but this building is on the bay so it was important that sea air was part of the scent. The scent we created smells wet and salty but has a juicy citrus and some wood in it, too,” says Samantha.
They’ve since created custom scents for individuals like Kate Moss and Lady Gaga, as well as premier brands including Cadillac, Art Basel, Opening Ceremony, Jason Wu and even Valentino. (Valentino’s scent is all about red; rose and mint are on top to give a freshness
It really all STARTED with people who UNDERSTOOD, and wanted to EXPLORE, the idea of SCENT.
and fullness, while the lightness of couture is conveyed with light, petally flowers peony and magnolia. The Rome element comes together from a base of creamy balsamic. Dawn created four scents for the Valentino team but they picked this one within minutes.)
Of their 12.29 success, the Goldworms are quick to praise word-of-mouth and paid PR.
“The first dime we had went to PR, and stories have happened organically because people thought the idea was interesting: Dawn and I are identical twins and we both have this ‘nose’,” states Samantha. “But now we have a team that help us curate our placement and stories in publications. Cold calling was never going to lead us anywhere in this business.”
It takes Dawn two to four months to create a custom scent, and demand now sees the business creating scented products as part of a client’s brand, too – from candles and books to note cards and drawer liners, with clients across Asia, the US and Europe.
“But it’s still a relatively new idea,” says Samantha. “When people are building a brand, it’s not something they necessarily think of straight away. But, just as when music was first introduced into a space, I think scent will be the next big thing that people think of.”
Dawn and I are IDENTICAL TWINS and we BOTH have this ‘NOSE’.