Profile: Dawn Goldworm on scenting places
Jan 4, 2017
Before it was even completed, Zaha Hadid’s 1000 Museum, a 66-storey condominium in Downtown Miami, had its own scent. “Reflection” is fresh and watery, blending notes of ozone and musk with citrus and dry wood, evoked by its location. Yet it’s also distinctly Hadid – organic and sensuous, thanks to Dawn and Samantha Goldworm, the twin sisters who create custom scents through the eyes of architects, designers and developers under their company, 12.29.

The New York-based firm taps into the most sensitive of our senses – smell – to extend a brand’s story. “The idea is that the scent stays with the lifetime of a brand or a project,” explains Dawn, the creative nose and synesthete of the duo. “It becomes a recognisable piece of it just like their logo, their sound or anything else. It’s part of their identity.” Six years into their business, the Goldworms have captured what Lady Gaga’s perfume “Fame” smells like in the Guggenheim (leather, honey and orchids), the scent of The Armory Show (wet pavement and fruity black currant) and the S/S 2010 Rodarte collection (wood and spice fumes). With business-to-consumer interaction taking place increasingly more on a screen, there is something to be said for the visceral reaction that a smell can evoke (the human nose can distinguish over 10,000 different odours). Here Dawn and Samantha, the business nose, open up about the art of olfactory branding.  

Modesta Dziautaite: What was the impetus behind 12.29?

Dawn Goldworm: 12.29 was born from a thesis I wrote during my graduate studies at NYU. At the time I was still one of the in-house noses at Coty and I just felt that scent was such a powerful and emotional medium to transport us to new places and new experiences, and really create new memories. I thought it could be used beyond the traditional skin application, beyond just perfume and body products, into something that could be more powerful. When we started, “olfactory branding” as a term wasn’t really coined, no one had used it. Scent marketing was floating around but nobody had used olfactory branding as such. 

MD: How does your process change when you’re creating for a luxury fashion brand such as Rodarte and Valentino to when you’re working with a company like Zaha Hadid Architects?

Dawn: The process is the same, in fact – a brand is a brand is a brand. They communicate in their own language, and it’s up to me to translate that language into the language of perfumery. All brands engage with our sensorial experience – through our memories, through our fantasies, through our culture, they all want to make us dream and feel something and become loyal to them. Whether we’re talking to a bank or we’re talking to an art fair, we ask the same questions about what it stands for, from emotions to colours and aesthetics. With Zaha Hadid’s 1000 Museum the difference is that the building was pre-construction when we did it – we were working with sketches and 3D models, whereas with a fashion brand we can go through the atelier and really feel, touch and wear the clothes.

“We try to find something that is actually special about the place, wherever we are.”

MD: What was it like translating a magazine like Purple into a scent?

DG: Olivier [Zahm] is so passionate about what Purple means; he's created a community that live this Purple dream. So I brought him through my process which was based on the colour purple: purple is a signature colour; it's not overused, it's not difficult to use; it's a very sensual or sexual colour; it's deep, meaningful and rich but it's funny and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. These are all the things that go along with Purple the magazine. He wanted to create a perfume for the skin that embraced these ideals. I love the idea of magazines, especially a magazine like Purple, with such a strong and unique voice, translating themselves into a smell. I'm not sure all magazines could do that. Dazed could be another one that would do it well; maybe The Gentlewoman. There are few magazines out there that have such a strong identity, which is really important for a scent.

MD: How is our sense of smell evolving in a digital world?

DG: Our world is changing in an olfactive way, especially for the new generations being born today and the kids being born ten years ago. There are less childhood smells that are comforting that came before, like crayons, glue, grass, Play-Doh. They are using iPads, laptops, using technology more and more rather than toys, so the smells are changing, which really informs our environment; what feels safe, what feels comfortable, what feels useful and happy, it's all connected to smell. It's an interesting time and it's going to be interesting to see how brands use smell when most of the way in which we're engaging with brands is through our digital devices. How do you re-engage people in life? How do you do that when peoples' experience of shopping in brick and mortar stores is changing? How do you get them out, how do you get them involved? Scent is a huge, great piece of that, especially as part of branded events.

MD: What natural smells are you inspired by every day?

SG: We love leather. I'm usually wearing something that has leather in it every day.

DG: I love the smell of cities. I love the smell of New York – the gasoline, tar and nuts and horse manure. I think it's very metallic, hard and bouncy. Both of us travel quite a lot, and the smell of Paris is amazing to me too – it smells like old cheese and dust and flowers and petrol. The way cities smell is fascinating. It's how you can work within those smells, because they're extremely comforting smells, how you can work within them to create something new and magical and inspiring.


Is there a brand scent on your wish-list?

SG: We always talk about the scent of Apple and what it could be. It's so powerful when you receive their product. There's already a smell that used to be associated with their packaging – less so now, I think they're using different material – but everyone knew what an Apple product smelt like. If they build on it and keep it consistent that could be quite powerful, for an already powerful brand.