Sisters Samantha and Dawn Goldworm build an olfactory empire

When Dawn Goldworm and her twin sister Samantha first launched their olfactory branding company 12.29 four years ago, she presented her with The 12.29 Handbook. But instead of a corporate HR manual, in between the covers of this was a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which, according to Dawn, “Has all the answers. I’m constantly re-reading it.” And as it happens, it’s a good manual for 12.29—just as Alice goes down the rabbit hole to a surreal parallel world, the Goldworm sisters create custom scents that take us to an emotionally charged olfactory wonderland.

12.29 develops original scents for retail spaces, hotels, nightclubs and designer runway shows, as well as for weddings and individuals. The Goldworm sisters believe that a scent can take brand identity one step further than a logo—if smell is the most emotive of the senses, then scent creates a different connection between brand and client. Dawn, who for several years worked as the nose for Coty in Paris, is 12.29’s Scent Director. Samantha, a former marketing expert for brands such as Lancôme and American Express, serves as the company’s Business Director. Since they’ve been in business, designer clients and collaborations have included Thakoon, Chadwick Bell, Rodarte, Zac Posen, Purple Magazine, Mercedes-Benz, The Surf Lodge and Thompson Hotels.

Samantha Goldworm and Dawn Goldworm

Dawn (L) wears a Haider Ackermann black top with a Thakoon full-length gold skirt, Chadwick Bell black skinny belt and Hermes bracelet. Sam wears a Thakoon black dress with leather chest piece.

For Dawn and Samantha, the process of creating a fragrance involves getting a clear grasp of someone’s very specific vision, and then matching it with what they feel is the corresponding smell. For Chadwick Bell’s Fall/Winter 2012 catwalk presentation, Dawn says Bell wanted “the feeling of following the scent of smoke into an opium den.” The muse for Bell was described as “a woman who was lost in herself, overwhelmed with where she was, her emotions living around her, very manic, sophisticated and sensual.” To Dawn, who is synesthetic—a neurological condition where one sense overflows into another—this scent smells purple. “Smells are like colors. You look at them and have a different inclination,” she explains.

"I love the ritual of getting dressed. When we were younger, our Barbies never did anything. They never spoke to each other, they just got dressed and undressed. -Dawn Goldworm"

When it comes to the scent of people, the natural scent of identical twins has long been thought indistinguishable (babies and dogs cannot tell the two sisters apart), but when it comes to style, Samantha and Dawn have very different strokes. Samantha describes her style as “comfortable, classic, chic and simple…and stolen or borrowed”—from her boyfriend, or from her twin. Dawn describes her own style as “faceted, vintage, overtly feminine, conscious, curated.” Samantha also has a thing for leather. “I incorporate leather into everything I have,” she says. “It might be piping on the bottom of something or a whole leather piece.” When asked which piece in her wardrobe best summarizes her, she picks a pair of black high-heeled patent leather pumps. “I buy them over and over again. They are a classic look that really speaks to my style.”

Samantha Goldworm and Dawn Goldworm

Samantha (L) wears a multicolor Calla Paris sundress with an Alexander McQueen black blazer. Dawn wears an Yves Saint Laurent vintage black bustier top with a Calla Paris skirt, Hermes bracelet and her grandmother’s vintage earrings.

Samantha Goldworm and Dawn Goldworm

Samantha (L) wears a strapless vintage Vivienne Westwood dress with a full skirt. Dawn wears a gown by RIck Owens with a vintage Pierre Cardin snakeskin belt.

Dawn, however, prefers lace to leather. “I collect lingerie,” she says. “Garters and stockings and corsets.” She cites the Victorian era and the court of Versailles as eras she is most drawn to, pulled by the silk, the embroidery, corsets, gowns, feathers, wigs and perfume. “In Versailles, everybody had their own personal perfumer. It was so decadent. It took so long to get dressed. I love the ritual of getting dressed. When we were younger, our Barbies never did anything. They never spoke to each other, they just got dressed and undressed.”

In keeping with the whim of their individual styles, Samantha and Dawn would choose different desert island accessories. Samantha’s would include her beloved black pumps paired with red lipstick—she currently favors MAC Lady Dagger or Ruby Woo. Dawn, who growing up in New Hampshire, was influenced by the iconic Calvin Klein ads and the ’80s—a decade, she says, that wasn’t so safe (“women were allowed to be more masculine”), will always choose perfume over any other accessory. “I can be wearing a T-shirt and jeans, but I always have my perfume on,” she says. (There are only two that she has worn consistently throughout her life, but she diplomatically won’t name names.)

About the essence of creating a fragrance, however, Dawn is eagerly forthcoming. “It’s so intimate,” she says. Unlike dressing someone, “It plays to their emotional side. You are reconstructing them as a smell. It’s taking their style, their history, their personal preferences, childhood toys, their mother’s perfume. What kind of person do they want to be, who do you think they are? Perfume is the ultimate way to define yourself.”