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Interview with Don Donovan, Fragrance Designer, Reflect.com
report by Heather of the Cosmetic Connection Product Panel

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Don Donovan, Fragrance Designer for Reflect.com, and learned quite a bit about his role in getting Reflect's fabulous fragrance division off the ground.

If you have not tried the custom fragrance creation experience for yourself, I can't recommend it enough. I was fortunate enough to meet with Don in person several months ago for a personal consultation in New York City, and he created the best perfume for me that I've ever owned, all using the same Hearts and Souls process that's on the Reflect.com site.

Let's talk a little bit about your background and how you happen to be with Reflect doing fragrance.

I'm a traditionally trained marketing person who spent the first seven years just doing normal brand management kind of work and marketing work. But I had a unique skill in that I can normally solve problems that…the company I worked for was Proctor and Gamble. I could solve problems and go to new businesses. I had a pretty flexible ability to adapt.

When we bought Eurocost, which makes Laura Biogiotti and Hugo Boss fragrances, in 1990, I was sent to Europe to sort it out. And I just fell in love with the fragrance business. The first thing that I did was I decided that I wanted to work on the product side. So I actually left the marketing side and went into product development, and I learned it from the ground up. I was the first person on the ground and I was a department of one.

But I learned how to make perfumes. I learned about perfumery from the ground up, starting at the PRM level (that's the perfume raw material level). And I worked with some of the great perfumeries in Europe, and I went to Grasse and trained.

Then, during the next nine or ten years, I grew in the company - obviously I ultimately led fragrance development for all the company, all of Eurocost, which was Giorgio of Beverly Hills, Hugo Boss, Laura Biogiotti, and we had a huge business growth during that time - like a ten-fold business increase and I launched and helped create all of those fragrances. So I was the nose behind that business, but I also was the expert in the consumer understanding end and I spent that ten years, and this is not an exaggeration, I either talked to or ran research with over 10,000 women.

Oh my gosh!

World-wide basis.


In every country where fine fragrances are important. The only country I have limited knowledge of is Japan because Japanese women don't wear very much fragrance.


It's actually not, not politically correct, but it's not actually socially correct in Japan to smell too much. So, that's the one place where my knowledge and virtually every perfumer's knowledge is limited, is the knowledge of the Japanese market.

Okay, so then I went from that role to the leader of Fragrance and Flavor Development for the entire corporation of Proctor and Gamble. I didn't do just fine fragrances for a short period, but in November 1999, I kind of had a brainstorm of how you would do custom fine fragrances. I'd always known that customized fine fragrances exist because you can go to the shops in Paris or to New York City, or even to Los Angeles and have a custom perfume made if you sit with a perfumer. But it will cost, at a minimum, $295 an hour. And it will likely cost thousands to actually have a perfume made.

I was very excited about an idea that came into my head. So people ask me, some interviewers like yourself, will ask me, "Well, how long did it take you to come up with the idea?" Well, it took one day, but it was ten years of working in the perfume industry to figure out what it would take. Because the backbone pieces of what I've invented, the Hearts and Souls process, is the deep seeded consumer understanding about what fragrance type and olfactive areas women like and why. Okay? And that's what developed the questionnaire that I have on the web site. The second backbone is I tied together the neurological, the physiological sense of sight and smell together, so when you pick a visual we're in an area where you will very likely like the fragrance. And the third is my ability as a nose to identify wonderful winning perfume accords.

What you experienced in New York, I have now done over 200 times, since I saw you. And every single time, I can make a beautiful perfume for a woman. And it's because of those three aspects all coming together. Because the materials that I've used to make those beautiful fragrance accords, the Hearts and Souls themselves, are very experienced, expensive, experiential type ingredients; lots of naturals, lots of sensual oils, and the most beautiful compounds we can afford and we can afford a lot. Because we're selling direct to the consumer, so we actually have all of that built in. So, that's the background on me. I came to Reflect in February, I mean I came up with the idea in November. I came to Reflect in February because I thought that it was just an absolutely break-through company where they were doing customization in areas that they weren't doing fragrance in. I thought it was just the perfect natural fit. You know, and I said "So, let's just get going." So Ginger Kent said, "Let's go. Let's do it." So I started on Step I and that's basically idea/inception, to in the market in like six months.


You can only do that in a place like Reflect.

That's incredible turn-around.

Right. So, I am extremely excited of course just about the whole process. We've actually had over 10,000 women already customize their samples.

That's great!

It's going really, really great. But, that's still just a drop in the bucket. I mean, 10,000 women is nothing. Because there's 100 million women who wear fragrances in the United States.

That's a good start. Considering how new it is, that's a really good start.

Right. It is brand new. We need people to come. The fragrance piece is fun, you know? The questions are easy to answer and the visuals are quite intriguing. You know? You can click on them and you say, "Ah, this is really pretty cool."

That's the thing, going back to what you were saying before that I find so fascinating, is associating those visuals. So say for me, as a consumer, associating the visuals with what it might smell like and turning that into part of the perfume. I find that whole process just fascinating.

I agree totally. And in fact, I want you to know that that's the secret of it really. That's the heart of its whole success, is your sense of smell is stored in the Limbic center of the brain, touches the neural cortex. It's the most powerful of the five senses to evoke memory. And when you see the sight itself and see the visuals, if you're attracted to those visuals... we did not make the visuals first obviously, we made the Heart and Souls first, and we matched the visuals up to it. So if you pick that ocean mist visual, you're going to like, let's call it a "blue, cool, marine, ocean-type note" and that's what you get. Right? And so far, to be absolutely honest, it's worked out perfect.

Do you ever find that some of the combinations don't work out very well? Like, let's say a woman, through the Hearts and Souls process, there are several times where you're choosing from the same grouping. So let's say one time she chooses the fruit and then she chooses the ocean, and then she chooses the flower, does it ever come up where they really don't work very well together?

Yes. But that's why we always send you three options. Here's another presumption that I would never make. I have ten years in the fine fragrance business and I know that women never buy fragrances that they haven't smelled first. You have to smell it and it actually has to have what we call "liquid on skin," right? I mean we have to get you the real product and you have to wear it. So what we do is, we triangulate around the answers you've given and give you three totally separate fragrance samples. I am convinced that what happens is one of them is not right, one of them is pretty good, and one of them the woman is absolutely shocked that it's perfect. Right? And then that's what's happened so far with a very, very high hit rate. And when I was with you in New York, what I did with you is I just had you experience that in a shorthand way. And you liked one of them so-so, one of them pretty good, and the other one you said "This is what I really like" and that's what I made for you.


What would normally happen with a consumer, I would just make all three, and then they would get them in the mail. So, but yes, some of the things aren't perfect for the person. And that's why we do that. We found that this idea of triangulation is ideal as well; two isn't enough, three is ideal.

Are there any plans in the future to incorporate a woman's customized fragrance into other Reflect products?

Absolutely. And with the way I would say that is, we're going to offer on the fine fragrance site, hopefully, a way to have other forms. It won't necessarily be... you won't go to the cosmetics or the current hair care or current skin care, because that's around "products performance," right? You know what I mean? That's customized because of its performance. And there are fragrance options for that. We might have other forms of that fine fragrance product you know, available on the fine fragrance pages. For example, we might have instead of just hydro-alcoholic solution, we might have solid perfume. We could obviously have things like body lotion and moisturizers and body gel and body bath and stuff like that.

I think it's a great idea. I would love it and I think a lot of my readers would love it if they created their custom fragrance that they really loved and wanted to wear all the time, and then make it more possible for them to wear it all the time. Make it in a body lotion, make it in a shower gel or like a solid perfume like you said, so that they can take it with them, to have more options. They've created something that's just for them, why not have it available in as many forms as possible?

Right. So you can say, you know this is clearly an idea that you think is a great idea and your readers will probably agree and that Reflect is not only considering it, it's basically in the plans.

That would be great.

Yeah? We just have to bring it to market, right?

Right. Now, I'm curious. You know you were talking about how you use very fine oils and components to make the fragrances, so how do you keep the costs down? How do you make it so affordable for women to make their own fragrance so that it's not $295 an hour?

I will admit to you right now that it's still not cheap. Because the amount of product we're selling is only 1/8 of an ounce, right? So, that's one of the... I will never try to fool anyone and try to say "Listen, we're making this cheap." The only thing we're doing is we're making it affordable in the absolute. Forty dollars is basically reachable for every person. But you're not getting a lot of product. Right? You're getting 1/8 of an ounce. That's what you would buy if you bought a perfume in a store. Now we will make that value equation slightly better when we come out with our next package which is the real size, the full size. We're working on that packaging now, but it may not be available until mid next year. Now we're only launching with the purse spray.

But now there is another factor that helps keep the cost down, and that is that we have the power of the Internet and the power of computing. Because the way we set this thing up, the formulas are created when you answer the questions. We've automated how they're made. I personally don't make them with a syringe like you saw me making.

You don't?

That part would be impossible, right? So that's how we do it. Then that just really helps us. It keeps it basically within the realms of affordability so that we can actually have it be a positive business experience for us. But it's really those two things; one is that it's not cheap.

I wouldn't think so. That's why it's so surprising to me that the final product is fairly affordable.

Fairly affordable. Agreed. It is.

When the other packaging comes out, it will be a larger size?

Yes. A larger size, you know, will still obviously last longer. We will always go for the idea of refillable. You know how you have the spray with the little vial that goes inside? We'll also have that same technique available. Because we want the person to be able to interchange and maybe even, you know, have different fragrances that she might wear. Right? A different collection of custom fragrances. So it would just go in the carrying unit in a way that makes them interchangeable.

I'm curious about going through some of the questions that the woman answers in creating her fragrance. In the section where you answer for what season you'd like to wear it, what's the difference in the perfume depending on what season she chooses?

There's "would you like it to be Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter," and there's also an all-year. So what I'm just trying to do is if they say "All-year," we show four visuals because those are just ones that can be worn anytime. But if a woman is specifically looking for a Spring/Summer scent, she is looking for something lighter, cleaner, crisper, more citrusy.

Then the choices that she has to choose from are completely different.

Choices are slightly, yeah.

Oh, okay.

In Fall/Winter, they're much warmer, cozier, more sensual. As they should be, you know? And honestly, in Minnesota, believe it or not, more women wear oriental fragrances in the winter. They don't wear CK1 in the winter. Yeah, well, who would? :)

So, I mean, that's why we have it there.

Interesting. Is there anything else exciting going on with the fragrance?

Well, again, we've done some fun things. Maybe I'll just tell you one or two fun things. I went to New York again, a different meeting than the one I had with you, and I went to Times Square and we custom made perfumes for women. We stopped them on the street.


Yeah, on 42nd and Broadway. And we were filmed by Fox News and it will run during Sweeps Week on Fox Channel 5 in New York City.


It was really kind of cool, you know, really fun. There we did the exact same thing like I was doing everywhere else. Women really would love to have a custom perfume. It's absolutely clear, right? And to make it affordable, as you said, but also to bring it to life in real time was something that people thought was fantastic.

I think that's actually the key, that when you write about it, you'll be able to say "I not only saw it done, I had it done for me in real time. These guys really are customizing these perfumes." You know? That's what's so great about it. And again, the kind of fun thing I did in Times Square will be another example of that.

That's great.

I've also had an incredibly high number of people asking, "Can you do this as a gift?" And the answer is "Yes." You can come to Reflect and go to the fragrance pages and you can click on "I want to make it as a gift."

I've seen that.

And then you have a couple of choices. You can do it the same way that you do it for yourself, which is get the samples and have them shipped to yourself, or even have them shipped to your friend. Or there's a path that we call the "guy path." We made it slightly simpler. So that if he just wants to go through and he can just select one Heart, he goes through, he only sees one set of Soul pages, he picks it, he pays $40 and he gets the finished perfume. Because I was actually afraid guys would not actually know what to do when they got the samples. So we made it really simplistic methodology.

They would probably think, "I paid $40 bucks for this?"

Because of Reflect's unconditional guarantee, if it's not right, you know, we'll go back and fix it.

Right. So what does happen if a woman customizes her fragrance, she orders the samples and she receives them and none of them are what she wanted?

We re-customize them. We have a very specific methodology to follow through about what it is women don't like about it. Because to talk about perfume takes a very specific vocabulary that most people do not possess. We help them articulate what is wrong with it. We have a methodology. So you call up, you find out... the person asks you the questions in a certain way and then we re-customize again for free, and we send them three new samples. And we'll do that until you're satisfied.

That's great.

Yeah. So, you know it's the same exact great unconditional guarantee that Reflect has and we're very confident that it will work out. I mean we've done thousands of these already and we've only had to do about a dozen re-customizations, so that's going really good. Now I also get a question. I don't know if I really want to commit to, but I do get a question. Women say, "Will you please, Don, make custom men's fragrances because I'd like to make a fragrance for the guy in my life and he just doesn't have anything I like. He doesn't wear perfumes I like."

That's a good question.

I think women are actually excited about the process that we've created and that they'd actually like to see it be done for men, too. So that's kind of like a dream of mine to have that come up, too. We don't have it in the works yet, but we get that question an unbelievable high number of times. I was just in Las Vegas and I was giving a little seminar. Several dozen women, 25 to 30 women were there. Half of them wanted to have men's fragrances come up so they could make a fragrance for the guy in their life.

Wow! Do you know how many women are customizing fragrances for themselves verses how many are doing it as a gift?

So far a lot for themselves. I think this is all about making a perfume for a woman that she would love, that's just her own, that meets her needs perfectly. She doesn't have to go shop for it. You know we have a methodology that actually does that for her.

My only other anecdotal story is about Ginger Kent, our CEO. Her sister-in-law Marie was here and she just hates perfume. Well, I made her a perfume and she named it "Marie's 365." She wears it every day. So, you know, we have a lot of those fun little stories. It's just been tremendous.

Thank you so much for your time, Don. It was great talking to you. I'm glad things are going so well.

Great. If you need anything, you remember to just call me.

I will do that! Thanks very much.

Take care. Bye.


report: 3/01

To experience Reflect.com's custom fragrances, click here.



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