By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Other business opportunities, she decided, would arise. Since her teens Donin had dabbled in magic. Although she never joined a coven or any other formal group, she had absorbed lots of information from books on pagan religions as well as tomes on herbs, flowers, and oils. Once, after a nasty breakup with a boyfriend, Donin used some of what she had read. "I took strips of paper and wrote his name on it," she recalls. "Then I sat with a candle and burned them. That was a rite." After quickly recovering from the former beau, she realized "how we all practice magic every day in little ways, praying to the parking gods or spraying ourselves with perfumes for added attraction."
When friends learned of her spells, Donin started throwing house parties to help others experiencing breakups or needing things like love and money. (Who doesn't?) "People started asking, "Can you get me the ingredients and help me with the words?'" she recalls.
CharmedWorld was born in mid-1999, thanks in part to financial backing from Donin's family. Besides doing parties and workshops, Donin started a Website (plans to sell the products online are in the works), and marketed her products to Internet shopping services such as Girlshop.com and Gloss.com, which is owned by the Estée Lauder company. Ultimately Donin wanted her products to line the shelves of prestigious retail stores. But that, she knew, would take some major promotion. "I went to New York to meet with different magazine editors," she recalls. "I had no marketing plans, no focus groups. I didn't know the proper channels, so I just went with my gut."
Donin also used her head by hiring Sirens Public Relations in Manhattan. "I knew that editors would be open to her ideas," says Jen Delucca, account manager for Sirens. "It was totally a trend with the whole Wicca thing and all those television shows like Charmed... The media was really hot on that," she adds. "But what really got people interested was Nikki herself. She has this bubbly energy and could articulate how she wanted people to feel empowered by her products. She is a true believer, and her products were well-researched and detailed." (Using a compendium of books from New-Age publisher Llewellyn, New Times compared ingredients used in CharmedWorld spells with those suggested by magical "authorities." Based on our findings, Donin generally hasn't strayed from traditional recipes.)
Delucca helped Donin arrange a trip to Manhattan last spring. Nikki's mother, Lorraine, calls the visit a turning point in her daughter's career. "There were all these editors from Vogue and Mademoiselle, very sophisticated types in Chanel suits," Lorraine says. "It was like, "Here comes this kid from Florida with no business experience.' But they loved Nikki. She went in there with these prototypes, and these [high-powered] women were asking, "Ooh, can I do a soul-mate spell?' They were in hysterics." Mentions of CharmedWorld products soon began showing up in the pages of national magazines including Vogue, Mademoiselle, Modern Bride, and Teen, and even on the fashion pages of The New York Times.
How big is Donin's market? Researchers at the University of Westchester in Pennsylvania estimate that at least 200,000 people practice some form of magic in the United States; almost 40 percent are under age 18. The Witches' Voice, an online advocacy group (www.witchvox.net), lists 113 college groups and thousands of individuals who practice magic, including 1100 in Florida, 247 of whom are teenagers living in places like Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Kendall.
Though lots of witches are out of the proverbial broom closet, Donin maintains that her objective, rather than to advocate witchcraft, is simply to "free people up of the funk that weighs them down. It's a way to increase your self-esteem without going to a psychic or a shrink."
As the party at Lipoff's house winds down, the herbs from the evening's spells are scattered around her front yard. While people have shared their stories of successful spells (the daughter who helped heal her mother's prolonged sickness, the pretty exec whose petty friends dropped out of sight after she slept with herbs under her bed for a month), no one asks when she or he can expect results from tonight's work. Further, no one demands immediate proof, as one spell states, "That ho!... some skank meddling with your man" has been vanquished.
But if the objective of this spell-casting crew was to have fun, the evening was a success. "This was sooooo cool," says Noelle Williams, a seventh grader from Plantation who promises to talk up CharmedWorld at school. "By the way," she asks Donin, "have you thought about coming up with spells to pass tests and become more popular? Maybe you could call it "Cool in School.'"
Donin promises to conjure up something.