Smell is one of the most powerful senses in the human body. In fact, it’s closely linked with memory and can spark vivid recollection of nostalgic moments from our past; scent can remind us of places, even people in our lives. Therefore, when we lose someone, belongings that contain their scent are a precious reminder of a unique moment with that person.
So, like many struggling with loss, French insurance saleswoman Katia Apalategui watched her mother grip tight and smell the pillow that her late husband slept on. When she asked why her mother would smell the pillow, she told her daughter that it reminded her of her husband.
Katia took that experience and started to think up ways to capture and preserve a person’s individual scent for others in her position to ensure they would never lose it. And after years of knocking on doors in an attempt to develop her idea, Katia was finally put in touch with the University of Le Havre.
The macromolecular organic chemistry department at the university had figured out a way to extract the dozens of different molecules that make up a person’s scent from a piece of fabric, and then reconstitute them in an alcohol-based solution.
“We take the person’s clothing and extract the odour–which represents about a hundred molecules–and we reconstruct it in the form of a perfume in four days,” Geraldine Savary of the University of Le Havre explains
And now, French biotech company Kalain has begun sales of what it’s calling “olfactory links” to the dead, a perfume intended to invoke the scent of a loved one, be it a parent, a spouse, a child, or even a dog. The perfume is selling for approximately CDN$788.
According to notes from the International Business Times, Katia’s perfume isn’t the first attempt to replicate the smell of a deceased person; the processes for those creations were a bit less romantic in nature. In fact, one method devised at Doane College in Nebraska, used two of the three chemicals that create the aromas responsible for the foul odour of putrefying flesh and contribute to bad breath.
A person’s real scent is actually made up of everything from the perfume they wear to the detergent they use and even the pollutants in the air.
“If you give us clothes really soaked with the smell of your father, you will get exactly the same smell in a perfume,” says Florian Rabeau, who runs Kalain with his mother. “Almost 100 percent sure.”
While it’s appealing to have those memories at your fingertips, it’s also a little creepy as well.
Memories in a bottle
So what do mourners receive? For those looking to lasting memories, they receive a box that includes 10 millilitres of perfume and a space for a photograph of the deceased. It also comes with a pocket scent diffuser, space for a photo blotters and a silk scarf printed with the initials of the deceased; it kind of resembles a bottle of perfume in a cardboard coffin.
Recently, the company decided to also offer an option for “temporary absences,” figuring the concept might also appeal to couples in long distance relationships.
Death may be less taboo, but it also feels less permanent when you can open up a bottle of perfume and experience, as if she were alive, the scent of your dead grandmother. This ability to preserve little bits of a person’s essence after death inherently alters the ways we that we remember and grieve.
“It’s not about keeping people alive when they die. It’s about helping them through the mourning period.”
What are your thoughts on the matter? Share them in the comments below or on social media. Or if you’re looking for a different way to mourn, there’s a company offering to turn a loved ones ashes into beautiful glass orbs.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.