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Eau de Death: Perfumer Develops Scents Based on Dead Loved Ones

A French perfumer is attempting to harness the emotional power of scent

(Alix Minde/PhotoAlto/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Scent can be a powerful reminder of those who have died — but it’s also ephemeral, evaporating as fresh memories of your loved ones fade. Now, a French perfumer claims to be able to bottle a person’s unique scent, creating perfumes that smell just like the people you love most even after they're gone.

A grieving widow sparked the idea, reports Agence France-Presse. After noticing her mother’s attempts to preserve her dead husband’s pillowcase so she could smell his unique scent after he died, Katia Apalategui wondered if there was a way to bottle a person’s odor. After years of searching, she finally found a scientist who took her quest seriously—Geraldine Savary, a chemist at Havre University who specializes in scent.

Using the clothing of the scent subject, Agence France-Presse reports, Savary and her colleagues extract a hundred odor molecules and reconstruct them in perfume form. Apalategui will market the perfume at funeral homes by September, charging around $600 for the bottled essence of those who have died.

Why’s smell such a powerful reminder of the dead? Not only is smell the oldest sense, notes the BBC’s Tom Stafford, but it’s also linked to what scientists call “episodic memories.” These memories are connected to specific events and can be “recognized even without conscious recollection of the event,” according to scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. Scent can trigger the recollection of memories that have been deeply embedded in the brain, says Stafford—and perhaps that’s why grieving people are loath to let go of objects that can bring up fond memories with a single whiff.

If bottling your loved one’s essence isn’t your thing, why not turn them into jewelry instead? Savary’s scent breakthrough may be the newest in mourning technology, but some grieving gem connoisseurs are opting to transform their loved ones’ ashes into diamonds.

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