Fumes in the News: Smell Ya Later




Hello! I'm cranking up ol' KP Smells clown car again, and while I'm lubing the chassis, I thought I'd share something I wrote for the The Guardian in June.

"Bottling the Smell of Dead People Won't Capture Their Essence" concerns Olfactory Links, a French company which aims to make a perfume out of the smell of clients' deceased loved ones.

You can read the article here.

A provocative topic always results in a lively comment section, so don't miss out on a scan of the readers' musings at the bottom of the article. There's a run of ghoulish puns about halfway through. (The Brits do love their puns!)

A selection:
- Charnel No.5?
- Is this a unique venture or is there stiff competition?
- I think it's a dead end.
- Only requires a skeleton staff to produce, make no bones about that.
- Bottling the smell of dead people -- I think I cadaver go at that.
- Of corpse you could...
- There's mortuary than meets the eye...
- What if you are allergic to perfumes -- and you can't stop coffin until your throat is hearse?



On a less facetioius note, I was particularly struck by this comment from "Prevellis":
"I am constantly surprised by the power of smells to trigger memories and feelings of deja vu. As a postman, I deliver to old people's homes and residential accommodation. Old people tend to use the same products now as they used 40 or 50 years ago. So I get wafts of table polish, carpet cleaner, perfume, air freshener -- all triggering memories from my childhood (1970s). The quotidian world of a postman is surprisingly olfactory."



While I was writing the piece, Perfume Pen Pal Dan Rolleri and I had an exchange on the subject. He had this to say:
"Well, I feel like it’s already been done with Frédéric Malle Bois d’Orage and my dad. But isn’t this sort of thing more abstract and elusive than their video indicates? I mean, there are certainly smells that remind us of people, but for various reasons and not simply because that’s how they smelled.

"This makes it sound like you just bring in their bath towel and, bam, there they are in scent-form. Except I’m not sure I’d necessarily associate the smell of anyone’s bath towel with the person herself. And I’d end up with a perfume that smells like a towel."

Dan tickled me with his suggestion for an alternative application for bottling the smell of a certain human being:
"What if you could bottle yourself? Would you just come across more...present? Amplified? Would someone say, 'Katie seems especially Katie-like today, do you know what I mean?' And someone else would say, 'Absolutely! It’s like she’s surrounding us!' "Would that be considered a misuse of the technology?"

Would it?

Mailman image via

21 comments:

  1. Fun article, and I like your headline. Inspiration from expiration, you could say. Though I won't be rushing to try.

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    1. Now *that's* a good quip, Hanamini! "Inspiration from expiration", indeed.

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  2. Well hello Katie!
    I'm bummed that the smell of Pine-sol has changed for me over the years. It is because my smelling has changed or the formula? I am betting on the formula.

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    1. Hiya Carol! I'm betting on the formula, too. I'm dismayed when functional products abandon the very scent that made them a part of our childhood smellscape.

      Hats off to the ones that stay true to their course: Jergens body lotion, Coppertone, Woolite.

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  3. We miss you when you don't write or Vlog. Thanks for coming back, please crank it up hard.
    Portia xx

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  4. I smell dead people.

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    1. Right...? In fact, sensory psychologist Avery Gilbert has nabbed that expression for a regular feature in his witty and mind-expanding blog, First Nerve.

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  5. The comments from the postman and from Dan Rolleri support each other. While I realize that each human has their own scent - which is often what happens when there's "chemistry" between two people, what really are the scents that most of us use to fondly remember others are the scents in their lives. For example, when I smell a really well made bowl of chicken soup, I immediately recall my Grandmother - but my Grandmother didn't smell like chicken soup. She was also a fan of the original Jean Nate après shower scent in the summer, and when I smelled some a few weeks ago, it brought right back to our summer days together when I was a little girl. So I wouldn't need to bottle Grandma's essence to have her around me, I'd simply need to buy some Jean Nate and get some great chicken soup. My mother, who passed away last year, was a lifelong fan of Joy perfume and had bought a new bottle shortly before she passed away. I never liked Joy myself, but I kept that bottle and have come to love the scent. Sometimes when I'm home alone and really missing her, I put a dab of it on my neck and a whole menu of memories surface.

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    1. Oh Molly, how I agree with you. We are all olfactory composites of our immediate environments.

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    2. Yep. To me, this venture is more like embalming a loved one's body and keeping them in your house, rather than keeping a photo album full of photos that celebrate the person's life and everything they did and loved, and all of the things we did with them. I get it, though- I'm sure that if you lose a spouse or a child, you want to hang onto that pillow that smells like them forever. I think that smell fades for a reason, though. We have to eventually move on.

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    3. If a created smell can assist in the long, sad goodbye, I'm for it.

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  6. Been Missing you Katie. Love the article. It made me take the time and think today about how my loved ones smell...and I mean that in the best way possible....lol...xo Michael and Mirabelle.

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    1. Hi Michael! Taking a moment in "silent smell" is a good way to pump a little air in the "gratitude tires".

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  7. "What if you could bottle yourself? Would you just come across more...present? Amplified?"

    It's like the idea behind natural makeup: you, but better.

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  8. I'm surprised that neither you - Katie - nor any other commenters have said anything about the weird pronunciation in that Kalain video. Or maybe "Oh-dair" is truly how Americans pronounce 'odor', or how they think the French 'odeur' is pronounced?? Please enlighten me on that one because it sounds completely ridiculous to me!

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    1. Rosie, "oh-dair" is only one of the many freaky things about this whole enterprise, but you're right, I missed an opportunity in not flagging it up. So let's get into this now!

      While the narrator is speaking American-inflected/accented English, she doesn't sound American herself. That quirky "oh-dair" seems to have snuck in from her native tongue. Maybe she's doing a deliberate mispronunciation of "odeur" to convey French people's impression of Americans reliable mangling of the French language?

      My other hypothesis is that the speaker is a GPS-style robot, because the delivery is oddly clipped and mechanical. And those robot voices often struggle with simple words.

      If the robot/human narrator happens to see this, please get in touch!

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    2. I just assumed that "oh-dair" sounded more sophisticated as "odor" has a negative connotation. If she said, "Keep a person's odor forever" you realize how creepy this whole thing really is.

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  9. I had to listen again, for laughs.How funny. My first thought was that it must be a Japanese or Korean company in disguise, but it's not, and the French version of the video was clearly native. Someone must have thought that "odor" wasn't right, and that "smell" wasn't refined enough....to convey the scent of an expired dog. I have no idea where they come up with "oh-dair". And wasn't their choice of a 1980s feminine-care cartoon style odd, for a company created in the 2010s?

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    1. Yes! "Feminine care cartoon style" sums it up exactly.

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