This post is slightly late going up. NOTE TO SELF: Don’t tweet about putting up a blog post if you can’t follow through. Ah well, it’s here now.
The second Basenotes podcast went up a few weeks back and the guests this time were Lila Das Gupta (Perfume Lovers London), Isabelle Schoelcher, Liam Moore (ODOU), Callum Langston-Bolt (Les Senteurs) and of course, Basenotes’ own Grant Osborne. The food offered for thought this time round was the idea of scent and technology. Can the two ever mix? Will we all be sending each other scented soundbites? Or, will it be a way for the likes of my 14 year-old brother and his friends to prank text farts to people?
I won’t spoil the podcast but it was extremely interesting and I would definitely recommend downloading it! The idea that by pressing some buttons we could transmit a smell, capture it in bytes and trap it in pixels. It was all quite clinical, quite stoic. Lila mentioned a lovely instance in which she would have liked to have used it; to capture the scent of her newborn son. That soft baby smell is something none of us retain and it would be a beautiful way to remember those precious moments. I think however, Liam hit the nail on the head for me. The mystique around scent and fragrance is its fleeting beauty. The fact that we aren’t able to pin down our perfumes, trap them and immortalise them makes us appreciate them more. In essence, it would be like catching a butterfly in a jam jar, you can admire its beauty whilst it is fluttering away but once it dies and decays, is it the same? I’m not sure if I could fully appreciate a perfume if I knew that I’d have it forever. When I pick up a scarf I haven’t worn for a week and can just about smell the last remnants of ‘Carnal Flower’ on it, I bury my face in the fabric and take an almighty deep breath. I want that experience as well as the experience of spraying it on my wrist and devouring the green, lushness of its opening.
Whilst listening to the podcast I was trying to think of other ways in which science and scent could be paired, without the use of technology, and then there was a video replaying at the back of my mind. It was a TED talk given by a young woman called Lucy McRae (above) and I vaguely remembered it to be so inspiring. At the time I didn’t think anything more than a quick ‘That was so cool!’ But now, having listened to the podcast, I went back and watched the same video. I was blown away! Here was a woman, calmly explaining that she had helped invent a pill that would release a genetically unique fragrance from its wearer’s perspiration. Wait, what?
Lucy McRae is a Body Architect (pretty sure she’s the only one with that job title) and describes her work as;
DESIGNING THE CONNECTIVE TISSUE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION CREATING PLAYFUL, IMAGINARY WORLDS UNDERPINNED BY THE TOOLS OF SCI FI AND TECHNOLOGY.
Back to poppin’ pills, Lucy and synthetic chemist Sharef Mansy worked together to enable our skin to become the consummate perfume receptacle. The capsule works by excreting lipid based molecules of scent through the skin, the potency of the odour being entirely detrmined by the wearers acclimitisation to the current temperature, stress, exercise or arousal. Lucy aims to redefine the way in which we present ourselves to others, more organic and less ‘perfect’. It is another way to communicate our identity, our mood, our innermost feelings.
I know what you’re thinking. That big grey elephant in the room, right? ‘Nafia, how the hell is it any different to wearing perfume?!?!?!’ It might not seem that different, but just think. You would never ever be wearing the same scent as anyone ever again. You won’t mutter curses under your breath if you smell someone else who decided that today would be ‘Ambre Sultan’ day (only me?) Lucy heralds the Swallowable Parfum as being a new cycle of evolution and I have to agree. Imagine being on a crammed bus on midsummers day and praying that the trickle of sweat making its way down your back isn’t leaving a scented trail of sweating onions behind, imagine it leaving behind the smell of a tropical bloom. The vertically challenged amongst us (me!!!) wouldn’t find themselves on the 7.30 Tube face-to-armpit with someone who didn’t have time to shower, that person will have swallowed a pill that morning on their way out and make the rest of your journey a doddle.
The only thing that is slightly niggling me is that this is another way of covering up our natural scent. We are humans, we emit odours (some pleasant, and some not so much). In the future, will we all be swallowing these pills to cover up our natural scent? Is it right that we will be presenting ourselves as radiating blooms when in reality, we don’t smell of roses. Would the smell of our bare skin warmed by midday sun be a distant memory? At what age would we be pressured by the media to start using the pills? Could this pill lead to a complete shuffling of the human genome where those pesky body odour genes are silenced? Would the newborn baby smell emitted by Lila Das Gupta’s son and millions of others be a thing of the past?
Clearly I don’t have the answers. I think this is a super cool concept and I applaud Lucy’s creativity. If it becomes commercially available in the future, I think I would occasionally try it but would hope I wouldn’t come to rely on it day in, day out.
So, what do you think? Do you think scent and science should mix? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you :-)
Further reading – Induced Phantosmia