On the strip of white cardboard Katia Apalategui waves under my nose is the scent of a woman. Not just the scent she wears. But her scent. Her personal “olfactive signature” as Apalategui calls it.
Most of us keep pictures of the ones we love. Now, Kalain, the company she’s founded near Evreux in Normandy, France is offering the possibility of keeping their smell.
The idea came to her after a bereavement. “When my dad is dead 7 years ago now, I had a need, a special need – I wanted to keep his scent,” she said.
There was though, no way of conserving that smell she loved which was partly the fragrance he wore, partly the little dog that used to sleep on his lap. “There was no solution at this period so I thought to work to find the technology to re-transcribe the odor of a person you love,” Apalategui explained.
At Le Havre University on the Normandy coast, she found a research laboratory working on the molecular chemistry of smell. For three years, they worked on Apalategui’s idea, developing a process that enables you to extract from an unwashed piece of clothing or pillowcase 50 molecules that, mixed with alcohol, give a person’s distinctive smell.
Kalain has the exclusivity on this process which the company and the lab that developed it are keeping secret. The lab said the process has been comprehensively tested. It works. But is there a demand out there?
In the 17th Century Paris square, the Place des Vosges, I ask passers-by whose scent they might want to put in a bottle?
“My mother,” says Mila Badin. “You can’t explain but it’s very fresh, it’s very floral.”
Muriel Lassus-Pigatte says “The baby smell. When you have another baby in your hand and that reminds you the smell of your own children. So maybe this odor – the odor of your children when they were babies.”
Back at Katia Apalategui’s laboratory, she shows me one of the aluminum bags she’s started sending out to customers for them to return with a piece of clothing inside.
Kalain is just opening. For $600 dollars she said she will send you back the piece of clothing and perfume extracted from it: the smell of a person in a bottle.