The idea came to Katia Apalategui seven years ago as she struggled to come to terms with her father’s death, missing everything down to the way he smelled.
She mentioned this in passing to her mother who admitted that, like many who have lost a loved one, she was loath to wash the pillowcase her husband slept on in a bid to keep a remnant of the precious scent of the man she loved.
This inspired the 52-year-old insurance saleswoman to think up ways to capture and preserve a person’s individual scent so people in her position would never have to long for a whiff of their loved one again.
Scientists have long known that smells are linked to the part of the brain that regulates emotion and memory and have the ability to propel you back to a specific time, place or person.
The retail industry often takes advantage of this powerful psychological power, using various odours in stores, cars or restaurants to lure customers.
After years of knocking on doors to try and develop her idea, Apalategui was put in touch with the northwestern Havre university which has developed a technique to reproduce the human smell.
“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,” explained the university’s Geraldine Savary, without giving away the secrets of the process.
The powerful link between smell and memory means the product offers “olfactory comfort”, Apalategui claims, on a par with photos, videos and other memories of the deceased.
Her son, who is currently in business school, plans to launch their start-up by September with the help of a chemist.
“We are going through funeral homes to offer families a small box containing a vial of the departed’s odour that we would have extracted from a piece of material provided by them,” said Apalategui
“It’s made-to-measure and will sell for around 560 euros ($600),” she added.
However, she hopes the technology will not only be limited to the morbid, but could be used as a Valentine’s Day gift between lovers, or even for children temporarily away from their parents.
“Smell is the strongest sense in terms of memory…. We offer a very strong emotional charge” in a bottle, said Apalategui.