Smell-o-Phones and the Study of a Scent

I read “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by Patrick Suskind twice, although I still haven’t seen the film. The opinions of some people whom I trust did play a certain role in delaying my watching it. However, upon recently reading an article in The New York Times I feel Tom Tykwer might have been a tad early in making the film. Then, of course, so were the generations of film directors.

“When Roses Won’t Do, E-Mail a Fragrance” is an article introducing the latest Japanese invention – a kind of “smell-o-phone”. As the authors explain,

“users will be able to select and send certain fragrance recipes to an in-home unit that is responsible for concocting and releasing the various fragrances. Each holds 16 cartridges of base fragrances or essences that are mixed to produce the various scents in a similar way that a printer mixes inks to produce other colors.”

This is the point where I don’t know if art imitates technology, or technology imitates art, as I read further:

“The first step is to choose a scent from the multitude of fragrance recipes available through an I-mode site on a cell phone. Once chosen the instructions on how to make the scent are then transmitted to the fragrance device through infrared from the phone, and from there the scent is quickly mixed and emitted.
If distance is an issue, the other option is to send the instructions to the device via an e-mail message. The message is intercepted by a home gateway unit that is latched to the home’s broadband connection and sends the instructions to the fragrance device at home. Using this method users can set the time and date of fragrance emission, so one can come home to the relaxing scent of lavender, for example.
There’s even room for creating customized scents, which can be shared with other users through the fragrance “playlist” on the Web site.
The technology is not only limited to creating a pleasant-smelling workplace or home. NTT also sees it as a way to enhance multimedia content. For example, instead of just sending an image of a bouquet of roses to a friend, one can boost the experience by sending the fragrance as well.”

In conclusion, “NTT Communications believes that fragrance is the next important medium for telecommunications, as more value is placed on high sensory information.”

As I was reading the article, I’ve been thinking of using telecommunications for viral perfume marketing. I think Jean-Paul Gaultier could use the idea very creatively: he could team up with a mobile phone manufacturer, to produce mobiles in the form of his famous perfume bottles (see image) and to have them emit the precious scents.

And next, of course, we’d be in for the new spin in film remakes. And that’s where “Perfume” enters the picture. The very first pages of the novel (sorry, I’ve got no English edition at hand to quote directly) paint us the portrait of Paris we’d rather ignore. We’re used to think of Paris as the capital of fashion, emitting fabulous aromas and scents. In the 18th c., however, the city was far from smelling nicely. Unwholesome vapours filled the streets and houses, and if you actually imagine the repertory of smells as you read through it, you’d be repulsed. Looking at the critique of the novel, it may be that this smelly Paris gets well past the noses of the readers. If, however, the Japanese venture gets to be used in multimedia and film, the remake of “Perfume” may set us on the right track to reading the novel. At any rate, making films smell will for once change our romantic outlook on many a historical epoch, which in turn will open an altogether new subject in both disciplines of History and Film: The Scent Studies.

Image credits: Glamour Magazine.

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