Smell and memory are deeply intertwined. And when Katia Apalategui, a 52-year-old former insurance salesperson, lost her father, the one thing she wanted to retain -- somehow -- was his scent. So, she reached out to researchers at the Université du Havre that had been working on distilling the human scent on their own, and she started a company, which her son, Florian Rabeau, now runs.
The company, Kalain, is set to launch this October with the aim of offering "olfactory comfort" to grieving people for about $600 a bottle.
Salon spoke with Katia and Florian Apalategui via email about mourning and capturing the scent of a human.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What prompted you to found this company?
Katia Apalategui: At the beginning, that was in 2007 when my father passed away, the day of Father's Day. I drive a lot and I'm always cogitating and I remember that at one time, I understand that what I want to keep more than anything was his smell. I thought that I was kind of crazy. But few times later I decided to tell it to my mother. We were now two madwomen; my mother told me she kept a pillowcase with the smell of my father.
At the same time, my father got a really special odor that was a mixture of a lot of things -- not only his perfume, Fahrenheit, a strong one. In fact, my father was very sick and he was also diabetic. I learned thereafter that some diseases can give some special odors, and that's the case with diabetes. Because of his cancer, he was in his bed all day long, and his little dog was always with him and got a strong smell too.
The company is set to launch in October -- what do you have to do before that happens?
Florian Rabeau: Nowadays, we still have a lot do to before our laboratory can be operational. We are working on the financial aspects, working with a designer, etc.
What is so important about smell? What connection does it have with mourning?
FR: The olfactory sense was the most forgotten ... but in reality it is the most powerful sense for memories. Some people are visual; they prefer to keep a photo or a video. Some others are more auditory, and to finish, the others are sensitive to smell. Today, all the olfactory-sensitive would be able to do their mourning as they really want to do it. In this period it is necessary to keep a link with the dead one. Each [sort of person] needs a different tool to help him.
What is the process of making one of the perfumes? What actually goes into a bottle?
FR: We spent a long time working to discover the technology able to faithfully retranscribe the smell of loved ones and we decided to keep the process secret. That is why I can't tell you more information about our process. The only thing that I can tell you is that we need a cloth really soaked from the smell of the loved one.
What about the psychological effect of having this smell? Have you ever made a perfume of one of your deceased relatives? How did it make you feel?
FR: For us, it's a new psychological way to help people to "ease" mourning by providing them with a way to remember some good memories. In reality, our brain and our nose are linked to receptors, which are able to create connections with some very important neurological zones. That explains the power of smell to remember memories. It was proven that the triangle of smell, emotion and memories allows us to remember the deepest memories. We can use the famous French example of Proust's madeleine.
I read you might expand into other smells -- like what? And why?
FR: As the idea came from the death of my grandfather, it's natural that we will put our first handmade box on the funeral market. At the same time we will also launch a box for happy life events on our website for next October. As we have the technology, we also want to use it for the happiest expectations. In the last few months, we have gotten a lot of demands for loved ones gone, but also others who were looking for the smell of a baby, an old girlfriend, a distant wife or a missing dog. That could be an original and unique gift for some special events like Valentine's Day, for example.
Our concept was approved by many studies, tests and a large number of testimonies before we decided to launch the company. We are really happy to see that a lot of people are really sensitive to the smell of loved ones. That's why we will expand our offer to happy life events.