A New Kind of Perfume: One You're Not Supposed to Smell

Even for people who don't wear perfume or cologne, the world of fragrances can be a fascinating one, a seemingly Willy Wonka-esque realm of chemistry and art. And now one mad olfactory scientist has decided to conjure something entirely unexpected: a perfume so delicate that other people won't even notice you're wearing it. I spent a good chunk of a recent morning commute reading Geoffrey Gray's "The Invisible Scent," from New York magazine, and the article, about rogue perfumer Chris Brosius's attempt to craft this ephemeral elixir, is a good candidate for a leisurely Friday or weekend read. (Also worth a look is The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession, Chandler Burr's book about perfume expert Luca Turin.) Here's the introduction:

One night, Christopher Brosius was home watching a movie. He'd rented Le Testament d'Orphée, the last film made by Jean Cocteau. The story line features the poet-director himself rising from the dead and retracing abstract moments from his past. The film resonated with Brosius. After developing a reputation over nearly two decades as the perfume world's Willy Wonka for his vast and odd library of fragrances--Black Leather Jacket, Doll's Head, Ginger Ale 2006, to name a few--he'd been wondering what other olfactory experiences he could create. Had he peaked?

Then came the very surreal scene in the film in which one character says the following words to another: "Where we are, there is no 'here.' "

Here, there. Where? The absurdist line reminded Brosius of studies he'd read detailing the mysteries of the human nose, and why some people can detect scents that others can't--while some can lose the sense of smell altogether. Anosmia, the condition is called. Brosius's mental gears began to click. He thought, Wouldn't it be clever to create a perfume that only certain people can smell? Invisible perfume. Now, that would be an existential achievement: It smells so good you can't even smell it.

Read the full story at New York.

Presented by

Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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