Induced phantosmia – the future tech of digital scent transmission?

Induced phantosmia illustration by NukapaiSo, I was listening to episode two of the new Basenotes podcast, in which the colourful cast chatted about smell-o-vision, and what the future tech for transmitting odours digitally might be like. All sorts of possibilities were covered. Fledgeling attempts at this are already happening (for example, the oPhone), never mind all the various scented concerts and whatnot. All of these require physical aroma materials to be present. As the podcast participants quite rightly pointed out, one of the difficulties with the idea of sending odours digitally from one device to another, is the complex nature of scents themselves. Can you make an approximation of rose with just a handful of materials even though rose oil contains over 350 constituents? Absolutely. Can you more or less get the smell of chocolate with vanillin and a couple of other materials? Sure – especially if you are a masterful olfactory illusionist like Jean-Claude Ellena. (His book The Diary of a Nose includes a delightful section on his fragrant shorthand). Perfumes, if compared to art, could be classed into those which most resemble a detailed oil painting at one end, and images suggested to us by just a few lines of ink at the other. (Of course some perfumes feel more like they’ve been drawn in crayon).

Liam Moore pointed out that maybe part of the charm of fragrance is its fleeting nature; to be able to digitise and endlessly preserve a smell would surely take something away from the experience. (Online perfume retailers would probably disagree).

Well, this was all very thought-provoking. I started thinking in sci-fi terms – how would you actually be able to do this without having to distribute a set of clunky devices with hundreds of aroma materials pre-loaded in them? How would you get around the fact that if you code a scent for such a transmission, the formula will surely not remain secret? Would you ever be able to transmit a full perfume?

Imagine a future in which we’ve moved beyond Google glass and smart watches. Imagine having nano-technology seamlessly fitted into your body (I’m reading a Peter Hamilton novel at the moment, so the concept seems natural).

Still with me? Ok, now consider this: odours are a construct of our mind (for a full explanation of this, I shall now pimp Liam’s ODOU magazine to you once more). Our minds put odours together from various cues. Have you ever experienced the bizarre sensation of phantosmia? Not just imagining a smell, but actually smelling it. In some cases, phantosmia can be a sign of a neurological disorder, so if you get this often or suddenly start experiencing it, you might want to seek medical advice. I get random bouts of phantosmia which don’t seem to be an indicator of anything sinister, but it’s quite bizarre. I’m suspicious of some synaesthetic effect. A particular scene might suddenly taste of tomato. Sometimes I choose my perfume for the day by phantosmic guidance – I might be physically experiencing the smell of Shalimar upon waking. The first time it happened I was convinced someone had been at my perfume drawer.

What if neuroscientists and nano-engineers would collaborate and create a chip which would induce phantosmia in the wearer? Forget about sending orders to a digital device which then puffs a few aroma chems at you. What if you could send messages directly to the brain of the recipient and create the illusion of a specific odour? If our understanding of odour interpretation improves and if we manage to map what actually happens in the brain when we smell something, this could be a viable future technology. Imagine receiving a digital odour signal from anywhere in the world and being able to instantly smell what the sender wants you to.

Of course, as Grant Osborne pointed out, people would undoubtedly use any such technology to send each other farts.

Illustration by Pia Long based on stock images, including green circuit board by botheredbybees.

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Jasmine Awards 2013 Shortlist – which magazine earned three nominations?

Jasmine_award_nominations_volatile_fictionIn some of our early chats with Liam Moore, he expressed his desire to create something completely new – he wanted to put together a magazine with high-quality content about perfume and our sense of smell, expressed in a multitude of ways, using factual articles, opinion pieces, poetry and photographs. Well, he did it. Liam’s magazine has probably just broken some kind of record. It has earned not one, not two, but three Jasmine Award nominations for its first issue. I am so happy for Liam and encourage every scent-enthusiast and nose-nerd to check out the magazine if you haven’t already.

Of course this announcement is also self-serving. I happen to be one of the writers who was nominated from ODOU. My article “Your Nose is a Snowflake” was shortlisted in the literary category. I am thrilled about it; also amused and bewildered – in what kind of plausible scenario would my name appear on the same shortlist as Richard E. Grant?

Yeah, I know. Hilarious.

The Jasmine Awards are managed by the Fragrance Foundation, and this is what they have to say about them:

The Jasmine Awards were created in France and launched in the UK in 1990. The first Jasmine Awards ceremony under the Chairmanship of Julian Greenway, Managing Director of Guerlain, saw an audience of around 50 and was held in Mosimanns Club, Belgravia. There were just two prizes – a Jasmine Literary Award and a Jasmine Visual Award.

In 2010 the administration of The Jasmine Awards was taken over by The Fragrance Foundation. Today there are ten award categories, with all prize-winners receiving a crystal trophy and a cheque.
The Awards are now recognised as the most prestigious journalistic awards in the beauty industry. They recognise and reward the talents of journalists and visualisers whose difficult task it is to translate the complex art of perfumery into words and pictures.

A new panel of judges is recruited annually. The panel of judges includes a leading retailer, at least one designer, and writers – either a journalist or an author, or a representative of the publishing world.
The judging panel meet at a lunch in London in October when their role and the scoring process are explained to them. They are asked to read a large quantity of articles solely on the subject of fragrance published between 1st January and 31st December each year. These articles are sent to judges mid-December. They are asked to complete a score sheet for each and return them to the Jasmine Awards Office, where a shortlist is compiled. The shortlisted articles for each Awards category are re-presented to the judging panel for final assessment shortly before the awards ceremony and only at this point are the final winners chosen.

At the annual Jasmine Awards ceremony the perfume industry shows its appreciation to the Beauty press for the efforts it has made to acquire and communicate this specialist knowledge. Each of the judges is invited to present one of the prizes. The Jasmine Awards are held in Spring each year at BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly, London W1.

The Fragrance Foundation on behalf of the Jasmine Awards also organise training days to assist beauty journalists in learning more about the fascinating subject of fragrance.

Here are the shortlists I know of so far:

THE JASMINE LITERARY AWARD (for magazines)

  • “Your Nose Is A Snowflake” by Pia Long for ODOU
  • “Perfume Haters” by Neil Chapman for ODOU
  • “Diary of a Perfumed Ponce” by Richard E. Grant for GQ
  • “Chanel The Nose behind the Egoiste” by Tony Marcus for 10 Magazine
  • “Scents with Spirit” by Amerley Ollennu for Psychologies
  • “The Perfumed Home” by Hannah Betts for Elle Decoration

THE JASMINE SOUNDBITE AWARD

  • “Away From The Nose, Away From The Heart” by Paul-AndrΓ© St-Georges for ODOU
  • “Weird Science” by Lee Kynaston for Men’s Health
  • “Soulmate Scent” by Charlotte Jolly for Stylist
  • “Scent Icon Series: Narcisse Noir by Caron” by Amy Bradford for Elle Decoration
  • “Scent Icon Series: Cuirde Russie by Chanel” by Amy Bradford for Elle Decoration
  • “Scent Icon Series: Fracas by Robert Piguet” by Amy Bradford for Elle Decoration
  • “Confessions of a Fragrance Floozy” by Gem Royston-Claire for Company Magazine

THE JASMINE DIGITAL AWARD

  • Dries Van Noten by Katie Chutzpah for KatieChutzpah.com
  • Carven Launches Le Parfum by Katie Chutzpah for KatieChutzpah.com
  • Ylang 49 by Persolaise for Persolaise.com
  • The Power To Make Your Heart Kinder by Persolaise for Basenotes.net
  • Tommy Girl? Davidoff Cool Water? Evocative Scents Of Youth by Joanna McGarry for Never Underdressed
  • The Candy Perfume Boy’s Guide To Violet by Thomas Dunckley for CandyPerfumeBoy.com
  • Let Us Spray by Nicola Moulton for Vogue.co.uk

I would also like to congratulate Persolaise for being nominated (again), and twice this time! Is there any other person currently writing about fragrance who manages to so consistently produce interesting and award-winning work? Probably not. I am also extremely happy for Thomas Dunckley, otherwise known as Candy Perfume Boy who has also been nominated in the digital category. (The award ceremony will be a great chance to catch up! And I think the odds of a 2013 Jasmine award winner being on our May perfume tour just went up. I hope Richard will enjoy it).