When Katia Apalategui's father died seven years ago, the 52-year-old insurance saleswoman found herself missing the smell of a man who never went anywhere without his dog and a splash of Fahrenheit cologne. The same was true of her grieving mother, who couldn't bear to wash one of her late husband's pillowcases, Apalategui said.
Seven years later, Apalategui and her son Florian Rabeau, are poised to launch Kalain, a company that will recreate and bottle the scent of a dead person using their previously worn clothes or used linens. Apalategui — who describes her product as "olfactory comfort" — hopes to distribute her custom-made product through funeral directors.
A bottle of your dead loved one's bouquet — custom-made by Kalain — will set you back 560 euros ($600).
Apalategui told VICE News on Friday there is a real market for her product, and not just among the grieving. She also sees those temporarily separated from their pets, animals, or loved ones as potential customers.
"Many people have asked us: Can you recreate the smell of my dog or my horse?" Apalategui said. For now, the company, which will launch officially in September, plans only to recreate the scents of "boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, and children."
Apalategui developed her idea with the help of regional innovation agency SEINARI — a government initiative that helps innovators launch their businesses and market their products for free.
SEINARI employee Mickaël Arnoult, who has worked with Apalategui from the start, said his client's venture was very polarizing.
"You either hate it or you love it," he told VICE News.
For Arnoult, the main hurdle in the project was finding a partner capable of recreating the real scent of the person who has died.
"There are people who try to recreate celebrity perfumes, but it's never their actual smell," he said. "A [person's] real smell is made up of pollutants, detergent, perfume, cigarettes, if they smoke, etc…"
Apalategui was eventually put in touch with the macromolecular organic chemistry department (URCOM) of the northwestern Havre university, which has developed a technique to reproduce a person's smell from a piece of fabric.
"We take the person's clothing, we extract the smell, which represents more than fifty molecules, and in four days, we reconstitute it in the form of a perfume in an alcohol solution," URCOM's Geraldine Savary told AFP.
According to France's National Institute of Statistics and Economics Studies (INSEE), 560,000 people die each year in France — a figure that is expected to increase to 740,000 by 2045. Many businesses are already looking to cash in on the booming funeral market, including the company LIVESON, who, for a fee, will tweet for you after you die.
"When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting," says the company logo.
Now, with Apalategui's imminent product launch, when your heart stops beating, you will soon be able to keep smelling, too.
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho
Image via Florit0/Flickr