Italian scent expert gives e-mail new sense

A love letter that gives off a scent of roses or cyclamen? A wake-up message from the boss impregnated with the odour of the ocean? Information communication technology could be given a whole new dimension if the brain-child of an Italian master perfumer -- scented e-mails -- gets off the ground.

"This is not just a flash in the pan. Our work on the olfactive side is well advanced. We are not a software company, but we are in contact with researchers working in this field and are always open to the possibility of new technological partnerships," said Lorenzo Dante Ferro, a creator of perfume with a studio in the village of Gradiscutta di Varmo near Venice.

Ferro, who founded his perfume company Lorenzo Dante Ferro SNC in 1982, believes scented e-mails could become a widely available reality at an acceptable cost. Scent cartridges could be attached to the serial port of a personal computer and spray microdrops of perfume into the air on the arrival of a scented e-mail, he said. Alternatively, the scent cartridges could be incorporated into printers so that a pleasant odour is released when recipients print out their scented mail.

The writer who wants to add an extra something special to his or her electronic missive would click on a "scent mail" icon on their Internet browser and then be able to choose a scent from a menu of possible flavors, Ferro said. "We would offer relatively simple but distinct scents such as rose, sweet orange, sandalwood or green apple," he said. "A cartridge containing 30 to 40 scents would offer the possibility of blending them to produce the smell of the sea or the mountains, the odor of a forest or of the tropics."

Ferro has no doubt that the service is technically achievable and believes it could be modelled on the ink-jet technology used for color printing. "There will have to be some modifications, but I don't believe it's impossible. The technology used for colour printing was not easy to develop but they managed it," he said.

Ferro had the idea after being commissioned to perfume a series of concerts by the Italian rapper Jovanotti. "It was just a matter of moving from the macro to the micro," he said. One of the most effective odors used at the Jovanotti concerts was that of talcum powder, released to coincide with a lullaby dedicated to Jovanotti's newborn son. "It made the whole experience that much more emotional," Ferro said.

As a perfume professional, Ferro believes that the sense of smell has been greatly neglected and deserves to be treated with the seriousness hitherto reserved for sound and vision. With a background in chemistry, he has worked in the US and Britain, as well as in Grasse, southern France, the capital of the world fragrance industry. Ferro has developed scents for clients ranging from an international hotel chain to a Swiss bank wanting to promote a new credit card.

"Olfactive memory has an enormous impact on our subconscious," he said. "Smell is the third dimension of human perception and has not been adequately exploited until now. Many people are put off by the austerity of modern information technology, this idea offers us a way of humanising it."

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