Scent of Space: Odette Toilette's olfactory journey through the solar system

Friday, 28 June 2013

Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex

Last night at London's Royal Institution, fragrance artist Odette Toilette teamed up with Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, to take guests on a tour of what the universe might smell like.

Orion Nebula

Ethyl formate, one of the ingredients found in space, is one of the flavours that makes up raspberry, and was used to illustrate the scent of the Orion Nebula, along with ethyl aceto acetate, a material that smells of apples laced with rum.

Orion Nebula


The large amounts of sulphur dioxide in Venus's atmosphere suggest that the planet could well smell of rotten eggs, in which sulphur dioxide is a major component. To suggest a more palatable representation of Venus's scent, Odette handed out samples of Cassifix, a cassis (blackcurrant) fragrance material with a sulphurous note that makes it smell quite greasy and olive-like.

Space Dust

The smell of cosmic dust can be traced to benzaldehyde, which has the smell of almond oil, and reminds most people of Bakewell Tarts.

A magnified grain of cosmic dust. Image by J. Freitag and S. Messenge, via


Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a surface scattered with pebbles of frozen water, which are rounded by the liquid methane and ethane that rain onto the ground. To represent the smell of Titan's pebbles, Odette selected cade oil, which has a tarry, oily smell and is made from juniper. Mixed at 1% dilution, the scent has notes of peat, whisky, Lapsang tea and even smoky bacon crisps.

The smells of Earth-like worlds

Italian fragrance brand Fluidounce has released a collection called nu_be comprising five scents inspired by the five building blocks of space: hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen and lithium.

nu_be Carbon

Creating "an evocation rather than a reproduction," Hydrogen smells like quinine, citrus, mandarin and bergamot, and has a fizzy texture to it. The overall smell is similar to that of a gin & tonic.

Carbon, meanwhile, has notes of graphite, chilli, and cold spices such as ginger and cardamom. A creamy woodiness comes in from sandalwood.

Lune de Givre by Cloon Keen Atelier

Made by Irish perfumers Cloon Keen Atelier, Lune de Givre is inspired by the Moon and smells of galbanum, green root and bay leaf.
Stephen Jones by Commes Des Garçons

The final scent of the evening, Stephen Jones by Commes Des Garçons was created in collaboration with milliner Stephen Jones. The smell is described as "a violet that hits a meteorite" and the fragrance contains cloves, carnation, rose, violet leaf, black cumin and amber.

Homebuildlife subscribers can read more about innovations in scent in our recent report, The Olfactive Project: sending scent.