Evolutionary Scents: Lucy McRae's Swallowable Parfum
As a non-visual mode of communication, body odor plays a significant role in perceptions of self-identity, the identification of others, and the social and psychological aspects of interpersonal exchange. What is more, it is a reflection of our genetic make-up, state of health and our environment. The use of perfume to mask or control body odor is a long-established practice extending from early civilisations. Sprayed on the skin, perfume is understood to stimulate mood or memory, effect cognitive performance or confidence, and even influence sexual attraction. Modern advances in manufacturing technologies however are producing a shift in methods of fragrance delivery. From conventional sprays we are moving toward microencapsulated garments and sensory fashion designs that respond to biometric measures such as heart rate or body temperature. Against this background of technological innovation in fashion and beauty practices, self-labeled ‘body architect’ Lucy McRae has developed the Swallowable Parfum (2011). In its concept phase, McRae’s Swallowable Parfum proposes users will release a unique genetic scent ‘synthesised from the body’s natural processes’, emitted through perspiration. Crossing the dermal threshold, Swallowable Parfum internalises what has previously been an external bodily practice. Can McRae’s project be seen simply as an evolution of technological advances predicated on cosmetic surgical procedures that transform the body? Or does such a product have real potential to render subjects alien from their biological selves, and produce crises in relations with others? This paper will explore these possibilities, including the prospect that Swallowable Parfum could create a revised “epidermic self-awareness,” transcending its own difference to create a new, even if synthesised, embodied subjectivity.
Beauty: Exploring Critical Issues
Sociology and Social Studies of Science and Technology