For those interested in space travel — or who have at least watched Interstellar or Alien one too many times — it’s easy to get caught up on what floating through zero gravity would feel like. What’s less discussed is the smell. Astronauts have long reported the scent of gunpowder, ozone, and burnt steak in their helmets and the confines of the International Space Station, but more recently, a report on what other scents might exist has been making the internet rounds.
Because space itself is a vacuum, humans can’t get a true whiff of hydrogen sulfide (which smells like rotting eggs), gasoline, and even alcohol, based on what we know about the molecular makeup of the cosmos — not exactly what anyone would embrace as their signature perfume. That’s why we asked four expert perfumers to imagine what the dark, forbidden abyss could smell like. From raw leather to metal, ahead are their fictional scents of the galaxy — that don’t include overcooked meat.
Technically, Meabh McCurtin, master perfumer for Maison Margiela REPLICA, has already made Under the Stars Eau de Toilette, which was inspired by the enigma of the dark and infinite sky. “When you look up at an open sky full of stars there is a feeling of awe — that is what I wanted to transcribe with this fragrance,” she says. She selected the top notes of black pepper and cinnamon-leaf essence that she says “carry a spiritual dimension” while adding the element of untamed nature.
But when we approached November Nichols, owner of Chémin, with this thought exercise, she says she thinks of “a scent that embodies the vast, mysterious expanse of the cosmos” that includes shimmering top notes that are “reminiscent of the cold, steely touch of a meteorite.” “Cosmic aldehydes [notes that can give a fragrance a soapy or metallic property] add a sparkling, almost effervescent quality, mimicking the sensation of stardust glittering in the infinite darkness,” she says.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux — Givaudan’s vice president of perfumery and the nose behind Eauso Vert’s newest scent, Fruto Oscuro — has also previously looked into space smells, specifically the metallic and burnt notes (but not the sulfur-eggy ones, he says). This research unearthed an intense, steely ingredient called Rosyrane, which could work in our pretend perfume, he says, to “remind you of electricity or a fizzled-out electrical fuse.”
For Frank Voelkl, principal perfumer at Firmenich, capturing the smell of floating in the galaxy is all about “being weightless and fluffy, translucent textures.” He says he would translate the coldness of space in ozonic airy and fresh notes, light florals, and sheer woods. McCurtin’s heart notes of the REPLICA scent Under the Stars are also woody with the essences of earthy Cypriol and Virginian cedarwood.
Here’s where we might get slightly burnt-meat-adjacent. The base notes of Under the Stars include leather and a smoky Oud infusion that McCurtin says “capture the mystical night surrounded by stars.” Similarly, Flores-Roux’s rendition of an intergalactic scent contained Opoponax resin for a rich, toasty note that he says “was so pronounced that it’s unearthly.” He called the result a UFO, or an unidentified fragrant object.
Nichols, meanwhile, says she pictures the base notes as “dark-matter musk and void vetiver” to represent the universe’s unseen forces. “The scent of space is a harmonious blend of the unknown and the familiar, a scent that feels both alien and intimately connected to the human soul,” she says.