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Clever clothes that react with smell

By Julie Clothier for CNN

The "smart second skin" dress in action.





United States

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Of all the senses, smell is the most important to Jenny Tillotson.

It makes sense then that the British designer has dedicated much of her career researching the importance of scents and incorporating them into art.

Now, she is using her research and combining it with technology to create clothes and brooches that give off their own smell.

A far cry from the primitive-in-comparison "scratch and sniff" concept, Tillotson says her work is "about a new way of delivering scent in clothing."

Inspired by the superhero Spiderman, she began working on the "smart second skin" in 1997, as part of her postgraduate doctorate studies at London's Royal College of Art.

The dress has dozens of tiny tubes embedded into the design, which reacts to changes in the body's temperature, gives off a spray of perfume.

"It might be that the wearer is stressed, having a panic attack, their heart might be racing. The dress reacts to this and gives off a calming scent."

It can also be used as a fun device, she says, at parties when the wearer is trying to attract a lover.

Possible uses for her concept in future include medicine and the military, she says. "The clothing could detect when the wearer needs Ventolin if they are an asthmatic. That's the long-term potential," she says.

Eventually the concept will be subtle, and the technology will be discreetly woven into the fibres of the clothing.

She has also developed a set of two brooches that communicate with each other, the first reacts to breath and sends a message to the other to release a smell.

Her "scent by a wireless web" is a message communication tool, she says, which may be useful for visually and hearing impaired people whose sense of smell is often strong.

"It is a novel idea but it has a lot of potential. Smell is the most primitive sense and can remind us of all sorts of early memories, from school to our grandmother's house."

Tillotson says she is particularly interested in the "science of smell" and is not a "perfume junkie," at all.

"I'm interested in pheromones. It is a very futuristic concept but I do think it will take off."

The idea to explore scent came about almost 15 years ago when she was creating a "sensory" book as part of her undergraduate studies.

The one sense she was unable to recreate in the book was smell, and so she set about aiming to. Finally, she says, technology has caught up with her idea, making it possible to turn into a reality.

She is working with two scientists, Dr Gareth Jenkins, from Britain, and Prof Andreas Manz, from Germany, to develop the "smart second skin" dress further.

Now based in France with her fashion designer husband and three children, Tillotson has big plans for her concept and is hoping to get funding to carry out more research in the United States.

She is also a senior research fellow in fashion and textile at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design's Innovation Centre, in London.

And her personal favorite smell? "The crown of a new-born baby. It's the most unique smell ever and one that none of the fragrance houses have been able to recreate."

"It serves its own purpose to de-stress new mums and dads by releasing the hormone oxytocin. It only lasts for three weeks though."

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