The sock that stops your feet smelling

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There are some inventions which transform human existence as it has hitherto been lived or endured. To the aircraft, the computer and the nose-hair clipper must now be added socks-which-don't-smell.

Two French clothes manufacturers have begun - with mixed success - to market socks, underclothes and sports-wear treated with chemicals which kill the bacteria generated by human sweat.

A third company has produced another twist on the same idea, knickers and brassieres which do smell but sweetly - of pink grapefruit, water- melon and spices.

According to one of the largest French market-research companies, Cofremca, consumers in France and elsewhere are increasingly preoccupied with smells and how to avoid them. The firm predicts a rapidly expanding market for "bio-active" garments, an idea first developed in Japan.

It appears that human sweat is not, in itself, smelly. It is only when broken down by bacteria that it begins to make its presence known. The smell-resistant socks and knickers, on sale in France since last summer, are made from fibres impregnated with chemicals which keep bacteria below a nasally critical level. According to their manufacturers, the efficacy of the garments increases, not decreases, every time they are washed.

The head of one of the companies, Jean Fournier, of Mailfix, say that sales are good and market research suggests that there is a "latent demand" for products of this kind. But retailers remain cautious, reporting that the increased cost of the non-smelly clothes - up to 40 per cent extra - puts off some consumers.

A collection of pre-scented undergarments produced by Neyret - claimed as a first - will be only 10 per cent more expensive than usual. The clothes are dotted with tiny embroidered roses which contain micro-capsules of scent. As the clothes rub against the body, the pleasant odour is released in subliminal doses.

The new line will be released just before St Valentine's Day on 14 February.