As you might expect, the life of Byredo Ben Gorham’s brain is hectic.
When, after many round trips with his team, I finally corner him on a cloudy afternoon in his studio in Stockholm, he tells me that he “has just made two round trips to Paris, back to back”. Once we’re done, he will return to work on the launch of his next highly anticipated new fragrance, Mumbai Noise. His schedule is – it’s safe to say – busy. But if that suggests a man who could talk a million miles an hour, anxious to move on, luckily the opposite is true. Gorham is calm, thoughtful, thoughtful and unhurried: our conversation almost doubled the allotted time.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given the contemplative nature that is the essence of his business. Born in Stockholm, the brand started out as a group of minimally decorated candles and scents designed “to translate very specific personal memories into scent,” says Gorham. And such founding fragrances such as Bal D’Afrique (inspired by days spent browsing his father’s travel diaries) and Flowerhead (a blooming sparkle he imagined enveloping his own fictional Indian wedding) still fill the shelves of most customers. demanding of beauty today. .
Fifteen years after its conception, the packaging remains unchanged, but Byredo has evolved into something much bigger. With stores in London, the United States, France, China, South Korea, Russia and Spain, Gorham’s vision now spans everything from color cosmetics to many “by-products”, which include leather goods, eyewear, housewares, clothing, and even larger-than-life products. picnic baskets. Influential “friends and family” such as Travis Scott, Ikea and Virgil Abloh flock to collaborate on limited edition collections, and vocal fans range from the photographic duo Inez & Vinoodh to Kris Van Assche, Kate Beckinsale and Steve Aoki.
A career in perfume has not always been Gorham’s vocation. Born to a Canadian father and an Indian mother, on his way to 6 feet 5 inches, he aspired to travel the world shooting hoops. “I consider my career to be two lifetimes,” he admits. “My first life started around seven or eight years old, when I started playing basketball and dreaming of being a professional player, which in all honesty was my goal until my mid-twenties.” Unfortunately, due to immigration challenges things did not go as planned and Gorham ‘went from knowing one thing and believing in one thing to realizing overnight that I had to reapply and reinvent myself ”. Disillusioned, he oscillates between wanting to move towards architecture and interior design and getting up to work on construction sites at 4:30 am. Finally, “I ended up going back to school, but this time to art school because I was vaguely interested in creative expression.”
Although he fell in love with acrylic work at the Stockholm Art School, a chance encounter with influential perfumer Pierre Wulff changed everything. “I became very fascinated by the idea that an invisible medium can paint such vivid images, so I started a creative project. This company became Byredo, a mixture of the words “par” and “redolence”, meaning “a sweet or pleasant smell”.
Avoiding traditional and often highly sexualized fragrance marketing, Gorham’s inexperience with scent and alien status led to designs that seemed to strike a chord with the avant-garde crowd. “Sometimes industry executives limit creativity. It has become our disruptive model of doing things that are meaningful to us. We have shown that you can create a global brand by being completely different from anything out there. ‘ Although luck helped a bit too, he says. “We were also able to ride a wave of change in the market. People have gone from wanting to look and smell like everyone else to using fashion and beauty as tools for self-expression and individuality.
“There are parts of my story that I need to clarify: influences that I need people to understand”
Being an outsider is something Gorham enjoys in a physical sense as well. When not moving between towns at the Byredo Clock, he is based in Stockholm with his wife, Natasha, and two young daughters, Inez and Anouk, who enjoy escaping to their home on the island. neighbor of Gotland where there is almost no telephone signal. and many outdoor activities. “I lived a very physical life thanks to sports and when I started the company I became an office rat. I was missing something for many years, and about six or seven years ago I discovered outdoor culture, which is weird when you’re in your 30s. I started to find a really interesting balance in my life between creative work and this freedom, this state of mind where I was completely open to ideas and reflections. What I thought was some kind of midlife crisis turned out to be a healthy linchpin in my way of life.
Among other things, it is this connection to the land that gave Gorham a reason to rethink the brand’s sustainability strategy. “The idea of buying less and buying better has always been a key philosophy for us, but what has changed in recent years is that we have become more aware of pollution, chemicals and to materials in general. We’re in the middle of a big project to figure out how a beauty brand can achieve a much higher level of sustainability. It’s like starting from scratch. We approach it by asking ourselves: how do we build this from scratch today if we knew what we know now? It takes financial sacrifice, it takes work, and it forces us to put our business, our supply chain and our industry in the right frame of mind. I hope we can lead the way in the next few years.
This week, Gorham returns to his roots with the launch of the aforementioned Mumbai Noise, a fragrance inspired by his mother, who grew up in the city. “After 15 years, I think there are parts of my story that I still feel I need to clarify, influences that I have talked about and that I need to make sure people understand.” The warm, musky and powdery scent is an ode to his “ancestral history”, “his childhood memories of Mumbai” and “how the city has evolved” since he knew her as a child. Covid forced Gorham to “relinquish some level of control” over the project, which he admits had a positive effect. “In the end, it made this project even purer, more authentic and more astonishing.”
Representing and celebrating diversity has always been an integral part of the process, says Gorham. “When I founded Byredo, it was clear in my mind that being multicultural, biracial, the brand had to be inclusive in that sense as well. ”
So, are celebrations for the Big Five? ‘[There’s] not so many celebrations at the moment. I think that’s one of the troubles of being an entrepreneur – that you’re always impatient, rarely take the opportunity to sit down and enjoy or study your work past. This is something I have to do better. Some days it feels like there’s a whole life, and some days, several days, it feels like we’ve just started.