No one expected Ben Gorham to bottle magic when he launched the fragrance brand Byredo 15 years ago. The pro-basketball-play-er-turned-art-school-student had no experience in an industry dominated by luxury conglomerates with centuries of history, so he enlisted respected perfumer Jérôme Epinette to craft his vision.
For Gorham, Byredo’s fragrances are deeply personal and nostalgic: His first scent conjured memories of his absent father with notes of sage, jasmine, violet and musk, and his second, a blend of temple incense, amber, ginger and bergamot, was inspired by the Mumbai suburb where his mother was born. Through the veil of memory, Gorham created something immediately relevant and unlike anything put out by legacy fashion houses.
Not surprisingly, Byredo grew from a cult brand to an industry darling, even collaborating on scents with the likes of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack in recent years. As his brand has gained respect in the fashion world, Gorham has ventured out into other categories: first, leather goods and purses, then jewelry, makeup and grooming products.
In 2019, Gorham launched a new line, ByProduct, to house his non-olfactory creations. The line has produced suits, sneakers, eyewear, wallets, jeans and home goods, among other things. Additionally, Gorham has recently collaborated with a wide range of brands on non-Byredo products, including a line of affordable candles with Ikea, adventure gear with Peak Performance, a table with La Manufacture and a collection of surf-inspired clothing with Stockholm (Surfboard) Club.
While fragrance is still the core of Byredo’s business, Gorham’s unique perspective is making waves in an array of other seemingly untouchable categories. Reflecting on a decade and a half of helming Byredo, Gorham shares how he approaches these new products and the lessons learned along the way.
You started Byredo with little experience in the fragrance world and created a range of unique scents — how has your relationship to creating new fragrances changed with 15 years of experience?
It’s funny when I think about it as my approach hasn’t dramatically changed. What has changed is what I know about the fabrication of a fragrance, the technical details. Not knowing what to begin with was an asset, one of the many joys of being an outsider. I had no framework, which also meant I had no constraints. I wanted to create moments in time linked to memory or emotion, which may not have been possible if I had years of experience in an industry that often starts from a marketing approach to developing new products.
Did your experience in art school inform your approach to fragrance?
Art school was kind of a time of rebirth in my life. I knew I wasn’t conventionally academic from my schoolboy days, and my basketball journey had abruptly ended because of bureaucracy. Everything I thought I would do with my life drastically changed when I was in my twenties. Going to art school allowed me to recalibrate that experience, and what came out of it was a chance encounter with a perfumer [Epinette] I still work with to this day — and the opportunity to express myself in a way that would have never occurred to me if it wasn’t for that part of my journey.
How does fragrance allow you to express memories and emotions better than other products?
Smell is obviously not the only sense that will somewhat unwittingly bring a memory or emotion into someone’s consciousness, but it is un- deniably potent. For the most part, people can’t remember where they put their keys or parked their car, yet a whiff of jasmine or coffee or rose will transport them immediately to a moment filed deep in their subconscious. The fact that scent is intangible and subjective is so attractive to me. I am creating fragrances from my own memories that will ultimately reveal memories in the minds of others, which is where I find the most joy in Byredo.
As the brand has grown, have the inspirations for fragrances changed from personal memories to a wider vision, or is it still a singular perspective?
Byredo has allowed me to visit so many countries and collaborate with some of the world’s most creative people. It’s definitely diversified my approach to fragrance and enriched the experiences that I can draw from. So has the times we are living through, the good and the bad. Mixed Emotions was inspired by the idea that it’s okay to not be okay. Open Sky was born from a longing to experience that trepidation and excitement between departure and destination, when I took the longest break from travel that I have had in years. The perspective is ever-evolving but never lacking inspiration.
When did you have the impulse to expand into other product categories — was it a challenge to apply the same perspective to cosmetics or grooming products?
From the beginning, my approach to the fragrance game was different to anything else on the market. Byredo began as a journey around scent, but memories and emotions are really the heart of the brand. And inevitably that often led me to want to create products that weren’t fragrances or candles or body care, which is how our leather goods and footwear and collaborations with Off-White and Craig McDean came about.
Cosmetics was something more deliberate. I had always felt that there could be a visual manifestation of Byredo and that it should be disruptive. And looking at the industry as an outsider, it was ripe for disruption. Beauty is ultimately subjective, yet the makeup industry is built around dictating what is beautiful and what you should look like. Byredo makeup had to totally reject that notion, which is why we created a tool box of colors and textures for people to express themselves.
How do you decide which products to approach in the ByProduct line?
Without sounding too esoteric, the products come to me quite organically. Our creative ambition is really to connect with people — and I have never wanted to limit what those could be. ByProduct is a physical exploration of this belief, from eyewear to beach towels to vases to picnic baskets. It’s about constantly discovering what Byredo can be.
How does your design approach change when collaborating with outdoors brands like Peak Performance or Stockholm (Surfboard) Club?
I am working with very different teams on these projects, and there are very different roles for the products we create. What is always the same is that I love to be surrounded by people who know more than me about the topic — I learn the rules from them so I can break them a bit.
What inspires you?
We will launch 12 ByProducts in total this year, which inspires me greatly. To have the freedom to constantly apply my creativity to new mediums is extremely satisfying. And to see makeup being launched across the globe in such a radical way and being embraced so thoroughly, it’s the best possible fuel to keep creating.