The smell of nostalgia. One that whiffs past you and immediately triggers a memory, an illustration of the past. Ben Gorham, founder of European luxury house, Byredo, was fascinated by this invisible medium and its ability to transport you to a far off place in time and space. Thus, Gorham set out to pioneer a brand that emotionally captures this idea of smell through fragrance. And now, 12 years since inception, Byredo is a world renowned line and fashion incubator for style and luxury.
So we sat down with Gorham to get a first glimpse of his temporary installation in Miami's Design District, to hear the story behind his journey of launching Byredo, and what local shoppers and international art collectors can expect to see with his newly launched capsule collection of leather goods and handbags.
Ben, tell us about founding Byredo.
BEN GORHAM: I had a lot of ideas about products, but mostly about emotions and being able to create things in my way. I felt like I had a unique perspective and I essentially started in fragrance. I was fascinated by this invisible medium, the fact that you could smell something that instantly transported you to a place. So, I embarked on a creative project that I called Byredo, where I translated specific memories into smells.
I had two choices at the time. Either to continue to do a more artistic project or create some type of commercial vehicle, so I can continue doing it. And that was the inception of the brand, in 2006. Since then, I’ve slowly, meticulously tweaked and refined not only the craft component of it, but also the expression and the narrative, always trying to keep it very personal and trying to get people to feel and react and relate to products in a personal way.
With a temporary installation in Miami's Design District, what new scented treats can locals and tourists look to find?
BG: I’m constantly working on new smells. I feel like there might be a million smells that I haven’t created yet, so there will be a launch of new smells in here and there will be a lot of unique product which I think will fit this market quite well.
Do you envision making this location permanent? And what neighborhood would you look to open a store in?
BG: Yes, I think I always did. I think there was a shortage of time in the confirmation of this, and with Art Basel and a lot of friends here from Europe and New York, I thought it would be more interesting to tell a different story.
I think the Design District is great, and I’ve watched it grow over the years, and I think there’s an obvious luxury context. There’s also really interesting young brands and there’s an alternative vibe that I think is needed in Miami. So it was very deliberate to focus on the Design District.
Your pop-up stores often offer an immersive experience. In Paris, the décor was entirely created from Swedish pine and it mimicked the form of a cool California camping store. What immersive experience can locals look forward to experiencing at the Miami pop-up?
BG: I think the smells are a journey in itself that I encourage people to take, in this attempt to find something that truly speaks to them. I think we probably have 25 fragrances, so there’s a lot of variety. It could be quite demanding in terms of time, but our staff are trained in a way to help you navigate that. I think we’ve been able to create very relatively unique silhouettes for bags that have been very appreciated.
Then, I think in terms of the installation, the photography is the immersion in this. It’s very personal.
Tell me about launching your newest scent, Eleventh Hour, which inhibits the idea of the last fragrance on earth.
BG: Eleventh Hour is probably an exploration more about geography and some idea of the apocalypse, oddly enough. It was imagining the flooding of the earth and imagining where people would seek refuge, and it would probably be the highest point on earth. So, in my thesis, the highest point on earth would be the last point on earth and I set out to create the last perfume ever, picking raw materials from this region in the Himalayan Mountains and opposing a perfume, largely based on this Szechuan pepper.
Ben, you have a strong connection to memory and your perfumes and candles are often created from your scent memory. Tell me about the process from memory to candle.
BG: I’m constantly jotting down and creating notes on smells and reflections I may have. When they’re strong enough, I create what I call a brief, which is completely comprised of various components, visuals, texts, poetry, music, objects, and ingredients. And then I present the perfumer with this brief. From this brief, the perfumer creates a first version and if it captures even just a part of the emotion, we start the process of modifications. Basically tweaking the scent. That’s the tedious part of making a perfume. Sometimes we have over 100 iterations and we go back and forth. Then, hopefully we reach a point where emotionally we feel like it captures the idea. And then we make a candle.
You created one candle coined Chai, which was inspired by your memories of being a child in India sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen making chai. Paint us a picture of your memory and how it inspired the candle?
BG: It’s quite literal. Tea is very ceremonial in many parts of the world, but specifically in India. Chai is a tea comprised of black tea and milk, and also a spice blend and sugar. It can be quite unique for people the way they like to make it. And my grandmother would always make this, and it’s just a very vivid, comforting memory of a smell associated to someone who was very close to me. This is something that has been with me, at one point even in my notes.
If you had to create a candle from your memory of opening your pop-up this week—and Miami—what would it smell like and what would it be named?
BG: Super hard! I think this installation was so much about wood so it was virtually like a saw mill in here getting this structure built. And that warm smell of freshly cut wood is quite specific. When it comes to Miami, it’s way too diverse to funnel into one smell. It’s a really unique place in America; there’s so much culture and connection of culture to Latin America and South America. There’s a vibe here that’s special. The only thing I know for sure is that Miami probably doesn’t smell like any other place in America.
I would call it: Ocean Drive.
Rewinding, you originally partnered with perfumer Pierre Wulff in addition to Olivia Giacobetti and Jerome Epinette, to originally help you create the composition of your line. Tell me the story of how it all began.
BG: I had just graduated from art school in Stockholm. I had quit my professional career as a basketball player and I met Pierre by chance, who’s a perfumer, and we had a very interesting discussion about creative possibilities around smell. And this was where I initially asked them to help me recreate some very personal memories of smell. And it wasn’t more than that at first, it was really a creative project. And I think in that project, I became not only fascinated but obsessed about smell. In realizing those smells and showing them to people I started to have the feeling that maybe this could exist in a bigger capacity. That was 12 years ago.
Born in Sweden, did you always see yourself with a career in the beauty industry?
BG: No, I think I was relatively interested in fashion but I think it was probably vanity and identifying with wanting to look a certain way. I was always very interested in style. But as I was a typical jock, I was completely singular in my vision, which was play basketball and play NBA.
If you could remember, what was the first scent you ever smelled that remains in your memory bank and do you ever see yourself making a perfume or candle with it?
BG: I made the first smell which was this place in India where my mother was born and raised, which was a perfume. It smells like an incense.
Highly recognized around the world, the creative equity of your brand has been interpreted by other brands as well. How does that feel and do you see yourself starting a butterfly effect in the world of fashion, style, and beauty?
BG: I think initially there was some frustration maybe because of creative integrity, but I started to realize that it was inspiring and it was also a reflection of our success. So, I learned to live with it and I think our clients have a very authentic relationship to our products and our brands so you can copy portions of it. But it’s always going to be different. I think, don’t worry about it too much and probably in contract, quite glad that we’ve been able to impact culture and trend in a way that’s significant.
Tell us about collaborating with renowned British fashion photographer, Craig McDean, and your latest collaboration with OFF-WHITE.
BG: Both were friends. Craig and I have known each other for many years. I worked with him on several projects but about a year and ago I found an old book of his, and I asked if I could see the outtakes from when he shot. They were amazing images and even a film that nobody had seen. I asked if I could use them to inspire a bag collection which was inspired by drag racing in the Bible Belt. And as we shared this appreciation for cars, he said sure and it became a project where I translated the traditional pin striping techniques of painting cars to leather making techniques which are essentially cutting and sawing, so it was translating two different mediums into a new product.
And earlier this spring I launched another project with a good friend of mine, Virgil [Abloh], who has a brand called OFF-WHITE. We’ve known each other for nine years and virtually always talked about collaborating. Virgil and I had this idea, as we both make very expressive products, that we would flip the approach and create this idea of a product in the background as an accessory to someone’s life. And we came up with a space that we called elevated music. And we made bags, t-shirts, denim, fragrance, and hair perfume.
Having tremendous success with fragrance, you've launched leather goods as well. Tell us about branching into leather goods and accessories?
BG: I was quite fascinated with leather and the craft associated with leather so I started travelling to Italy to the craftsmen working through these processes. And then I initially designed a travel collection for myself because I pretty much live on airplanes. And it wasn’t functional at all. So I scaled them down into women’s handbags. I wanted to make a simple, well-made bag, but I wanted women to be able to wear it across the street and still be recognizable by the silhouette.
What are your plans for the future, to continue to act as an incubator for change and beauty in the fashion world?
BG: I think beauty and even luxury, we hope to contribute to a level of inclusiveness. I think our following is noticeably younger, maybe because the nature of the brand. And I hope we continue to surprise and evolve.
The Byredo pop-up is open now through May 31, 2019 at 161 NE. 40th Street.
Photography by World Red Eye