Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
Standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall and covered in tattoos, perfumer Ben Gorham doesn’t strike one as the conventional type. Then again, neither are his fragrances. BYREDO, which only has 12 stockists worldwide including a flagship store in its place of origin, Stockholm, certainly does the ‘niche’ in niche perfumery more than justice.
Thriving on a Swedish minimalist aesthetic, the look of each fragrance is uniformly sleek and modern—or perhaps it is down to the fact that the creations don’t need fussy packaging or advertising to sell themselves. Since 2006, Gorham’s brand has put forth fragrances that focus on the quality, not quantity, of raw materials used, nonetheless resulting in wonderfully complex constructions. The latest are Black Saffron, an oriental composition based around the costly spice and omnipresent element of his Indian upbringing, Bullion, an interlacing of pink pepper and black plum with a symphony of rare musk and wood ingredients, and—in tune with 2012—Apocalyptic, a wood fragrance composed of fire iron, black raspberry, oak moss and birch.
In the following interview, Gorham discusses his transition from Fine Arts student to head of his own perfume label and the challenges that come with it, collaborations with the likes of M/M (Paris) and what otherwordly territories he hopes to demistify through fragrance next.
The name BYREDO is derived from an Old English term for evoking scent and the first creations were made DIY in your own home. Did you want to bring romance back into this multi-billion pound mass industry, or was it just an instinctual decision?
I think there was always an element of romance or poetry in my approach but in terms of choosing the name it was a very practical process. I wanted something that reflected the nature of my project but was also unique. Plus I was able to register the .com which was extremely important seven years ago!
You speak about “bringing together the best of old and new” in your brand. What are the advantages of the old perfume industry and the one we have today, respectively?
The advantages of the old perfume school is that it was focused on very beautiful, unique raw materials as opposed to today’s industry where I find beautiful perfume ideas are buried under seventy or eighty raw materials. The new part in BYREDO has been the compositions and the simplicity of the fragrances, as well as the approach to product and distribution.
Is having only a small number of stockists the idea of rarity increasing desirability; should there be a certain aspect of elitism to perfume?
The choice to work with a few select stockists was more based on their ability to sell the ideas of the products that I created, and those stockists were actually very limited. I wasn’t strategic enough to connect the idea of rarity to desirability but it was always very clear for me that the elitist view of the perfume industry did not apply to BYREDO. My idea today is really that these products are for anybody who can appreciate them.
How was your reception within the industry as a Fine Arts graduate without any formal training?
There were some challenges in the beginning and many questions in regards to my lack of pedigree. But I think the products spoke for themselves and it’s really been the one thing that’s transcended the industry’s traditional framework.
What has been the biggest challenge of creating perfume?
When I initially started there were technical limitations because of my know-how. Today, it’s more in terms of running a decent-sized business which comes with its own complications.
You have done collaborations with Fantastic Man, Acne and M/M (Paris). Fashion, art, perfume — how do they all in your mind correlate to one another?
In terms of collaborations I thought it would be interesting, since I lacked a background in perfume but had a very specific idea, to invite other people into that creative process. Both Fantastic Man and Acne were built on that idea. M/M (Paris) has been more of an ongoing partnership, they are very much helping me clarify my idea. I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with such talented people.
What is the one smell you would like to capture in a fragrance which has not been done yet?
It used to be apocalypse, but now that I have done it I am more interested in space, outer space.
What is the new fragrance you are working on at the moment?
I am very much about the smell of gardens and landscapes right now. It is an ongoing project I hope to finish by the summer.
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