Byredo Makeup Interview

Maintaining a brand vision while expanding into new product categories is a daunting challenge for any company. Byredo—the niche fragrance house founded by Ben Gorham that has already ventured into leather goods, footwear, and an upcoming Ikea candle range—has made strategic decisions that have seen the company expand its reach whilst still maintaining a very cohesive aesthetic and identity. Their latest launch, Byredo Makeup, is a striking collaboration with trailblazing makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench.

“About three years ago I came across her work, which I was extremely drawn to, primarily because of the creative vision, but also this notion that she was, in a sense, an outsider in her industry, which I related to a lot and is how I perceived our initial journey in the fragrance world. I think that outsider perspective was something I felt we shared,” Gorham states. “We eventually met through a common friend and began a dialogue and had random meetings, sometimes in the back of cars between shows in Paris and London. It created this discussion about the idea that color could be an important pillar at Byredo. It was this dialogue that cemented the idea that she would be perfect for this project.”

Given Gorham’s and Ffrench’s equally unconventional segue into the industry (Gorham is a Fine Arts graduate while Ffrench studied 3D and Product Design), everything from the conception of the range to the launch has been a departure from the traditional codes of the beauty business. The first image teasing the launch was a CGI rendition of a coral and green face by artist Jesse Kanda. The collection itself is a completely unisex range of vegan formulas housed in sculptural packaging, boasting a kaleidoscopic shade range (metallic aqua blues, vivid oranges, dark pinks) and multi-functional color products. There is a clear focus on the artistic possibilities of face painting and feature enhancement, rather than correction via way of complexion products.

Upon release in October 2020, Byredo Makeup was lauded for its bold and artistic approach, reigniting a passion for makeup and even changing the face of modern beauty. Gorham sat down with BeautyMatter to reflect on the collaboration process, the influence of Gen Z and social media on the collection, and the future beauty consumer.

How would you describe the collaborative process and striking that special balance between conservative/conventional and unwearable makeup?

First of all, it was important for both Isamaya and I to begin the project in a non-conventional way. We were both clear we wanted to create something different, something that wasn’t the cookie-cutter approach to makeup and beauty. 

We didn’t put any restrictions on the process at all and instead led from a color perspective. Isamaya began this incredible color research project, where she would take images, photographs from magazines, CGI, paintings, and take an individual pixel of color from it that she liked. Then we would sit together and go through them, picking out the colors that spoke to us in some way. The colors and function of the products then led to the packaging and design, as this was just as important to me, to create something beautiful and unique. 

Being conservative or conventional was not something we thought about, but having said that, we have ensured that the colors are for everyone. So you have colors like the khaki and orange in the color sticks, which are slightly more unusual, but you also have more earthy colors too. What was important to us was to produce products for self-expression. 

What made you focus on the adornment and color aspect of cosmetics rather than correctional or completion products?

It again goes back to the tools for self-expression. Once you get into foundations and then skincare, you’re looking at very technical solutions for people. And I don’t think we’re at that point yet. We’re at the point of inspiring and encouraging people to play with the makeup. Will we get there? Yeah, we might. But for now, we’re here, and within this color arena, we still have a lot of stories to tell and things to explore.

What inspired the packaging design?

The shape and design really reflect the function and use of each of the products. I interpreted Isamaya’s universe into these physical objects. There is an alien quality to them, but there is also this idea of being completely timeless. They reference ancient artifacts and yet are completely modern at the same time. This was definitely the ambition in this project. The other was to design shapes that really consider the person’s hand and this tactility that relates to the form, weight, and even the magnet fastenings. It’s a complex process with many variables, but in the end, it’s about something you feel and that approach to design as an emotion.

How did you decide on the specific scent for each product?

There is a scent for the lipsticks and there were two references in my mind. One was this vintage lipstick of my mother from the ’80s and ’90s with that violet component and a contemporary scent of vanilla, with its raw material called vanillin. I wanted to create something new and still wanted to incorporate those two scents, those two memories I had of makeup smells. So we made something a bit more sophisticated and still subtle in nature, plus added some fruity and floral undertones to that. 

What were some of the challenges of capturing the essence of Byredo in cosmetic form and, as a crossover brand, claiming an authentic space in the oversaturated beauty market?

One of the things I felt when I looked at makeup as a product and a market was quite similar to fragrance when I started. It was huge in terms of scale, but creativity and innovation was something that had taken a back seat to very commercial and formulaic ways of launching and developing a product. I didn’t and still don’t, feel any restrictions when launching a cross-category product. With makeup, I had thought about developing it for a long while, but not wearing makeup myself, it took me some time to find the right approach, and meeting Isamaya enabled this to come to life. 

How would you describe the USP of Byredo Makeup?

Color for Self-Expression.

Gen Z and social media were also mentioned as particular influences on this collection. How do you see the brand catering to the beauty consumer of today (and the future)?

What I love about Instagram is that the response is instant: you post and people react. I love to see people tagging us, seeing how people use our products. It is literally an insight into someone’s home and personal behaviors. This is meaningful to me—seeing how real people use and relate to our products. We have connected with some awesome new talent and I have personally had a chance to connect to that world in a way I didn’t know before. I think what’s important for us at Byredo is to continue to have this open and honest dialogue with consumers on social media and this is something we want to develop more in the future.

How have you been able to channel the brand’s modern ethos into marketing elements such as campaign imagery, retail strategy, etc.? 

We have a strong philosophy at Byredo in terms of not following conventions or trends. When we were trying to work out how we would launch, we agreed that we didn’t want to have a picture of a girl in lipstick or in eye makeup or whatever, because choosing a model in some way defines who our Byredo woman or man is and we really didn’t want to define that person. We wanted this to be a brand that has products that are really inspiring. Isamaya commissioned a 3D artist, Jesse Kanda, to create an image, which was an interesting process because it meant that we were trying to communicate the philosophy, aesthetic, and vision of the makeup into a 3D image. You’re trying to create something else that carries the message and philosophy of the brand in a completely new way, and I think the image is really new, fresh, and open to interpretation.

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