Ten minutes with the founder of Byredo
I was, and still am, kind of an outsider
There was something in the air these last few days on Rue Saint-Honoré…. An important milestone in the history of Byredo was being written there: the opening of its very first Parisian boutique. A few hours before its official inauguration during Paris Fashion Week, its founder Ben Gorham welcomed us into his new home with a smile, while his team was working out the final touches. Cultivating his position as an outsider for eleven years now, Ben Gorham has nothing to do with the conventional image of a perfumer. A graduate of applied arts and former basketball player, he counts among his friends the designer Virgil Abloh or the duo M/M Paris. Today, Byredo perfumes are among those objects that we collect religiously, and the brand has even ventured into the sphere of leather goods. And at the end of the day, that success is due to the charismatic, sometimes enigmatic character of Ben Gorham.
We are in your first store in Paris, which just opened during Fashion Week. Did you wait a long time to finally do it?
I did! I waited eleven years. I always imagined I would open a store in Paris but I would never have opened it on this street (Rue Saint-Honoré) as long as colette existed. It was one of the first stores where Byredo was sold, and Sarah Andelman has alway been a great supporter. So today there is the good and the bad: the good being we’re finally opening a store in Paris, and the bad is that it’s sad to see colette go.
How did you come up with the idea for this shop and its design?
It came about really quickly. It was confirmed this summer, and it was a great opportunity for a space that I really like. The downside is that we had to design it and build it in a very short time. So there was some challenges but people are still here and for tonight it should be done.
The interesting thing when you walk in are the sketches all over the walls. Who made them?
My friends at M/M Paris made them. We’ve worked together for 8 years. For me, they relate to a very important part of Paris, so when we were gonna do a shop here I asked them to contribute in kind of a major way. The illustrations are a project that we did about a year and half ago, called “Drawer’s drawings”, that we scaled up for this kind of murals, and then I was also able to frame five of what I thought were their most iconic kind of art postage they made throughout the history. This was something for me that was archetypally Parisian.
With this first store, what did you want to focus on?
Our idea of a store (and this may be one of the reasons why we waited) was that the stores became not only a place where we control the experience but also where you can experience the full Byredo universe. It should be a place where we can not only show, but also launch all the products we want in a very controlled environment.
Growing up, what was your relationship to scents and perfumes?
I had no relationship to perfume to be honest, I never really worn perfume. When it comes to smell, I was never really aware of it, but at the inception of this brand, one of the very important things was that I became aware of how important smells had been in my life and my history. So this is why the initial work was all tied to memory, about this translation of memories.
Do you wear your own perfumes?
No… Not yet!
You obviously have a lot of influences from worlds gravitating around perfume: from fashion, from your artistic background… You’ve done a few collaborations, with Off-White or great photographers like Craig McDean. Is that something that feeds your creating process?
Definitely. I think my background obviously influenced me, I still own the vision of this brand and this company, which I’m grateful for. The collaborative component of what we do has always been important. I think it stands from the fact that I was, and still am kind of an outsider. My approach is that of an outsider, so it feels very natural to invite all the people from outside to contribute. One of the main objectives was the idea of creating a brand that would be around for a very long time, this is why I controlled and grew it in a very specific way, but one of the major ambitions was to create relevance in everything we do, to people. Working with all the talented creatives, including M/M Paris, photographers, Virgil Abloh, has been able to help me contribute to this relevance.
When you started, did you have major influences in the perfume industry?
My influences were more in the artistic field. I think a large part of our initial success is directly connected to the fact that I have no perfume references. We launched at a time when the perfumes smelled pretty much all the same. It was an industry where the creativity had been swept under the carpet for marketing. It was a very commercial exercise at the time. So just the fact that we were unique and it smelled unique made it work.
Visually, the Byredo brand is also unique.
It kind of is. I defined a style but it wasn’t that unique because it had an historical relevance. It wasn’t completely futuristic, it was just something people hadn’t seen for many years.
Do you travel a lot to find inspiration?
I do, but maybe not to inspire me. I do it more and more to explore, it has become more and more important for me. But yes, a lot of the inspiration comes from traveling and culture, people I meet, places I go.
Why did you decide to expand to leather goods?
Usually I say “why not?”. It’s been two years now, but it’s only been sold in our shop in New York. We’ve done a few other projects, but primarily there, mostly because I didn’t feel like I was ready to expand. This year is the first time when the product captures the initial idea of timelessness, something of an archetype. Again, it was opposite from fashion, collections, this “on-to the next”, it was more about creating a silhouette and a shape that I tweaked and improved and evolved over a long period of time.
What is the meaning of “Byredo”?
It comes from the old English “by redolence”, which means “from memory” but also “sweet smelling”, so Byredo became short for “by redolence”.
Interview : Maxime Der Nahabédian
Photography : Michaël Huard