THE SUN HAS BARELY RISEN OVER THE CRISP PARISIAN SPRING TIME AS THE SMELL OF FRESHLY BAKED FRENCH PASTRIES AND BREWED COFFEE WEAVES ITS WAY THROUGH THE HALLS OF HÔTEL LE MEURICE. AS WELCOME AS THESE SCENTS MAY BE AT DAYBREAK, HOWEVER, TODAY’S OLFACTORY LIMELIGHT BELONGS TO ANOTHER AROMA, THAT OF BYREDO’S LATEST EFFORT, FLOWERHEAD. DSECTION ARE HERE TO MEET WITH BEN GORHAM, THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF BYREDO TO DISCUSS HIS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS IN THE PERFUME INDUSTRY, THE RISE OF THE BYREDO EMPIRE AND HIS LATEST CREATION.
words RJ BIERCZA photographer ANDREA ÖHLUND
The inevitable question that comes to mind as Ben Gorham reaches out his tattooed arm to greet us is how did this fine arts graduate destined for creative brilliance leave paint for perfume? Despite having no formal education in his field of choice, it was a chance encounter with perfumer Pierre Wulff that inspired him to pursue a career in the perfume industry after having exhausted a number of other avenues including politics, interior design and even professional basketball. Today, Gorham is not just a part of the perfume industry, he is changing and leading it with his defiance of its norms and in pushing perfumery to its creative boundaries, but what inspired this unlikely contender of perfumery to pursue a career in which he had no former experience or prior education?
“I was completely taken by the connection between smell and memory since the go and personal memories and experiences continue to be a great source of inspiration”
he explains. “After meeting Pierre Wulff, ideas began to form and come to life… I started with candles as they provided a more economically viable platform in my first steps and later onto perfumes when Byredo launched in 2006.”
Now eight years old, the Swedish perfume house, which took its name from “redolence” meaning fragrant or having a pleasant odour, today captivates a multitude of audiences with its modern take on the conventional world of perfumery and Gorham’s alliances with fashion’s most foremost photographers and influencers around the world have garnered him ample attention and have ensured that he and the breath of fresh air he is bringing to the industry does not go unnoticed. The future looks lucrative for Byredo, the twenty-perfume strong line, fragranced candles, collections of toiletries and accessories are sure to expand exponentially under the direction of the underdog that should not be underestimated. If one thing is sure, it is that Interest in the hirsute man at the helm of Byredo is at a crescendo and looks far from letting up.
A man born and raised in Sweden to a mother of Indian origin and a half-Scottish, half-French Canadian father, Gorham is truly the culmination of East and West. His first perfume, Green, a sage-infused musky cologne with notes of jasmine and violet and inspired by his father is the result of a desire to reproduce the odour of a man who was absent for the most part of his life. Its successor, Encens Chembur, a smoky fragrance of amber, bergamot, ginger and incense is inspired by his mother and christened after her place of birth. With just a simple glance at Byredo’s foundations, it is evident that the family and heritage of its artistic director play important roles in the creative direction of the brand. With this in mind, we wonder if his blend of different backgrounds has had an influence on his latest work.
“Indeed, the idea behind Flowerhead, in fact, stems from the flowers used in traditional Hindu weddings”
he explains, “of these we composed a fragrance focused on tuberose, rose and Jasminum Sambac”. As the Swedish perfume house’s twentieth effort, Flowerhead, a playful number with a name as floriated as its bouquet is a move into unchartered waters for Gorham. “It does stand alone as our only true floral”, he tells us, “it’s a category of fragrance that I avoided because I had a hard time imagining a composition that was modern enough to sit in the line. It was important to me when creating a ’true floral’ scent that it had modern facets and it was a constant challenge to not create an old fashioned perfume. In the end, we achieved this by adding specific woody accords and lingonberry in the top notes.” On the subject of gender-specificity in perfume, Ben Gorham has high hopes. When we suggested that Flowerhead, a perfume with such strong floral characteristics may well be better suited and targeted at a female audience, he reasons “you may be right in assuming more women will initially buy Flowerhead, but my hopes are that more and more men will venture into florals.
“In my mind, scent will always be without gender, and as is the case with most of our fragrances, if we continue to create unique perfumes using the highest quality raw materials, I think both men and women will continue to be drawn to them.”
On these words, Ben Gorham stands, gives us another tattooed salute and wanders off into the crowd that awaits his attention as eagerly as we did. Like great writers and artists of our time, our modern-day hero of the perfume industry is of no exception to the artistic brilliance they uphold. His olfactory art not only grasps our attention, it keeps a firm, tattooed grip on it. Gorham achieves this, however, with neither eloquent arrangements of words, nor with strokes of paint on canvas. His canvas is his minimalistic yet characteristic bottle and his art: blending the immiscible. His potions, wholes greater than the sums of their parts, are both intricately simple and powerfully delicate. A feast for the most underestimated of our senses.