It’s the house that has given us iconic scents such as Gypsy Water and Mojave Ghost, whose products are inspired by tropes as unlikely as they are nostalgic and beautiful, from the scent of old books to the colour white to the cultures of Africa. And now, in a year that can be described no other way than memorable, Byredo launches its first make-up collection. Here, founder Ben Gorham tells us the story of how his house of fragrance enters into a world of colour.
When and how did the idea for Byredo make-up first transpire?
I founded Byredo almost 15 years ago. Initial work was primarily focusing on fragrance and smell as a medium, but as the brand evolved, I started to introduce and play in other categories.
We introduced leather and jewellery and eyewear, amongst other categories, and about five years ago, I started to feel like make-up could be a strong physical manifestation of beauty at Byredo, in contrast to fragrance, which was in a sense invisible. So, I started imagining or trying to imagine what that could be, and found it really hard to relate to in a practical sense, being that I've never worn make-up.
Is that why you choose to collaborate with Isamaya Ffrench on this? What qualities of hers as a person as well as a make-up artist did you think gelled with your concept for a Byredo make-up line?
It was about three years ago when I came across the work of Isamaya Ffrench, 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, to which I related a lot as it was how I perceived my journey initially in the fragrance world. I think that outsider perspective was something I felt we shared. So, we eventually met through a common friend and began a dialogue. We had random meetings, sometimes in the back of cars between shows in Paris and in London. But it created this discussion about this idea that I thought colour could be an important pillar at Byredo – and here we are now. It’s been a really creative journey centred around colour and emotion in every aspect, from the initial ideas to the names, the packaging and the campaigns.
Tell us about the range of products that are being launched. Why did you settle on this selection as the first batch, to define the tone of what Byredo make-up is? What is unique about the formulations?
I feel our first launch of Byredo make-up is, in some way, curated artefacts of colour. We have five products that are special in their own right, the most democratic being the colour sticks, which are a truly universal product and the perfect expression of colour. I remember seeing Isamaya demo the colour sticks and it being a very pivotal, eye-opening moment as she was doing five or six looks, within a few minutes. With all the products, the shape and the design really reflect the function and use. I interpreted Isamaya’s universe into these physical objects and took reference from ancient objects and relics, things that I found to be still extremely modern; objects that were hard to determine if they were designed yesterday or 3,000 years ago. I wanted to create objects that truly felt unique and beautiful. This was just as important as the colours, the range of formulations and the performance.
Does the make-up have the same scent story that we find in your fragrances?
There is a subtle scent to the make-up. I only had two relationships to the smell of cosmetics or make-up, and one was these violet, iris tones, of the 80s and 90s, that were my mother’s lipstick smell. The other is a smell like vanilla, or the raw material, Vaneline.
What smell triggers the most nostalgia for you?
I have so many, often smells I remember from growing up, like grass and fresh linen, it is very intuitive for me to connect smell and memory. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that psychologically they were closer connected than other senses. In terms of translating my memories to smells, it usually starts with a brief describing the person, place or things associated with the memory.
Your scents have such great names – what are some of your favourite names for the make-up and the stories behind them?
We had a lot of fun coming up with the names, some of them, like Eraser, Manila, Letterhead, Pushpin and Steelo are a nod to the corporate world, while others are ancient and modern. It's just about creating little stories, I suppose. Once we had a selection of colours, we would sit together and ask each other, “What does this remind you of?” We came up with some funny things that didn't make the cut, but perhaps we will re-introduce them further down the line.
If I could only get one product from the Byredo make-up line, which one should it be?
The eyeshadow, I think that's a great product. The inspiration was liquid gold dripping onto an oyster, and I had a very vivid idea of what that would look and feel like and I think we got pretty close.
Sometime in between the idea and the launch, a little virus called Covid-19 took over the world – how did this change things in any way in terms of the launch?
It’s been an incredibly testing time for so many people and we have seen so many changes in the world around us. Launching during this time has really not been so different to how we launch other Byredo products, as we tend not to do things in the “normal” way. I suppose one of the main differences is we are not hosting events, and obviously for some people they are not comfortable enough to try certain things in stores, so there is a pragmatic, tangible part of it that pertains physically to how we sell products. On the other side, I believe there is a human need and drive for expression, and to spend time doing things for ourselves, and so we hope that Byredo make-up will connect with people in this way.
Tell us a little bit about what’s inspiring you of late.
Culture inspires me in all its wonderful forms. I feel very connected to my heritage and it gives me a great appreciation for culture and its differences. I would say Byredo taps into that curiosity and adaptive nature. As I learn more and discover different cultures, the more the brand evolves. That’s how I always imagined it.
What is your idea of beauty and what is beautiful to you?
Beauty to me comes in so many forms, whether that be art, film or music, it’s everywhere, the trick is to be curious enough to see it. What is important for me is to not dictate the idea of beauty and it's not to tell people what’s beautiful about them. It’s to let people formulate their own sense of beauty.