BEN GORHAM IN NEW YORK, MARCH 2015. STYLING: KATIE MOSSMAN. TOP: LA PERLA. GROOMING PRODUCT: SHISEIDO MEN, INCLUDING HYDRATING LOTION. GROOMING: DAVID VON CANNON/STREETERS. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS.
The founder of Swedish fragrance house Byredo doesn’t want to talk about perfume. “When I started, it wasn’t about perfume,” says 37-year-old Ben Gorham between bites of steak at New York’s Mercer Hotel, a few blocks from his soon-to-open SoHo shop. “As an art student, scent fascinated me—but just the idea of smells, the emotions. It was after I graduated that perfume became the carrier, the product.”
Early on, Byredo, which was founded by Gorham in 2006, stood out for its variety—there are currently 21 scents, ranging from earthy Gypsy Water to fresh La Tulipe. But more than that, the perfumes’ vivid backstories (told on little cards tucked into the packaging) lend them a cinematic poignancy. For instance, Gorham concocted Bal d’Afrique, which blends bergamot, jasmine petals, and vetiver, among other essentials, after reading his father’s journals. “He left when I was young,” says Gorham, “but I have his diaries from the ten years he spent traveling in Africa. I kept wondering about his dreams, his fantasies.”
Now that he’s opening his first U.S. store and expanding into more concrete product categories, Gorham wants to leave them more open to interpretation. “Maybe in the creation I need to feel a specific something, but everyone else can interact with products in their own way,” he says. “It’s a more subjective presentation.” To that end, Gorham and Carsten Höller—an artist and entomologist who studied olfactory communication—developed the “dream-influencing” toothpaste Insensatus, which allows users to combine male, female, and infantile flavors. Byredo is also launching a line of fragrances and sunglasses with Oliver Peoples featuring tinted lenses that are meant to emotionally color one’s view of the world. At the less fantastical end of the spectrum, Byredo’s leather goods collection, Nécessaire de Voyage, derives its design cues from old-world bridle- and trunk-making traditions, seeking an aesthetic permanence akin to classic brands like Hermès and Vuitton. And in March, Byredo launched its hair perfume collection, which Gorham likens to the experience of wearing a veil.
All of these items will be given room to breathe in Byredo’s new Wooster Street store. At 1,300 square feet, it will serve as an exhibition space of sorts for his highly refined endeavors. Cutting the last of his steak reminds Gorham of one more such endeavor, the “friendship knife” he recently designed with M/M (Paris). There’s an old superstition that one must include a penny when giving a knife as a gift, lest the blade sever the ties of affection. “So they’re going to be sold with a special M/M coin,” he says. “They are beautiful. You might use one to carve an apple or cut a lock of hair.” Scented hair? “Yes, of course, a lock of scented hair.”