CREDITS –All images sourced from Ben Gorham

With his latest drop Mojave Ghost making its way to the olfactory arena, Gorham takes a moment to talk about how he became a perfumer, the inception of his brand Byredo and his process of creating each of his cult fragrances.

For Ben Gorham, perfume is more than an additive for grooming. For him, perfumes and scents are a passage into a bygone yet cherished era, a distant yet vivid memory of a city and its culture and a visceral journey of his memories. It is no wonder that Gorham—perfumer and founder of Byredo–comes through with eclectic, city-inspired scents that teleport you to the said place.

Q) Can you tell us about your multicultural background and how it has influenced your approach to perfumery?

Ben Gorham (BG): I feel very connected to my heritage. Being biracial has meant I struggled somewhat with my own identity while growing up but it also gave me a great appreciation for culture and its differences. I would say Byredo taps into that curiosity and adaptive nature. Culture is a great source of inspiration and as I learn more the brand evolves. That’s how I always imagined it. My childhood trips to India have definitely influenced my appreciation for diverse smells.

When I founded Byredo, it was during a time when fragrances were very much seen as men’s and women’s fragrances–this was how the industry had set the conversation, which never really made sense to me. I came into the industry as an outsider, so in a way, this allowed me the freedom to approach the fragrance world in a new way. It’s often about creating something I really connect with–a memory or an emotional trigger.

Q) How did your varied academic and professional backgrounds–from business school to art school–shape your journey to founding Byredo?

BG: I often wonder how I found myself doing what I do today considering my background which was primarily as an athlete. I played basketball most of my life which brought me to a professional career. After sports, I decided to go back to art school and upon graduating I met a perfumer for the first time, which led me to create a project that has now become a brand.

I am also a huge believer in growth from past failures. I think it’s what makes us all so unique and powerful, but I know that outlook isn’t so easy for all to embody. Byredo wouldn’t be the same brand if I had begun my career in the beauty industry instead of basketball. Failure is something I have experienced in my life a few times and with basketball particularly–and, failure and risk sometimes go hand-in-hand, and for me have been pivotal in order to reevaluate and grow.

This is how and why I really started Byredo as an outsider. I think that our instinctive approach has always been to be open and subjective.




Q) What was the defining moment or experience that made you realise you wanted to pursue perfumery full-time?

BG: Many years ago I met with perfumer Pierre Wulff at a dinner. This meeting opened up a part of my brain I’d never explored before. Before that, I don’t think I’d ever been interested in scent. All of a sudden this entire olfactory field became as rich to me as a palette of colour. I was able to express my emotions through perfume. From that point, I couldn’t get it out of my mind and it has led me to where I am today with the brand.

Q) What inspired you to start Byredo? How did it get its name?

BG: The first few months were actually not about a brand but a creative project where I translated memories into smells. My interest in smell as a medium grew into an obsession and I decided to start a brand to be able to dedicate myself full-time to it. Byredo actually comes from the old English word, “redolence”, which might even be Shakespearean, meaning “sweet-smelling perfume, evocative of memories”.

Q) How do you choose the themes or inspirations for your fragrances, such as specific memories or places?

BG: All my inspirations for creating a perfume are connected to personal memories. Places from my childhood, and specific moments of my life. I then work closely with the perfumer to translate my ideas into a fragrance. I carry around a notebook that I’m constantly jotting down ideas into. It can be short phrases, poems, or even colours that inspire me.

Q) What role does a city’s cultural context play in how we perceive and appreciate different scents?

BG: I think we all have the opportunity and responsibility to learn and understand more about other cultures–the information is there for us. Scent is an amazing way to discover any culture, as it’s so related to tradition and shared memories.

Q) How do you select the ingredients for your fragrances?

BG: When I started dabbling in scent, I always knew I wanted to partner with an expert nose and that’s when I met Jerome Epinette. From the first meeting, he understood my vision and we have been working together ever since. He takes my initial emotional brief and then we work together to select the best raw ingredients to translate the vision (into a scent).

Q) Can you discuss the significance of the names you choose for your fragrances, such as “Green” or “Encens Chembur”?

BG: All of my fragrances and their names are directly related to personal memories. My mother is Indian so we would often travel there to spend time with my grandmother and visit family in Chembur, Mumbai. I went to Mumbai because that’s where my family is from, but I also travelled to Rajasthan, Udaipur, and Jaipur and this is when I created Encens Chembur, a fragrance directly inspired by my mother and named after the suburb outside Mumbai where she was born. The scent is a combination of temple incense, amber ginger and bergamot–it’s like a photograph of what I captured at that time.



Q) What role do you think scent plays in evoking emotions and memories, and how do you incorporate this into your creations?

BG: All of my fragrances begin with the challenge of transforming an emotion or memory into a tangible product. It’s not an easy thing to do. In this process I get to fully indulge my curiosity, I get to explore all kinds of ideas that might lead to one note here and there.

Q) Can a perfume truly capture the essence of a place or time?

BG: It was very intuitive for me to connect smell and memory. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that psychologically they were more closely connected than the other senses. The whole goal of our fragrances is to tap into their memories and transport them somewhere. The beauty of it is that each person can interpret it their own way.

Q) In what ways can perfumery be considered an art form?

BG: I think like any art form, perfume and scent can be used to express a wide array of emotions. When I dug into the art of fragrance, I really felt like I had a blank canvas and a large palette of colours to use.

Q) How do you think the perception of a fragrance changes over time?

BG: I think as the wearer continues to wear the same scent, you build new memories along the way and your perception of that scent can change. Many people associate certain fragrances with specific phases in their lives and prefer to switch them up to mark a new era. People are constantly changing and evolving, including their taste in scent.

Q) What challenges did you face in establishing Byredo as a global brand, and how did you overcome them?

BG: Being an outsider in this industry has come with challenges but also a lot of benefits. I didn’t have to accept the status quo as I didn’t come up in this world. I could look objectively and see opportunities differently from other brands that had well-established ways of doing things. It gave me freedom, agility and inspiration to try to imagine an alternative world for fragrance and make-up. By nature I am disruptive and Byredo has been the perfect outlet to realise this creatively.



Q) How do you see the future of the perfume industry evolving?

BG: When I joined the perfume industry I really felt like the only one who didn’t see the use in separating scent by gender. I’m glad to see that the industry is evolving with the consumer and that brands are starting to realise what they really want or care about. I think we’ll continue to see more and more creative new brands thinking outside of the box.

Q) What scents are you working on currently?

BG: This year we are focusing on one of our bestsellers: Mojave Ghost. I can’t reveal too much but anyone who is a fan of the scent will have some good surprises this year!

Q) How do you see the future of Byredo evolving, and what are your goals for the brand in the coming years?

BG: I really built Byredo to be anything–that’s the beauty of it. So, when there is an idea that can’t be bottled into a perfume, we are free to express it in other ways. It all comes from the same place–the notion of something perfectly expressed; everything is a left-over creative thought from something else. It all fits together into the full Byredo narrative. We are constantly designing and planning our next chapter!

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