NOT MANY PEOPLE CAN CLAIM THE TITLE OF PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER AND LUXURY PERFUMER IN THE ONE LIFETIME BUT SWEDISH BORN BEN GORHAM, FOUNDER OF BRYEDO PARFUMS, MANAGES TO PULL THIS OFF WITH A DEGREE OF NONCHALANCE. HE IS A STATELY MAN THAT STANDS AT ALMOST TWO-METRES TALL AND HAS THE KIND OF DISPOSITION THAT TAKES ON EVERYTHING WITH EASE.
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREAS OHLUND INTERVIEW SAVI KURUPPU
Gorham runs his business from Stockholm where he also has a home, family and young daughter. He shares with us the short history of Byredo and his desire to have a greater understanding of the sense of smell and its effect on human emotions and memory. We talk about the deep connection the brand has to his personal life and how the fragrances he created have a direct link to memories of his family and childhood. Born to an Indian mother and father who is one part Scottish and the other French-Canadian, he is characteristically tall, dark and handsome. Beneath a shirt with the sleeves casually rolled-up he bares tattoos: the calligraphy of the French word fatalité on one wrist, a shining diamond on another and the Virgin Mary shedding a tear above blooming rose. The finely inked images of which there are many, distract the eyes and reveal just a glimpse of the many layers that make up the figure behind Byredo Parfums.
Gorham was mostly raised in Sweden but has lived in many parts of the world. He finished high school in New York, studied business at Ryerson University in Toronto and then left college to play professional basketball. When a career in sports didn’t work out as planned, he came back to Sweden to study fine art, “I trained in many mediums: sculpture, painting and photography. It was very much a time of exploration.” One night, by coincidence he met a French perfumer Pierre Wulff at dinner party and enlisted his help with an olfactory project that he was interested in. When he first entered the cosseted world of French perfume, he approached it with a child-like innocence but a great deal of determination. “In the beginning it was quite hard to break into an industry built around an idea of heritage,” explains Gorham. At his first press conference in Paris he was met with the words, “What gives you the right to make perfume,” but harsh words and a lack of the “right” kind of pedigree did little to dissuade him. “I think my vision was clear and eventually people began to understand what I wanted to say,” which helped him build the brand from humble beginnings to one that now makes $30 million in global sales.
His first project under Byredo was motivated by his father. “I wanted to recreate the way I remember my father smelling. It was really the first perfume in a series built around this idea of a collective memory. I wanted to create personal perfumes that I felt people could relate to. The smell of ones father or father figure was one of those relatable memories.” He remembered his father smelling distinctly of green beans, and the perfumer he was working with was able to detect the scent rather quickly. Based on this description and the fact that his father spent time in Paris in the 1970s, he deduced that the fragrance must have been Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel. Gorham created his own interpretation of this scent, which he suitably named Green. It is created with a base of Tonka almond and musk, topped off with orange petigrain and sage. His father still wears this fragrance today and it represents the nostalgia that takes hold when a memory is triggered by smell.
Byredo has steadily grown from one fragrance, Green in 2006 to over twenty with the addition of home fragrances and body care. With each new creation Gorham continues to explore significant cultural theories through the sense of smell. “I really believe it is another medium. Smell has a tremendous power to evoke emotion and I think it speaks along the same lines as art, music and literature. My approach has been built on keeping the work personal and subjective and I think that form of clarity is part of the reason why it has transcended.” Through a level of personal investigation he hopes to understand the world closest to him. “My mother is still today my biggest role model; she has always been there and encouraged both my sister and I. She was born in Chembur, a city outside of Mumbai, and the fragrance Encens Chembur is based on the place where she was born and raised. As a child I visited many times and I think the childhood trips to India were always very much about smell. I don’t think they were as specific as they are today for me but I always remember getting off the airplane in India and the smells were very unique. For me it’s become much more interesting as a young adult to understand and appreciate the culture that I come from. I just finished a fragrance that engaged me in the idea of arranged marriage and this links to a very intriguing part of my Indian heritage. The challenge of capturing the essence of something as poignant marriage, through a sense such as smell, is that people do not have the same views or experiences.” This subjectivity and the contrast in opinions is what intrigues Gorham the most.
From his life he has harvested elements from a wide range experiences: competitive spirit from professional sport, strategy from business school and a defined aesthetic from the arts. And by culminating both Eastern and Western values you can see how Gorham is able to find balance between both worlds. “I think what I’ve done so far is quite self-indulgent; I’ve tried to maintain an approach that is very much aligned with who I am and how I develop. Fragrance has helped me understand more about my family and it’s hopefully something that I can pass on to my daughter.” For a man that has shifted purposes in life with perceptible ease, it’s not too bold to assume that his potential seems unlimited. “My approach and process that I have applied to perfume can be applied in an interesting way to many other products and this will govern what I do in the future.” We curiously await his next move.
The collaborations under Byredo that connect words, art and fashion.
Words: Fantastic Man
This eau de cologne was created along with the editors of Fantastic Man magazine: Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers. It was the first time Gorham had invited others into his creative process. All three had different ideas and different experiences, and it took quite a while to find the exact scent. Ben explains, “It’s the playful percentages of the notes that make Fantastic Man eau de cologne unique, so while the notes are traditional to a cologne, the way they come together is entirely original.”
Art: M/MINK EAU DE PARFUM
The creative team at M/M Paris presented Gorham with a creative brief — a block of solid ink purchased in Asia, a photograph showing a Japanese master practicing his daily calligraphy, and a large utopian formula that Mathias from M/M drew on Korean traditional paper. Gorham was asked to interpret three visuals into a scent. The result was a hypnotic composition opening with an overdose of adoxal, the heart consisting of incense and finally revealing a base of patchouli leaf, clover honey and dark amber.
Fashion: ACNE SVART SNÖ ROOM SPRAY
A unique scent made for Acne’s Autumn/Winter runway show in London in 2010. Its aim was to capture the relationship of physical space and the occasion, created to capture the memory of one night and one night only. This item was gifted to people that attended the show and was not produced in further quantities.
BEN IN FRONT OF HIS OFFICE BY ANDREAS OHLUND, MARCH 2013