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How California Played Its Part in the Cult Brand Byredo

The Swedish brand’s founder, Ben Gorham, takes cues from The Golden State for the label’s signature fragrances, not to mention his personal style

Words by RACHEL MARLOWE

 

For Ben Gorham, founder of cult fragrance house Byredo, the fact that California has woven its way into his Swedish brand’s story seems to have taken him rather by surprise. This, despite the fact that his bestselling scent, Mojave Ghost, pays homage to the indigenous flower of Southern California’s desert; his patchouli-based Peyote Poem was created to conjure the state’s psychedelic ’60s scene; and Velvet Haze is his ode to big wall climbing pioneers of Yosemite. It begs the question: Do people ever think Byredo is a Californian brand?

 

“Some people look at the way I dress and think I’m from L.A.”

Ben Gorham

 

“Certainly some people look at the way I dress and think I’m from L.A.,” says Gorham over breakfast at the Hotel Bel-Air in February, outfitted in a tie-dye shirt, ripped jeans and Off-White Nikes (designed by friend and collaborator Virgil Abloh) topped off with a fringed jacket from Japanese midcentury Americana-inspired brand Kapital.

Fashion also played a role in choosing the location of Byredo’s first Los Angeles outpost — the brand’s largest boutique to date, bigger than the existing stores in London, Miami, New York City, Paris, Seoul and Stockholm. The L.A. edition opened on Melrose Avenue in early spring, next to fellow Swedish brand Acne Studios, early this spring but closed in March as the coronavirus hit California in earnest. “One of the first stores I visited when I started coming here 15 years ago was Maxfield,” he explains. “That they’ve been there for almost 30 years made it feel very iconic. … That little stretch feels very authentic. It’s not too commercial and doesn’t have too much traffic. It’s off the beaten path but people still walk it, and that combination was important.”

 

The interiors, a collaboration with Swedish architecture firm Halleroed, mix Californian and Scandinavian elements to striking effect. “A thing I considered early in the process was how to incorporate the California light,” he says of the space. “The light here is very unique, so that informed textures and color palettes. I built a large skylight in the middle of the store as a sort of sun worship.” Gorham designed the store’s furniture, including the terrazzo tables, anodized aluminum display cases, wood shelving and colorful striped sofas.

“I’ve always been quite interested in woodwork. A friend came up from New Mexico to create some custom pieces in an Oregon pine,” he says. “There are other fixtures crafted out of American alder and walnut, so some of the materials have referenced this place while the contrast of the industrial aluminum furniture speaks to these old and new worlds I’m trying to combine.”

 

Born to an Indian mother and a Canadian father, Gorham grew up in Stockholm, Toronto and New York, and first came to California as a child visiting family in La Jolla. “Living in Sweden, California just seemed amazing to me, and they represented the archetype of an American family,” he recalls. “My cousins played football and baseball. My uncle was in the U.S. Navy, and my aunt was a housewife; they both surfed and had two dogs and a pool. It was what I’d seen in movies.” For a boy living in the Northern Hemisphere, being outdoors all day was also a revelation. “Even the air smelled different” he says. “Those early childhood memories really stay with you.” These days, the 42-year-old lives between Stockholm and its archipelago, with his wife, Natasha, and daughters, Anouk and Ines.

Memories are at the core of Byredo, which was conceived after a trip back to his mother’s birthplace in India in 2005. “I had an amazing fragrance experience that brought back all kinds of memory,” he says of the career-altering journey that sparked the desire to capture and bottle those experiences. Gorham sought out the services of respected French perfumers Olivia Giacobetti and Jérôme Epinette to help realize his vision, launching the company — a play on the words “by redolence” — in 2006.

Since then, Byredo has expanded beyond candles and fragrance into eyewear, fine jewelry, sneakers, denim and T-shirts (in collaboration with Frame and Off-White), made-to-order suits and leather goods. “Byredo was always more than just a smell for me,” he says of the brand’s evolution. “I paced myself.”

 

To that end, Gorham spent several years learning how to tan leathers and construct bags. “My partners have been great advocates of my vision of Byredo as something that would evolve and change as I and the people around me did,” he says. “We agreed that we could explore anything we found creatively interesting. Ultimately everything is a story: every perfume, sneaker or bag.”

When it comes to Gorham’s personal style, that story has been an evolution too, beginning with his first trip to Men’s Fashion Week in Paris. “That’s when I realized that fashion could be used to express who I was,” he told Esquire in 2017 of his penchant for streetwear, tailored suits paired with slippers, and, of course, the classic “Canadian tuxedo” denim combo. More recently, he has become enamored of L.A’.s burgeoning fashion scene. “I don’t know if it’s the sense of isolation or the lifestyle, but there’s something very tactile to these brands which you don’t see in Paris or New York,” he says of fellow Melrose Avenue shop owner John Elliott’s signature knits; Rhuigi Villaseñor’s luxury streetwear line Rhude; Johnson Hartig’s kitsch-meets-punk line Libertine; Cherry and Gallery Dept.’s screen-printed unisex tees and hoodies; and Chrome Hearts luxe rock ‘n’ roll jewelry.  The Elder Statesman has also become a staple in his closet. “It feels local in spirit, not like it’s created to dominate the world, and there’s an authenticity that comes from that.”

 

As Gorham has spent more time in L.A., he says he is building a new relationship with California. “I go to people’s houses…I surf in Point Dume, I like to hike and everybody has their special spot they take me to,” he says. “It’s created another idea of California for me. I used to feel like it was a very remote place, but now I can almost imagine living here. There are few places that are progressive yet laid-back, creative yet commercial, tacky yet tasteful,” he says. “The contrast exists here more than most places and I find something interesting in that.”

 

MY EAU MY: OUR BYREDO ESSENTIALS EDIT

From left: Umbrella bag, $1,500. Mojave Ghost body lotion, $65. Peyote Poem candle, $85. 

 

From left: Tulipmania hand wash, $65. Velvet Haze fragrance, $265/100 ml. Blueprint mini bag, $1,650.

 

Feature image: The new BYREDO outpost on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Photo by Erik Undehn.

 

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 Men’s Edition of C Magazine.

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