Raw & unforgettable

Tsering Dolma
Oct 07, 2012 at 11:53am IST

There’s something about Ben Gorham. His good looks and tattoos aside, the six footer has simple ideas — his perfume bottles don’t scream for attention and he runs an increasingly popular fragrance house, Byredo, which is old English for ‘sweet smelling perfume’. Launched in 2006, his perfumes are being retailed in 22 countries, including popular retailers like Colette in Paris and Barneys in the US. “I wanted to create something that reminded me of my dad — where he lived and what he used to smell of. It was like green beans. Hence, my first perfume was titled Green,” says Gorham. The Indian Canadian is proud of his roots and his Stockholm-based fragrance house continues to showcase his ethnic influences. Though manufactured in Sweden, a majority of raw materials for his perfumes are imported from his mother’s homeland, India. He also takes inspiration from her. Four months ago, he created Black Saffron, dedicated to his childhood. “Saffron has always been a part of my Indian upbringing, in smell, taste and colour. I have grown to understand more about my heritage and this fragrance is very much about that.”

Gorham plans to launch his flagship store in India next year. If recent reports are anything to go by, our fragrance industry is ready to cross the `10,000 crore mark by 2015 (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India). It’s safe to say he’s chosen the right time to enter our market. More from Gorham, who has dedicated a perfume (Blanche) to his girlfriend, next  but vows not to be predictable and make a fragrance for his young daughter as well.

Basketball to Byredo

The former basketball player-turned-perfumer played for 15 years in school and college. Though his dream to take up the sport professionally was nearly fulfilled — he played for the Italian league in the late 90s — Gorham had to give it up after a long legal battle to attain a European passport. “It was devastating for me. But I’m a focused and competitive person,” says the 35-year-old who was born in Sweden. He went on to enrol in art school in Stockholm. He was only 27 when he chanced upon a dinner opportunity with renowned Swedish perfumer, Pierre Wulff. After their brief encounter, he contacted him again to discuss the creative process and before long, was hooked on to it. “I love the connection between scent and memory. I remembered the fragrance my father wore when I was a child. I shared every detail with Wulff, that my father smelled like the essence of green beans, even showed him a picture, and he was able to tell me what the fragrance was,” says Gorham, whose father worked with the United Nations. Soon enough, a trip to Chembur (in the outskirts of Mumbai) brought back all the memories. That led him to play with scents and Gorham decided that he wanted to create scents that evoke emotions. After two-and-half years of studying the process with two top perfumers — Jerome Epinette from New York and Olivia Jiacobetti from Paris — Gorham launched his first collection in Paris. Appealing to rarefied tastes, they ranged from Green to Chembur, Pulp, Rose Noir and Gypsy Water. In 2008, Barneys New York started retailing his perfumes and by the end of last year, it had become that store’s second bestselling collection.

Keeping it natural

“Creating a perfume is personal to me. It’s about translating my collective memory into scents,” explains Gorham. The perfumer tries to use only natural raw materials like Asian grapefruit, juniper berries and golden saffron. “Given my background in fine arts, I had an eye for aesthetics, but it was also about creating a product that was simple and self-confident. It takes a long time to create a scent - from seven months to a year. I sit with my perfumers, explain my ideas and inspiration and keep experimenting with the raw materials until I get the scent I have in my mind,” adds Gorham, who says creating timeless products is his key motivation. He works with around 2,000 raw materials - saffron, juniper berries, carrot, pimento berries, sandalwood, vanilla bean, incense, cardamom, patchouli, papyrus, Brazilian rosewood, tobacco leaves, lemon, jasmine, bergamot, pepper, blackcurrant and peach flowers. There is also a limited collection of candles, soaps, body lotion, body wash and creams.

Game plan

Retailing in more than a dozen boutiques, developing a clientele from Hollywood (he prefers to maintain their privacy) and getting more visible in the media (featured in Vanity Fair, Elle, GQ and Vogue), Gorham credits his success to his hard work. “Whether you are a designer or a perfumer, networking is important. But I don’t socialise much. The focus should be on building a product that you are passionate about. I never realised that my products would be this popular. I don’t follow anybody’s work. I just work,” he says. “Having no professional training in the field,” Gorham confesses, “made me a better perfumer.” He adds, “Most of the brands are so established, it was initially challenging to break into my own. I think I was naïve, but that helped me. I was confident because I had the best perfumers in the world working with me. I had raw ideas and they were skilled enough to translate that,” says Gorham, who has collaborated with brands like Acne Jeans and M/M Paris. Though he gradually learned the process of perfume making, Gorham acquired another skill - collecting information. “The best thing I learnt was the ability to gather information about how to run the business and to focus on the brand. I went to libraries in Stockholm to find credible literature. I literally Googled everything I needed to know about launching a brand,” says Gorham.

Key to simplicity

Unlike the recent craze of fancy or smart perfume bottles - Lacoste men’s fragrance bottle has embossed crocodile motifs and Jennifer Lopez’s perfume (Glowing) lights up for 15 seconds when sprayed - Gorham’s bottles scream simplicity. “Ninety per cent of the budget goes on raw materials and production than on packaging. I think strong products are still missing in this industry. So many of them have a lot of commercial gaming involved,” explains Gorham. According to him, you either love his products or hate them. “I work with limited raw materials and don’t really blend too many of them together. For M/MINK, I used a lot of a synthetic raw material called adoxal - almost 50 times the quantity anybody had ever used. When perfumers smell it, they are usually taken aback by the comedy and irony in its creation. It is absurd,” he says. Because he constantly tests different scents, Gorham likes to stay neutral and doesn’t wear any fragrances. He says it’s a personal choice. “Buying a perfume is very private. You want to smell that way, that’s why you buy it, not because you liked the brand or the person who’s endorsing it. It’s about you,” he offers.

 

 

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