If anyone can work out the niche/visual conundrum, it might well be Ben Gorham. Byredo, bought last year by Manzanita, the UK-based private equity company that owns Diptyque and Space NK, has certainly got the means. It’s also reaching a critical mass, since it outsells major fashion-brand perfume lines in some department stores.
But most of all, Gorham, an art-school graduate, has the type of culture and mindset that allows him to think in visual terms without falling into beauty industry clichés. He’s also got the right friends: the French graphic design duo M/M (Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak) and the photographer team/couple Inez van Lamsveerde and Vinoodh Matadin, both of whom work in music, contemporary art and fashion. Indeed, in many ways, Byredo seems to be conceived more like an indie fashion or design brand, or to a music label, than to a perfume house.
Gorham started tackling the visual issue obliquely in 2010 with M/Mink, based on a visual brief by M/M and illustrated by pictures by Inez & Vinoodh “with the traditional beauty aspects painted over” by M/M, Gorham explains. Last year’s 1996, initially created for Inez &Vinoodh, was inspired by one of their pictures, which illustrates the box.
With Flowerhead, Gorham has taken the process one step further by designing his own visual (above), a somewhat surrealistic interpretation of the scent’s inspiration – an Indian bride’s floral headdress – “shot as a still-life”, Gorham says. At the Parisian press presentation, he explained that this was just “scratching the surface”: he’s currently developing other visuals for Byredo, with M/M very much on board.
While the picture is dominated by a red and orange palette, the scent itself is on the green-white spectrum. Gorham, who worked as usual with Robertet’s Jérôme Épinette, bypassed the default-setting, Indian-inspired palette of sandalwood, incense and spices to focus entirely on fresh flowers. “I had a fear of florals”, he admits, because they’re so “traditional and quite old-fashioned”. But after realizing that in a collection based around his memories, “there was an overrepresentation of woody and incense”, he has been working on the theme.
With flowers on his mind, he launched the muguet-themed Inflorescence last year. Its name is actually related to Flowerhead’s since a flower head is a form of inflorescence: a cluster of hundreds of tiny flowers that look like a single blossom. In this regard, Flowerhead is true to its namesake botanical form: its tuberose, jasmine sambac and rose combine into a natural-smelling floral hybrid.
The picture shows marigolds: Gorham and Épinette tried to include tagetes, but its dried banana-daisy facets didn’t work out. Flowerhead is therefore focused on tuberose and jasmine sambac. Low on lactones. High on green. The menthol facets of tuberose in the top notes, but mostly the cut-stem notes of angelica (along with a tiny bit of its celery facet) and of the materials used to create dewy florals. Lemon and a lingonberry note – the fruit, related to cranberry, is served as a jam with Swedish meatballs at Ikea – slice through the moist floral effects with their tartness, tying in with a citrusy-green “rose petal” accord.
The long-lasting floral note is anchored by a low-key amber and suede base that starts seeping through a few hours into the development. Its radiance borders on radioactivity: leave a blotter of it in a room and it’ll swallow up whatever other blotters are lying around. If you’re on the market for a fresh floral that is neither vampish nor simpering, this could hit your springtime sweet spot.