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roses

It is a man. I am sure of it. A tall man with integrity in corduroy. He has the fingers of a pianist and speaks of politics. It is a fragrance of an intellectual man, sharp and keeping the world at a distance. Not someone you hug. Someone you would really want to discuss the world with by a fireplace with some incredible cognac though.
Two hours later he is gone. He has left a veil of something that makes me think of Santa Maria Novella or a meeting between the clergy and herbs. But the man is replaced by a woman with strong attitudes and sharp features. She takes over a room. 
She stays for about an hour. Then enters a different person. Someone more subdued but confident. Much softer though. I envision a baroness from Veneto in masculine clothes and unruly hair. I like her. 
As day turns into evening the herbs are gone. Also the sharpness. What remains is a soft warm velvety vanilla. Where did they all go?

Anyone interested in perfume or fashion trends for that matter has heard about Byredo or/and founder Ben Gorham. Anyone who has been in Stockholm during the last five years has probably at some point been embraced by a soft Byredo-hue as the brand’s fragranced candles and bathroom products are loved by hotels and restaurants here. I love that. Not just because a lot of places now smell great, but because it is a nice sort of token of local appreciation. Byredo has become the signature scent of the Swedish capital.

However, as you might have noticed, not only Swedes love Byredo. Sweden is in fact not even one of the larger markets, both the US and France are stronger markets. This is probably unfortunately partly due to the fact that Sweden does not really have a tradition of fine perfumery. People are super-clean, yes, Swedes smell like freshly washed laundry. We have great teeth and saunas everywhere. Perfumes sell, but there is no luxury perfume culture to talk about. Now, in post-Gorham Sweden perhaps, in some places. But generally, no. There are some of us who would gladly spend our lives changing that though. (Thus this blog for example). 
So. What’s so cool about Byredo? 
One thing is definitely the ability to combine the traditions and heritage of fine perfumery with a very contemporary twist. Not to forget that everything about Byredo is extremely aesthetic, with a graphic profile that has been carefully created to communicate elegance but not steal the fragrance’s voice. The company works with storytelling around the fragrances, ingredients and around Ben Gorham. This is something that could be done even more I think. It is very refreshing to see perfume rhetorics that are not just empty clichés. 
There is also something about the brand and communication, and the business that is dynamic and interesting. In the first couple of years most of what you heard about Byredo had to do with collaborations, for example with Acne (also Swedish) and hotels. The collaboration-theme has continued with Fantastic Man being one of the best examples. One of the first places to sell Byredo was Colette in Paris, a result of Ben contacting them to ask if they wanted to have a coffee and see his products. 

From the beginning Byredo’s founder Ben Gorham has been a big part of the Byredo story in media. No wonder, his background, style and character seem to made for it. Brought up in Stockholm, Toronto and New York but with roots in India. He had a career as a pro in basketball, studied architecture. Covered n tattoos, famous for his humble and kind appearance.

You sort of know this is a person who can offer some truly great conversation.

I have never met Ben but I do hope that I will have the occasion someday to talk with him about fragrances and the stories around them. Continue reading for some interesting facts about Ben and the history of Byredo, as well as some beautiful quotes gathered from various interviews.
Ben’s interest for perfume was awoken during his years at art school in Stockholm. At that time he experimented with fragranced candles in his kitchen. He was 27 and met renowned Swedish perfumer Pierre Wulff at a dinner. “I thought about it for quite some time after our meeting; then I contacted him and we talked about the creative process.” Ben was particularly intrigued by the connection between scent and memory. “I remembered the fragrance my father wore when I was a child,” he says. “I told Pierre that it smelled like the essence of green beans, and he was able to tell me what the fragrance was.” Pierre Wulff offered Ben to help him realize his ideas. Ben wanted to re-create fragrance memories. This was the birth of Byredo. The memories that were to become new fragrances were moments of Ben’s life. Soon after meeting Wulff, Ben traveled to Chembur, his mother’s hometown in India. “The trip brought back all kinds of memory, largely through the smell,” he recalls. “That was the spark for me. I wanted to create a fragrance that evoked the feeling there. The beginning of the project was very self-indulgent. I wasn’t thinking commercially, but I enjoyed it so much I felt the need to create a business structure so I could keep on doing it.” 
Byredo’s first fragrance was Green, a memory of Ben’s father’s perfume two decades earlier. It was created after Wulff introduced Ben to noses Jerome Epinette, in New York, and Olivia Jiacobetti, in Paris. 
The Swedish influence Ben says, shows itself for example in the minimalistic approach to ingredients – Byredos fragrances have a lot of character but few ingredients compared to others. 
When my interest in perfumes had been awakened I discovered that all perfumes smelled almost the same. I spoke to perfumers who explained that the big perfume houses often used up to 60 ingredients in each fragrance. I chose to create fragrances with as few ingredients as possible to give them a different kind of definition. I would rather that a client hates or loves our fragrances than stands there indifferent, says Ben.


Byredo fragrances are unisex with a clear intention. Ben has explained in interviews that he sees the gender division of perfumes as something of a marketing tool and commands men in France and England who proudly put on a flowery fragrance.

Ben:
– In the west, the rose is considered to be feminine. In the east however it is masculine. In Rose Noir I thought of a black rose that could be for both, a rose that you pull up with the roots from moist soil and that gives you a dark, earthy rose perfume.

Byredo is currently present in about 20 countries all over the world. Which fragrance sells best, differ. Gypsy Water is the best-seller in the US, Bal d’Afrique in Europa. Swedes like Blanche, a fragrance that Ben created for his girlfriend Natasa.

There are many things that are cool about Byredo. But I think there is one in particular.

It is the fact that there IS a Mr Byredo. Just like in the old times when the perfumer was the face of the perfume house and the name of the house was the name of the nose…and each scent, each note meant something to this person. In a time of cold fashion labels, huge teams and even worse…an arbitrary well-selling celebrities name on a bottle – it is not insignificant that there is a person who fronts a company created out of a deeply personal vision, who takes responsibility for the products and who generously shares hos thoughts on fragrances, company building, life, the world. This kind of openness and generosity is never unsignificant. It makes every single bottle of perfume special. Made with an intention. And that does make it feel better – and more – wearing it on your skin.

I have a profound aversion when it comes to the copywriting in the perfume industry. Also for this reason I appreciate Byredo’s effort to actually tell a real story. So here are a couple of examples of perfume like Byredo tells it. One is the description of Seven Veils, the latest perfume, and the other is one of my favorites Bal d’Afrique.

Seven Veils is a spicy oriental composition built around the warmth of vanilla flower and Indian sandalwood. It is based on the biblical tale of Salome’s dance of the Seven Veils, a story of many layers. Tainted and bejeweled, Salome turns to the art of shameless seduction. Barefooted, sanguine and black eyed, she demands a man’s head on a plate in exchange for one single dance… “On that first morning the moon sinks late and you feel the pull, as if it were night, magnetic in a way the sun could never be. Three memories pervade the air. The way you hold it; the way through fingers you let it slip; and the way the woven silk floats across the winds. So now floats a perfect fifth, in a minor chord, from an ancient bow, resonating in our ears louder and louder. And louder still until it grows stronger than even our beating hearts. You rise up, upon your feet, and even higher. With seven veils you dance, swirling swirling swirling.” 

Top: Carrot, Pimento Berries
Heart: Tahitian Vanilla Flower, Laurier Rose, Glycine, Tiger Orchid
Base: Sandalwood, Vanilla Bean


A warm and romantic vetiver inspired by Paris in the late 20’s and its infatuation with African culture, art, music and dance. A mix of the Parisian avantgardism and African culture shaped a unique and vibrant expression. The intense life, the excess and euphoria is illustrated by Bal d’Afrique’s neroli, African marigold and Moroccan cedar wood.

Top: Bergamot, lemon, neroli, african marigold, bucchu


Heart: Violet, jasmin petals, cyclamen

Base: Black amber, musk, vetiver, moroccan cedarwood

The name? Byredo is created by Shakespeares phrases ’by redolence’ and ’by reminiscence’.

The 1920’s were a decade that had great impact on perfumes and perfume use. In fact, this decade produced some of the most important perfumes of the entire century. One significant trend was that fashion designers started to sell perfumes under their clothing brands, the most legendary one (and quite revolutionary at the time) of course being Chanel No 5, released by Chanel in 1921. Even the bottle was a bold zeitgeist statement with a bottle design far from the ornamentation associated with feminine things. It was simple, bold and unquestionable. 

Bottle designs and the visuals around the fragrances were extremely important and often flirted with contemporary life style. There was the mascerade theme… Masque Rouge, for example, was introduced in a modern bottle, and a box with a red mask. “Mascarades” by Cherigan came in a black bottle with a golden face under a rain of gold dust and gilded triangles. Baccarat were extremely popular for bottles because of their superior quality crystal.

One of the reasons for doing a post on the 1920’s, I admit, is the occasion to indulge in…

Shalimar. A fragrance that, for me, just basically sums it all up. All of it. Shalimar was created by Jacques (I feel this name keeps reappearing in my perfume-life) Guerlain in the early 1921 but it was in 1925 that it had its breakthrough, at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris where it was an instant success. The fragrance is named after the Garden of Shalimar in Lahore, built by emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz. (Also the woman that Taj Mahal was built for…). Shalimar means the ‘Abode of Love’ in Sanskrit. The sweet vanilla creation mesmerized its first discoverers. Oh…how I wish I could have been there. Can you imagine? Being one of the first women to put Shalimar on your skin? The 1925 bottle was designed by Raymond Guerlain and made by Baccarat.


Shalimar had a bit of a comeback in the 1980’s. It was relaunched in a new bottle in 1985 to commemorate the 60th anniversary. This was followed by the addition of Shalimar Light in 2004 which was replaced by Eau de Shalimar in 2008. Shalimar is currently made as Shalimar Extract, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne, and as a Fleur de Shalimar Edition. Shalimar contains bergamot (top), lemon, jasmine (heart), rose (heart), iris (heart), opopanax (heart), tonka bean (base), and vanilla (base). It is an oriental perfume, which is also according to what was fashionable at that time – an era seduced by its own interest and fascination for things exotic.

Other famous fragrances from these years are Arpège, created by Jeanne Lanvin for her daugter’s 30th birthday and of course Jean Patous Joy. Joy was created with the intent to send a message to the heavy cynical Great Depression-attitude that Patou described as dominating society. He asked Henri Almeras to create something using Bulgarian rose and jasmine from Grasse. The result that Almeras presented to Patou was sensational, but Almeras was worried that the ingredients were too expensive for the fragrance to have success on the market. Joy became the most expensive perfume in the world, and a huge success. It is also the perfume supposedly worn by Josephine Baker.

Det finns många tecken på att inte bara kajal utan även doft var en stor del av Kleopatras liv. Visst är det fascinerande att tänka sig att när Julius Caesar eller Marcus Aurelius färdats mil för att klä av sig och lägga sig i hennes bädd så vägleddes de dit av en omsorgsfullt utvald och skapad doftslöja. Att när dessa historiska män som vi känner som oförgängliga stenskuplturer tog av sig rustningen och la näsan i nacken på Nilens drottning… så omfamnades de av en doft av rosor.

Kleopatra använde gärna färska rosor. Det sägs att hon hade rosenblad i sängen och strödde dem i hela huset i väntan på sina älskare. Älskade? Älskande? Marcus Aurelius sägs ha välkomnats av Kleopatra på ett skepp med parfymerade segel och inför deras kärleksstunder badade hon i saffransvatten som skulle ge hennes hud en afrodisiakisk doft.

Sensuellt, non?

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There is evidence that not only eyeliner, but also perfume, was an essential part of Cleopatra’s life. Isn’t it fascinating to imagine that when Julius Caesar or Marcus Aurelius travelled miles to lie down in her bed they were guided by a carefully delicately created fragrance veil. When these historical men who we know from stone sculptures and monuments took off their armor and put their nose in the neck of the Queen of the Nile… they were embraced by the scent of…. roses.

Cleopatra used fresh roses. It is said that she slept with rose petals in her bed and sprinkled them all over the house while waiting for her lovers. Her beloved. Marcus Aurelius is said to have been welcomed by Cleopatra on a ship with perfumed sails, and for their intimate nights she bathed in saffron water, which would give her skin an aphrodisiacal scent.

Sensual, non?