How Byredo’s Ben Gorham joined forces with skincare guru Susanne Kaufmann
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“It all started with a conversation, as it always does,” says Ben Gorham, perfumer and founder of cult fragrance brand Byredo. He met the natural skincare pioneer Susanne Kaufmann for the first time in person last year in Paris and by the time they were sitting down for dinner they were already discussing a possible partnership. “We got along so well — it felt like more of a collaboration between two friends than two brands,” Kaufmann says.
They came up with the idea for two products: a body and a fragrance oil, which melded their expertise — and their approach. “We come from very different, albeit similar worlds, and see skincare and fragrance as ritualistic practices,” adds Gorham of the project, which took about a year and a half from start to finish. “We have a similar ethos and taste so that was the easy part — the creative side,” Kaufmann recalls. “There were no egos involved.”
“I’ve always admired what Ben does — coming from sports, building up a perfume brand, and I love his scents,” she says of her decision to work with the 6ft 5in Swede, who was born to an Indian mother and Canadian father, and grew up between Toronto, New York and Stockholm.
Gorham pursued a professional career in basketball in the Swedish capital before visa complications derailed his ambitions. After working on construction sites and earning a degree in fine arts, a chance encounter with perfumer Pierre Wulff in 2004 set him on a new path.
Two years later, Byredo was born. The global brand’s offering of boutique fragrances has now expanded to make-up, body care and leather goods. Spanish luxury group Puig acquired a majority stake in Byredo in a €1bn sale in May 2022.
Gorham is a serial collaborator — Byredo has partnered with brands as diverse as Off-White and Ikea — but this collection was a chance to explore a shared passion: nature. “We love getting in touch with the earth, our roots and the communities we surround ourselves with,” says Gorham. Their new, limited-edition collection is named after a region in the west of Austria, Bregenzerwald, where Kaufmann was born and raised.
This is Kaufmann’s first collaborative venture — but she has been harnessing the centuries-old knowledge of Alpine plants to create efficacious, science-backed formulas for the past 20 years. Her conscious skincare range began when she took over the family hotel in the 1990s and created her own product line to support the treatments for the spa. She still resides in Bezau, a picturesque village lying in a valley nudging against peaks perennially carpeted in pines. “The clocks turn backwards here,” she laughs.
The fragrance of the oil is based on the Bregenz forest near to where Kaufmann lives. “The woods served as our inspiration and we spoke about how to translate these amazing landscapes into a product,” says Gorham, who describes the scent as both “fresh and invigorating, while also being sensual, natural and sophisticated”. Kaufmann outlines the three different notes: “The head is more flowery, the heart is pine, and the woody base is the moss.” With notes of jasmine and hints of fig, this is a sweet, earthy unisex fragrance that “is not more feminine or masculine, it’s just the scent of the forest”, says Kaufmann.
Intuitively connecting scent and emotion has long been Gorham’s modus operandi. He associates the bittersweet memory of his absentee father with the smell of green peas, which formed the basis for his first fragrance, called Green. “When I began Byredo, I would create products from a completely subjective place and tap into this idea of a collective memory or emotion,” he explains. “Eventually you realise that your position as a creator is more about proposing and inspiring, or igniting an emotional memory for others.”
Gorham had his own particular experience with oils growing up. “My mother is from India and would always use a mixture of different ones for both her skin and hair,” he says. “Oils are synonymous with wellbeing, massage and traditions. It’s one of the true arts of life.” The antioxidant-rich oils found in the Bregenzerwald collection include apricot kernel, meadowfoam seed and sunflower seed, which are sourced as locally as possible from Europe.
It was Kaufmann’s continued commitment to sustainability that was part of the draw for Gorham. “I love that she’s always stayed true to her values as her success has grown,” he says of Kaufmann’s oils, which are bottled in recyclable glass. The cardboard boxes are printed in deep green and bright blue to reflect the vivid colours of Bregenzerwald. “When you come to Bezau you will see why — it’s like the forest is kissing the sky,” Kaufmann smiles.