Chembur, bottled: Byredo’s new perfume, Mumbai Noise, works with memories  

Byredo’s Ben Gorham discusses his new fragrance, the links between memory and perfumes, and how he’s stayed away from the Indian cliché

Updated - March 05, 2022 08:54 am IST

Published - March 05, 2022 08:41 am IST

Mumbai Noise

Mumbai Noise | Photo Credit: Byredo

Memories are potent, especially when they engage the different senses and the feelings evoked. So, it comes as no surprise that Ben Gorham, founder of perfume brand Byredo, has drawn on his recollections of time spent with his grandmother in Chembur, for the company’s newest fragrance, Mumbai Noise.

Gorham — born in Stockholm and brought up in New York and Toronto — had visited the Mumbai suburb, where his mother grew up, as a child. Fifteen years later, when he revisited it, much had changed, but many things that had permeated his recollections, such as the incense from the neighbourhood temple, hadn’t.

Ben Gorham 

Ben Gorham  | Photo Credit: Matthieu Salvaing

“All my inspirations for creating a perfume [approximately priced between ₹11,000 to ₹20,000] are connected to personal memories — places from my childhood, specific moments of my life,” says the Swedish native, who has been translating memories into much-loved fragrances since 2006. He calls it a completely subjective, intangible, esoteric process, which (for him, at least) is aided by being in one place. “Sweden has somehow focussed my mind and allowed it to wander at the same time.”

A city that always gives

For Mumbai Noise, Gorham has used strong aromas like davana (a herbaceous plant from South India), sandalwood, and even coffee together. “The olfactive approach is one of contrasts and contradictions. It’s an amber fragrance that features rich, warm woods with brightness, plummy davana positioned alongside leather, bitter coffee stirred with sweet tonka beans,” he says. “It’s a fragrance that commands your attention and envelopes your senses immediately. That’s how I feel when I am in Mumbai, in my family home — I wanted that overwhelming power of a place to come across.”

Pushing his competitive side
Gorham, known for perfumes such as Gypsy Water, Bal D’Afrique and Velvet Haze, didn’t set out to become a scent savant, starting his career instead as a basketball player. He ties his past to his current role (he became fascinated with perfumes after a chance meeting with Swedish perfumer Pierre Wulff) saying, “I left basketball because of red tape. But it taught me discipline and drove me to be competitive, which are skills you need when you are an entrepreneur, but definitely an outsider.” It paid off. The fragrance brand with the ‘cool cred’ — his collabs include Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack, among others — has doubled its pre-pandemic sales to $134 million, according to a Business of Fashion report.

This is not the first time the city has inspired him, with Byredo having previously released Encens Chembur in 2008, a discontinued fragrance that features temple incense, amber ginger and bergamot, that he calls “a photograph of what I captured at that time”.

For Gorham, the death of his grandmother put an end to his holiday visits.

From the Mumbai Noise campaign

From the Mumbai Noise campaign | Photo Credit: Ashish Shah

But when he returned to the country in his 20s, he recalls that “as soon as I stepped off the plane, I was transported back to being a child and could instantly picture and feel being home with my family. India means home to me — not home as in a house, but home as in part of where I am from, and, most importantly, where part of my family and my mother is from.”

Exploring the diversity of India

What differentiates Encens Chembur and Mumbai Noise? “India runs subtly through so much of what I do. Mumbai Noise started growing in my mind more as a never-ending film, rather than a photograph anchored in the past.” As a result, the new fragrance is a dialogue with contemporary India, as seen in its campaign shot by photographer Ashish Shah.

“I was drawn to Ashish because of the modernity and reality of his work, and his distinct lens on his home country. Beyond the scent, I wanted the campaign to capture the hearts and minds of contemporary India,” says Gorham. “Mumbai has evolved at an astounding pace — it has changed drastically in the years that I didn’t visit — yet the way the rest of the world continues to depict India remains so cliché.”

Not just scents
The man who famously doesn’t wear perfume — he only applies it when creating a scent with his perfumer Jérôme Epinette — is expanding his empire. In 2019, he launched ByProduct, to fit in all his non-olfactory ideas. He’s brought out products such as sneakers, eyewear, jeans and home goods, dived into collabs with Ikea (on a line of candles) and Stockholm Surfboard Club (for a clothing line), and more recently, launched cosmetics and skin care. His line with makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench is fun and irreverent, with eyeshadow palettes called Corporate Colours, mascara tubes shaped like curved claws, and multifunctional Colour Sticks in colours like reptile green “specially created for experimentation”.

Shah worked with local dancers, artists, models and drag performers for months to create a contemporary portrait of modern India, removed from stereotypes.

The brand will soon launch its first store in the country, at Mumbai’s Jio World Drive. “We always create spaces for people to hang out in, to feel and see different textures and colours, something that can stimulate and soothe at the same time. All of the products are there to pick up and play with — it’s an interactive and informal space.”

Mumbai Noise, priced at ₹18,900 (100 ml), will be available at Jio World Drive.

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