What do you get when the founder of one of the world’s coolest fragrance brands collaborates with one of the most in-demand and visually creative makeup artists of our time? Only the most hotly anticipated makeup launch ever. Yes, it’s official – Byredo makeup is here, and we can safely say it’s been well worth the wait.
The vision of brand founder Ben Gorham and makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench – known for her avant-garde, edgy editorial style – it’s a movement of openness and self-expression. A collection of color-centric products designed to inspire freedom and creativity, without being intimidating, all with seriously on-point packaging you’ll want to keep forever. “After the initial run of making fragrance and how that related to people’s ideas of beauty, I started to learn how it related to being beautiful”, Gorham tells us. “I started to feel that there could be a very visual manifestation of beauty for Byredo; I thought our visual ideas could be as different as our approach to scent.”
And different they are. You only need to look at the ad campaign images created by CGI artist Jesse Kanda to see that Byredo’s approach to makeup is a far cry from the mainstream approach. Instead, it’s all about pushing boundaries and challenging beauty norms to empower and inspire. We’d expect nothing less.
“When Ben mentioned that he was interested in exploring a makeup line, I took a bit of persuading… I wasn’t interested in launching just another makeup brand, it sort of didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t really understand the need for another makeup brand,” Ffrench reveals. “We really have to do it in a very different way, and I want it to be about self-expression and about a new way of approaching makeup and color, exploring a way of doing something a bit more conceptual.”
In this exclusive interview with Gorham and Ffrench, Savoir Flair’s Beauty Editor-at-Large found out everything you need to know about Byredo beauty. From what products you can expect from the collection to what inspired their creation and what makes the brand truly different, this is the lowdown on the future of makeup as we know it.
How does it feel to launch makeup and a totally new category?
BG: It’s truly exciting. It’s been almost 15 years since I founded Byredo, which was initially focused on perfume and smell as a medium and form of communication. Since then, the brand has evolved in many ways. We’ve ventured into other categories – leather, jewelry, and eyewear – which may seem random to some people but felt very natural to me.
Makeup came to mind five years ago, but the difficulty was that it was the only category that I really had no first-hand experience with. I’d never worn makeup, and I had a difficult time relating to it in a practical way, and partly in an emotional way. So it was put on ice for a few years. Then, about two and a half years ago, I met Isamaya. I’d become familiar with her work, which I was drawn to and found extremely interesting because of its uniqueness and creative nature. I felt I shared a sensibility with her that might translate well in a collaborative project of bringing makeup to Byredo. That’s how this all started!
It really is an artistic project and feels much more editorial, exciting, and progressive than a ‘normal’ makeup brand.
IF: It really has been the best experience. Not only do Ben and I share a similar vision of the brand and understanding of life outside of makeup, which is really important, but I’ve also had so much freedom. It’s not a traditional makeup brand in terms of us just trying to fit in with trends and satisfy a market’s needs – it really is an artistic project and feels much more editorial, exciting, and progressive than a ‘normal’ makeup brand.
The products are inspiring and transform the norms of what we see as “commercial” beauty and the way that’s communicated. I’m really excited to be part of a brand that feels progressive and that’s doing something new in the makeup industry that hasn’t really been done before. Things like using a CGI artist to create the brand launch artworks – not working with a photographer and a model – says a lot about the brand and what we plan to communicate moving forward.
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You say that emotions surround everything you do. Was this the same with makeup?
BG: Yes, definitely. I think creating products, whatever they are, is always a very emotional process, and you hope that people connect with them emotionally. Isamaya brought me into her process, where everything started with a dialogue – most of it about how it made us feel. To start, it was less about the practical, technical part of makeup. It was very much about creating a series of products that made people feel things.
IF: Emotion is absolutely how we approached the project. Even selecting the colors had a very personal approach. I approach color in a very similar way to how Ben approaches scents. If I resonate with something, then I’m interested as to why.
There’s definitely a huge element of self-expression in this makeup category. Color was the foundation and starting point for the development of it. We don’t currently do foundations, concealers, or base products – the products we’ve focused on are really about self-expression and wearing things you find very beautiful and that you have a relationship with.
The ‘Color Sticks’, for example, were the first products we started working on. I was really interested in having a product that had a very tactile quality, not something that you had to apply with a brush – although you can if you want! I like the idea that there can be this range of really beautiful color sticks that have a very naturalistic approach to how you wear them. They’re a universal product, meaning you can wear them on your lips, eyes, and cheeks.
Something became quite apparent to me with recent makeup developments and the way that people express themselves. Makeup – until a few years ago – was quite limiting. You were told you could wear red lips or pink lips; you could put blue eyeshadow on or brown eyeshadow on. But this new generation of makeup means you can wear green lipstick or dark blue sparkly lipstick. It’s really about having a personal relationship with that product and that color.
How were these specific colors conceived and created?
IF: The process of creating the colors was really fun. I didn’t think “oh we have to do a red, a green, a blue, and an orange”. It was very much a case of starting from the very beginning and exploring colors that we found really exciting, that we resonated with. We did a lot of image research, using Harley Weir’s photographs taken in Lagos and photos of landscapes. All sorts of gorgeous pictures. We picked the part of the picture that had a really beautiful hue, and we’d take all of these colors and create a color library. Before we ended up with the curated edit, we thought, ‘would these look really beautiful whether worn on the cheeks, the lips, or the eyes?’
But it’s not just about color; it’s about texture and application. Some of the sticks are very glossy and will look gorgeous as a lip or eye gloss, and some have a glitter-metallic texture. The point of these products is something that looks great on my eyelids might look amazing on a girl in Nigeria’s lips.
It’s always been our model to challenge the status quo and the norm. To tell stories and express ideas.
There are so many makeup brands now. What sets Byredo apart from the rest?
IF: We do have a lot of color, but there’s a distinction between crazy, scary color, and color that looks really beautiful and can be worn in a very natural way. That’s really my incentive. Not to create bright, bold colors that you’re scared by, but subtleties and versions of color that you’re drawn to.
The lipsticks, for example, are all very classic colors. We don’t currently have neons or glitters because we wanted to launch with a set of real Byredo classics. That’s everything from a true Byredo red to a deep purple to a coral, and they’re all very vibrant but also natural.
I feel like a lot of brands do color, but in an unapproachable way, and that’s the beauty of Byredo. It is very colorful, but they’re very accessible colors. We have khakis, taupes, desaturated iridescent pinks, a plain black eye gloss… They’re very approachable products even though they look very vibrant.
BG: When we looked at the market, as a complete outsider I felt that it was homogenous. All these brands were competing, but with the same products. We were bent on creating something unique. A progression, a movement of what color can be in someone’s life. It’s always been our model to challenge the status quo and the norm. To tell stories and express ideas. That was our focus. I believe that we are creating the future needs of the market. As in any creative field, someone has to move it forward. This is part of our mission and is extremely important.
Tell us more about the other products in the collection.
IF: Our lipsticks have really gorgeous gold and silver packaging and a magnetized lid. There are 15 shades and they’re all really beautiful classic colors. We have everything from corals to chocolate browns to nudes, and they come in two different finishes – matte and glossy. It was really important that we had that option, as I really believe that some shades look much better with a slight shine and others when they’re more matte.
The mascara is a volumizing product with a really tiny wand. There’s often a misconception with volumizing products that you should have big wands, but a smaller one gives you more coverage close to the base of your lash and control over the individual lashes.
We also have our Byredo eyeliner, which is a simple black eyeliner (we will be doing variations on the color). It has a really long tip so you can do a long straight line easily.
One of my favorite products is the eyeshadow compact. It has a beautiful gold oyster-shell packaging.
Speaking of the packaging, it’s so stunning and striking. Tell us about the ideas behind it.
BG: With the packaging, we wanted to enforce this idea of curated color. So, it felt natural that each product was designed individually as opposed to a collection where all the materials and shapes were the same. With the eyeshadow compact, we had this idea of liquid gold dripping into an oyster shell. That’s obviously quite technical to bring to life, but we spent a lot of time over it. We both agreed the packaging, as well as the performance, color, and textures, needed to be exceptional.
We also spent a lot of time on a blacklist of ingredients, raw materials, and chemicals that we didn’t want to use – maybe one of the most stringent in the industry. That was a very challenging aspect, to maintain the level of performance that Isamaya wanted but at the same time having this extensive blacklist of materials.
Ben, you say that collaboration is as much about sharing as it is about learning. What have you learned throughout this process?
BG: More than Isamaya, that’s for sure! I’ve really been able to take part in not just a creative process, but also a deep dive into makeup’s ability to empower people and express emotions and individuality. I’ve always been around it, but from afar, and I’ve learned that it’s a great tool – as are fragrance and fashion – in expressing who you are and sometimes even who you want to be.
Coming out of this two-and-a-half-year period, I’m more convinced than ever that it will become a pillar at Byredo. It’s also been a great learning curve in terms of how to evolve the brand, to push the idea of innovation, and to continue to look into the future of what this brand can be while catering to future needs.
Naturally, we’re dying to know if the products have a Byredo scent?
BG: We did work on a signature fragrance that didn’t relate to any of our existing perfumes, as we thought it needed its own context. I have two distinct memories of the smell of makeup. One was my mother’s in the 80s and 90s with those clear violet smells, and the other – which is much more current – is all about pure vanilla. Even though these are ingredients in the smell, for familiarity, we wanted to make something completely new. So yes, they have a smell!
We’re so excited that the Middle East is one of the few markets you’re launching makeup in! Why is it such an important region for you?
BG: I’ve been traveling to the Middle East since I was three years old because of family. So, I have a very special relationship with the region, and I’ve seen it in its early development stage. It’s dear to me, and it’s been very exciting to build a business there over the past few years.
IF: The Middle East is probably one of the more proficient parts of the world in terms of having a very good knowledge of makeup and a really strong relationship with it. I’ve noticed that in the rest of the world, people still don’t know how to use makeup. Even my agent — a fashion agent who’s been in the job for almost 20 years — asks me how to put eyeshadow on!
I think the beauty of something like a color stick is that it’s so easy, you literally just swipe it on from the stick, blend a little with your fingers, and it’s done. I think that’s what’s missing – a very easy, approachable product. People want efficiency and simplicity, and that’s what we like at Byredo.
Byredo Makeup launches on October 1st, 2020.