Ask just about anyone with access to Instagram and even a vague awareness of what's going on in the fashion world to name their idea of the ultimate cool-kid luxury fragrance and candle brand, and no doubt Byredo will be top of mind. The minimalist, influencer-beloved label — which also makes leather goods, jewelry and eyewear and has collaborated with fellow buzzy brands like Ouai and Off-White — is now turning its attention toward cosmetics. On Thursday, Byredo introduces its inaugural makeup collection, a 37-piece lineup that's two years in the making.
Byredo founder and creative director Ben Gorham had been wanting to get into the color cosmetics space, and to do so in a way that would encourage people to question the convention and norms of it, for some time. He tapped makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench — regarded as a visionary in the industry and known for pushing boundaries in her work — to help create and hone the product line. Over the course of two years, the duo squeezed in meetings whenever the could, sometimes in cars in between shows at fashion week, to debate and fine tune the line, considering everything from the formulas and the shades to the packaging and names with careful intention.
The result is a stunning range that includes a mascara, a liquid eyeliner, three five-pan eye shadow palettes, a lip balm, seven satin lipsticks, eight matte lipsticks and 16 multi-purpose cream pigment color sticks. While the shade options for the mascara and liner are streamlined and classic (black — and only black), the lip and eye products range from traditional (see: a blue-red lipstick; a shimmery shadow palette packed with nudes and browns) to the avant-garde (see: color sticks in sapphire, bubblegum pink and rusty orange). It's both boundary-pushing and wearable, luxurious and joyful. It's a makeup artist's playground that conveys luxury in every sensory element.
"I hope Byredo make up inspires people to re-define how color can be used to express emotion," Gorham says.
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But the collection was also clearly designed for the existing Byredo customer, who values aesthetic appeal as well as user experience. With a wobbly-surfaced compact that looks almost like a gilded oyster shell and mascara and lipstick tubes that curve into unexpected silhouettes, Byredo's color cosmetics packaging is certainly more maximalist than its notoriously stark, black-and-white clad candles and fragrances. But that they've been designed to take a treasured place displayed prominently on a vanity, appreciated as art in addition to functional objects, is clear. And the substantial metal components, sleek surfaces and satisfying magnetic closures convey the attention to detail and quality for which Byredo has become known.
Ahead of the Byredo makeup launch, Gorham took some time to chat with Fashionista about what went into creating the products, why he values being an industry "outsider" and approaching beauty products as sacred objects. Read on for the highlights.
Tell me about this launch and what inspired it.
When I founded Byredo, initially it was primarily focusing on fragrance and smell as a medium. And as the brand evolved, I started to introduce and play in other categories. We introduced leather and jewelry and eyewear, amongst other categories, but about five years ago, I started to feel like makeup could be a strong physical manifestation of beauty at Byredo, in contrast to fragrance, which was in a sense invisible. So I started imagining or trying to imagine what that could be and found it really hard to relate to in a practical sense being that I've never worn makeup.
Was that why you turned to Isamaya Ffrench to work with? What did she bring to the process, and how is she aligned with the Byredo brand?
A few years ago I came across Isamaya's work, which kind of blew me away because beyond the talent and the creative expression, I truly felt like she had an outsider perspective, and shared that emotion of being in an industry and practicing the craft, but from a very different background and that really resonated with me. I think that outsider perspective was something I felt we shared.
So we eventually met through a common friend and began a dialogue and had random meetings, sometimes in the back of cars between shows in Paris and in London. But it created this discussion about this idea that I thought color could be an important pillar at Byredo. After meeting her it became clear that she could be the perfect person to define and frame the world of color for Byredo, so I asked her to work on this project, which was started just over two years ago. There's such a lengthy process to ensure all the ingredients, colors and textures work, so it's been quite a journey of discovery.
What was the product development process like?
We knew we wanted the makeup to be as clean as possible and we had a very strict list of ingredients we did not want to use in the products. In the beginning there was a real challenge to work with the labs to ensure we had the technical and professional performance right, and it was a responsibility on our shoulders throughout the last two years. We also decided not to explore foundations at this stage, purely because we felt this was more about offering a solution for people, we were really more focussed on exploring color as an expression.
Aside from the color palettes and formulas being really beautiful, the packaging of the whole range is really unique and appealing as well. How important was it to get the aesthetic of the products right, and what went into that process?
This was, for me, just as important as the makeup itself. With the packaging and design of the objects I took inspiration from ancient artifacts, totemic shapes that looked like they could have been made yesterday or thousands of years ago. There's an alien quality to them, but there is also this idea of being completely timeless. This was definitely the ambition in this project, to create objects you want to pick up and use.
The other was to design shapes that really consider the person's hand, and this tactility that relates to the form and weight and even to the magnet fastenings. It's a complex process with many variables, but I think in the end it's really about something you feel and that approach to design for me is just as important as the product itself.
How do you see Byredo makeup as an extension of the Byredo brand?
As I see it, they all have something in common in terms of when I'm creating the products, whether that be fragrance or leather, there's always been a very emotional process for me and hope that people connect to them emotionally.
With the makeup, I think Isamaya brought me into her process in an interesting way, where everything started with a dialogue mostly about how it made us feel. So, it's less about the practical technical part of makeup to start. It was very much about creating a series of products that made people feel things.
Who is Byredo makeup for?
The makeup if for everyone and anyone, and this was a deliberate decision from the start. It's color for everyone to wear, however they choose.
Do you have a personal favorite product or one you're most proud of?
The eye shadow. I think that's a great product. The inspiration came from liquid gold dripping into an oyster; we had a very vivid idea of what that would look and feel like, and I think we got pretty close.
Tell me about the product names. What do you hope they communicate, how did you come up with them and how do they fit in with the existing Byredo brand?
We had a lot of fun with the naming of the colors. We first created this extensive color library and Isamaya would find specific colors from images and photographs and then take the pixel of the color and add it to the library. We would then sit together and select the ones that meant something to us or we liked a lot, then we'd ask each other what the color reminded us of and the names sort of came from there.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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