Byredo Founder Ben Gorham on the Transformative Power of Grief

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Photography by Estevan Oriol

The perfumer speaks on his earthy, evocative new scent, De Los Santos – a celebration of life, death and Virgil Abloh

For Byredo founder Ben Gorham, the last two years have been defined – at least in part – by loss. In 2021, the Sweden-based perfumer was shaken by the unexpected passings of both his father and his close friend. The former died in Argentina, where he lived (Gorham had spent his adult life rebuilding their relationship after an estranged childhood). The latter was his collaborator and confidante Virgil Abloh, who died suddenly, just months later.

What followed, Gorham says, was a “sombre” period. At Abloh’s funeral, he began to question the nature of the mourning process, and the way different cultures commemorate their lost loved ones. There was something about the western approach to death – with its dour funereal rituals and cold, conclusive language – that felt too austere and inappropriate. “When we lose someone important, we learn in most western societies to grieve,” Gorham tells AnOther. “I was presented firsthand with the contrast of the funeral and the feeling of a memorial. The contrast between a moment of mourning and a moment of celebration.” Death, he came to realise, shouldn’t be about “losing someone” and “moving on” – both terms that imply forgetting. Instead, it should be about remembrance. “I wanted to create a way to celebrate my memories, to honour the beauty of life, and to translate that into scent.”

The result is De Los Santos: an earthy, aromatic new Byredo fragrance. Created as a “celebration of life”, the evocative scent was inspired by memorial rituals from all over the world, with undertones of sweet incense and ancient spices. However, the predominant influence came from Latin America and its vibrant, ritualistic celebrations of Día de Los Muertos and All Saints’ Day. As the place his late father had called home, it seemed like a fitting place to start crafting the scent. “All of my fragrances begin with the challenge of transforming an emotion or memory into a tangible product,” Gorham explains. “It’s not an easy thing to do ... especially when this idea came to me in quite a sombre time, a time of loss. How do you make that into a fragrance?” 

Gorham worked alongside fellow perfumer Jérome Epinette to help find the right notes. “Ancient ingredients kept popping up time and time again,” he says. This includes palo santo and sage, which add a sharper, spring-like twist to the more heady, opulent notes of musk, amber and incense. The pair ended up fusing eastern and western influences, bringing together ingredients from Latin and South Asian traditions, to reflect Gorham’s own heritage. “[The incense] is really linked to my personal life,” says the perfumer, whose mother is Indian. “It reminds me of the temple incense in Rajasthan, Udaipur, Jaipur and Mumbai.” However, he adds, “it’s really the mix of everything together that makes De Los Santos inherently unique ... it was quite exciting to work with palo santo and sage because of their link to ancient rituals across so many cultures. Though we may all express our culture differently, it was somewhat comforting to find these common links.”

Like most other Byredo scents, De Los Santos is about conjuring a memory, transporting you to another time and place, and breaking you out of the confines of your mind. The scope has always been global, too: previous inspirations include India, Africa, Romani nomadism, the Mojave desert, overflowing laundry baskets, and dusty leather-lined libraries. “They are rarely literal interpretations, but rather explorations of a feeling or a place or a fleeting moment,” Gorham says. “Then I hand them over to the world, who in turn create new memories with the scent, or perhaps it reminds them of something specific.” De Los Santos is the brand’s first-ever aromatic fragrance, and it may be its most ambitious yet – a celebration of life and death, with a Byredo twist.

De Los Santos is available now.