The Latest Fragrance from Byredo is a Ritualistic Reminder to Celebrate Life While Mourning Loss

When Marcel Proust wrote of the visceral way a tea-soaked madeleine could tap into the depths of our subconscious in his 1919 novel, Swann’s Way, he popularized the idea that sensory stimuli—taste, smell, sound—can vividly recall events from the past. The Proust Effect, as this scientifically sound phenomenon is now called, has always fascinated Ben Gorham. “It’s been the focus of my work since the beginning,” says Gorham, who launched Byredo, his popular gender-fluid fragrance brand-turned-beauty and lifestyle juggernaut, in 2008. His first fragrance, Green, stemmed from a bittersweet memory of his father, who left when Gorham was young, and who smelled like green beans to him as a child—an olfactory idea that was expertly rendered in jasmine and musk notes. Despite their geographical distance, the two men reconnected; Gorham, a father of two young girls, is based in Sweden and his father had been living in Argentina, where he died last year. That loss inspired Gorham’s most recent tribute to the man he endearingly referred to as “my pops” on a recent Zoom call: an herbaceous woody scent called De Los Santos.

“The Spanish-Latin connection was tied to him initially,” Gorham explains of the name of the fragrance, which officially bows tomorrow. But the eau de parfum became more of an exploration of the rituals we associate with mourning—especially the formal Western and Christian traditions, which Gorham found unnecessarily heavy. “I started to question it all a little bit,” he admits, an internal reckoning that became more immediate when Gorham’s good friend, Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director, Virgil Abloh, died unexpectedly in November at age 41. “I found myself at his funeral, and then at his memorial and I was struck by the difference between this moment of mourning, and this celebration of life. And I started to think, ‘How could I create a ritual that people engaged in in relation to loss that actually reminded them to celebrate life?”

Raised Catholic, Gorham turned to sacramental scents when composing De Los Santos—clary sage, incense, Palo Santo. In search of a strong visual representation to effectively express its idea in a modern way, he was drawn to Chicano culture and Mexican traditions of mourning, which pay tribute to a life well-lived versus one that is finite in death. Gorham admittedly doesn’t have an intimate connection to Los Angeles’s Latinx population. But he has long used Byredo’s visual language to show a different idea of what beauty can be. “Chicano culture isn’t one I’ve really seen enough of in the beauty realm,” he says; neither is the work of Mexican-American photographer Estevan Oriol. Oriol, who tour-managed Cypress Hill and House of Pain before becoming an image-maker entrenched in East L.A.’s street culture, was wary of the project when Gorham slipped into his DMs a few months ago. “I get hit up on Instagram by all kinds of people who are like, ‘We should collab together, we should do this together,” Oriol says with a laugh. But once he connected with Gorham and his team, the project became real. “They weren’t trying to change me to fit their brand. They were like, we’re just going to let you do your thing. And that was all I needed to hear.”

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