Open-Source Craftsmanship: An interview with Isamaya Ffrench and Ben Gorham of BYREDO
Culture — 01.10.20
We’ve had our eyes on Isamaya Ffrench for a while now. We’ve watched her career history span from theatre to digital design, to creative direction and our ears perked when we found out that she would be collaborating with Ben Gorham, BYREDO’s talented founder, for the lines first makeup collection. Between Isamaya’s history and Ben’s expertise in sociology and the emotional connection, we knew we’d be in for something otherworldly. Add on their mutual love for competitive sport, and it’s no wonder why BYREDO’s first makeup launch is designed with “precision and performance in mind.”
In a time of fast consumerism where we are constantly bombarded by marketing telling us what to do and think, it’s exciting to be inspired and encouraged by a cosmetic line that was designed to be an “open source system”. Ben and Isamaya have gone against the grain and meticulously crafted this collection for the last two years while succeeding in still keeping a levity about it. This unique, luxury line keeps the “wearers interpretation in mind,” with products like the Colour Stick that can be used on the eyes, cheeks, lips, or if you’re me, the body. This freedom resonates through the rest of the line.
With gorgeous packaging and hues, Ben and Isamaya succeed in creating and branding products that bring forward past futurism. A time of craftsmanship and quality, with “unique and totemic packaging.” Isamaya and Ben invite the end user to craft their own beauty.
Just before the highly anticipated launch, TEETH had the pleasure of chatting with Isamaya and Ben to discuss their process behind the line.
Where does the colour inspiration come from in BYREDO’s first makeup line?
Colour was the absolute starting point for BYREDO makeup. We spent a lot of time researching and collected a library of colours, taken from individual pixels of many different images that Isamaya collected, which were taken from photographs magazine and film. We would then sit together and ask each other what they reminded us of or what resonated with us, they all spoke to us in some way. It was about the feeling or the emotion of a colour that we really wanted to focus on because that emotional connection is really important for BYREDO, it’s in our DNA and is the basis for all our products.
“Mesolithic” and “Lascaux” are very intriguing names, for some they may not immediately emote beauty or makeup. Some of your colour names are a little tongue-in-cheek, or even sexy (i.e. “Ultramagnetic”, “Destroyer”, etc.) – where do names like “Mesolithic” and “Lascaux” fit in? How did you settle on these names?
First of all, we love the idea of having a little fun with the names, for example, one of the eye compacts are ‘corporate’ inspired colours like eraser, manila, letterhead, pushpin and steelo. It was a nod to the everyday makeup reference, I mean, it’s just about creating little stories I suppose and the same for the colours Mesolithic and Lascaux, those ancient stone colours were something we took from found imagery and really loved the earthy tones that look so modern for makeup.
I have read that your makeup packaging, at its core, has a certain heft or weight to it – was that intentional? If so, what was the intent or reasoning?
There is an alien quality to them but there is also this idea of being completely timeless and they reference ancient artefacts and yet are completely modern at the same time. This was definitely the ambition in this project, to create objects you want to pick up and use and 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 does BYREDO’s makeup line counter today’s fast beauty industry? Can you explain the importance behind that?
With BYREDO doing makeup, I realised that we have to do it in a different way than the industry norm and I think that represents the expressiveness of what Isamaya has created along with custom tooling and designing every object in a very individual way. The colours played into this too, we didn’t just want to produce the normal pink and red lipstick, for example, the colours had to be really expressive but wearable. I think the Colour Sticks are a perfect product for all of these reasons as you can use it on the lips, cheeks and eyes and the colours are really unique.
What was the story of your two-year adventure designing and creating this line?
When I came across Isamaya’s work a few years ago, I truly felt like she had an outsider perspective, and shared that emotion of being in an industry and practising the craft, but from a very different background and that really resonated with me. We then met a few times through mutual friends and after meeting her it became clear that she could be the perfect person to define and frame the world of colour for BYREDO.
From the beginning, we approached BYREDO makeup in this very inclusive way and it was more about the dialogue, to begin with, finding a common ground to begin the journey and we both find that through colour. This then led to the research and at the same time the packaging and exploring a way to launch the line, where Isamaya worked with artist Jesse Kanda to create the CGI image, that perfectly captures what we were trying to achieve. We didn’t want to launch with an image of the girl wearing lipstick, it had to feel as special as the entire process. We have worked really collectively on all elements of the makeup and it’s been great.
How did you and Ben find out about each other and connect? What was it like working together?
Ben: 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 practising the craft, but from a very different background and that really resonated with me. After meeting her it became clear that she could be the perfect person to define and frame the world of colour for BYREDO. So, I asked her to work on this project.
Isamaya: When Ben, mentioned that he was interested in exploring a makeup line, I took a bit of persuading, in a sense, because I wasn’t interested in launching just another makeup brand and I didn’t really understand the need for another makeup brand in such a saturated climate. If we were going to do this, we really had to do it in a very different way and I wanted it to be about self-expression, and about a new way of approaching makeup and colour, exploring a way of doing something a bit more conceptual. Working together has been so easy as I think our mission and goals were the same, which was to inspire with colour to tell stories and to inspire people to express themselves. It was really that it was for people, all people.
In the press release you write, “Neither Ben nor I wanted makeup that was too conformist or precious. The Colour Stick is crucial to this.” Can you elaborate on what those two terms – conformist and precious – convey to you and why you are avoiding them? How is this important to the line’s mission and objective?
BYREDO has never really been conformist and when we launched we were considered an outsider in the industry. As a brand, we have always forged our own way and for makeup, we took a very open-source approach to what makeup could be, this non-dictating tool to help people express emotions. When we were creating these products it was trying to define a system that wasn’t a system and that people could tap into on a much more emotional level and being able to feel free when using the makeup to express themselves in whatever way they want. The Colour Stick is truly universal in the way it can be worn on the face or even in the hair. It can be layered and smudged, or you can use a brush, it’s not precious in that sense.
Ben, BYREDO is known for seeking the emotional response rather than a strategic desire to sell. How does BYREDO’s makeup line fit with this branding and strategy?
For me, the human and emotive element is at the heart of what we create at BYREDO. The idea is to hope that people connect to them emotionally and makeup was created in just the same way. I think Isamaya brought me into her process in an interesting way, where everything started with a dialogue and most of it about how it made us feel. So, it’s less about the practical. technical part to being with and more about the emotion and expression. The strategy and branding then come into play to aid the product but not define it.
As you both were planning, researching, and developing the makeup line, were there any components or methods of makeup creation and testing that you decided were off the table and would not be included in your collection?
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 colour as an expression.
Drawing on nostalgia as a resource for this line, how do you plan for future products?
Nostalgia is an emotion and a feeling, that continues to inspire me and with all the BYREDO products this will come through in some way, whether that be design, smell or colour and for the makeup, we will continue to develop colour as there is so much more to explore here. We have a great new limited colour palette coming out later in the year which has a stunning rainbow of 18 colours. One thing for sure is we won’t be creating or launching anything in the usual way.
BYREDO’s Colour Sticks, lipsticks, lip balm, eyeliner, and mascara are available online at Byredo.com, in BYREDO stores and at select retail partners. The eyeshadow compacts will be available November.