Byredo and filmmaker Fenn O’Meally on identity and mixed emotions
Byredo founder Ben Gorham on new fragrance launch, Mixed Emotions, and his collaboration with filmmaker Fenn O’Meally
Perfume isn’t normally considered a platform for social change, but leave it to Byredo to reinvent the wheel again. Rather than rest easy since recently adding make-up and jewellery to its ever-expanding universe, the cult beauty and lifestyle label continues to blaze a trail with the unconventional launch of its latest olfactory creation, an epicene fragrance called Mixed Emotions.
In development for almost two years, Mixed Emotions stems from the universal feelings that accompany the modern-day struggle of having a lot on one’s plate. Byredo founder Ben Gorham says, ‘Mixed Emotions comes from the juxtaposition of many things, work, family, planning for the future, spontaneity and chance. These are all life moments we go through and that we often have to juggle together at the same time. The pandemic, for me, really heightened this awareness and the re-affirmation that being OK and not being OK is all perfectly natural and completely personal to each of us.’
The fragrance complexly brings together notes of maté, blackcurrant, smokey Ceylon black tea and violet leaves in a base of birch wood. To mirror its personal and honest quality, Gorham collaborated with London-based filmmaker Fenn O’Meally to create a short film for the launch. What originally began as a video campaign quickly grew into a full-on film project, with the final result standing as a 17-minute cinematic short, titled Tall are the Roots, that goes beyond simply expressing the philosophies behind the fragrance.
‘I wanted to discuss the different sides of emotions, and so how we launch the fragrance and how it is interpreted was a really important part of it,’ Gorham says. ‘To bring that story to life, I immediately thought of a film and then Fenn as someone who could create this. There is such honesty, strength and fragility in the stories she tells. Tall are The Roots explores the strength of drawing upon your origins, the very things that make you who you are. It was a collaboration in its truest form and Fenn had total carte blanche to create. How people perceive and interpret that now is open.’
In O’Meally’s hands, the film is an enchanting vehicle that captures the realities of being a young person of colour, and of non-conforming background. Dream-like visuals of dancers moving around the palatial grounds of Syon House, in Middlesex, are interspersed with extracts of interviews with four protagonists – poet/activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal, singer/artist Alewya Demmisse, dancer Deneille Percival, and artist/choreographer Abdourahman Njie – who share their thoughts on life, personal safety and dealing with struggles. Bookended by Jamal’s narration of a poem, ‘It Knows (Even When You Don’t)’, which was written for the project, the film is a powerful, unvarnished look at the conviction it takes for some to just simply be.
‘Being biracial has meant that I somewhat struggled with my own identity while growing up, but it also gave me a great appreciation for culture and it’s differences,’ Gorham says. ‘Fenn and I experienced a lot of the same things growing up, finding your identity and place in your own environment and I think this really comes through in the film too.’
He adds: ‘The film is a place for the stories to be heard and each of the protagonists in the film captures something we can all relate to – their passions, being seen and not being seen, their fragility and hopefulness – and so the film is in a way a piece of activism, [inviting you] to share experiences and be open and honest. To be yourself.’ §