STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Cult fragrance brand Byredo is set to launch its first full handbag line.
The collection — which comprises 54 handbags, six wallets, three clutch bags and a credit card holder — is crafted in Italy using French calfskin, lizard and python. It follows a test run of leather accessories in 2015 that functioned as a crash course in the new category.
“It was an idea I wanted to explore for some time,” Ben Gorham, founder of Byredo, tells BoF. "Byredo was always just a vehicle for us to express ideas, but it was important to establish the fragrance category [first]. I always imagined there would be other facets to express the brand, and I was surprised to see how well our process of creating product translated to handbags.”
It took some time to get the product right, however. “People didn’t want the luggage,” Gorham says, of the 2015 experiment. “We were using one very specific leather that had a very European feel because it was completely uncovered and it patinated really quick, which was an emotion that Europeans can relate to but in America the idea of a bag having a scratch is very different. The last two years has really been a study in how to realise that vision [of a full collection].”
The experiment allowed Gorham to gauge customer interest and figure out what works — and what doesn't work — before committing to a full collection and all the associated inventory risks. And while Gorham designs all the handbags — it is his “pet project”, he says — the experiment taught him that Byredo needed a full production system in order to create a collection that was of the quality Gorham desired. As such, he hired a team of people from Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Dior. “The team is built up around production and quality control… Both our organisation and our distribution was geared up essentially as a beauty company, and I felt like if we were going to launch handbags we needed to build up the organisation to be able to handle it.”
It’s an ambitious project — one that puts Byredo at a completely different end of the retail landscape — most of the bags retail for well over $1,000, with $3,200 being the top price point. Its fragrance retails for $150 for 50ml; candles start from $80: Byredo is at the premium end of the fragrance industry — the brand is more expensive than Diptyque, but cheaper than its niche counterparts such as Le Labo and Memo. But persuading a customer who knows Byredo for its fragrance and home scents to part with upwards of $2,000 for a handbag — when bags from the likes of Gucci and Loewe sell for much less — might come with difficulties.
The handbags will launch on September 28 with retail partners including Selfridges in the UK, Wooster and Barneys in the US and MS6 in Sweden.
“The real challenge will be introducing products that don’t participate in the noisy “It” bag culture that currently exists,” says Gorham. “I know many of our existing customers buy bags at these price points, and at the same time this collection speaks to a lot of women I know that don’t look at bags as a sign of inclusion but rather a personal and unique piece that expresses who they are,” he adds. “I’m hoping it will attract a mix of old and new customers.”
Gorham has always done things his own way: a former basketball star, he launched Byredo with five fragrances in 2006. By 2008 the brand was stocked at Barneys New York and the following year, Byredo was the retailer’s second-best-selling fragrance line.
Likely, expansion is also on the minds of Byredo’s investors: in 2013, Manzanita Capital — which also owns Space NK and Diptyque — purchased a majority share in the business. “The strategy is to do everything really well which also means we may need to take our time,” he says. “I imagine Byredo will do many things in the future — I always thought Byredo was more of a universe than a product or a category — and I’m happy we are finally at the point where we can introduce new facets to the brand.”
Will there ever be a Byredo fashion line? “Our process is slow and builds on the idea of achieving a level of perfection,” says Gorham. “Fashion is fast and forced to reinvent itself many times throughout the year… To be honest, I’m not sure I’m wired for it.”