‘Craig (McDean) was annoyed at me because he had to go back and try find the negatives. When you shoot on film that’s a huge job to ask,’ laughs Ben Gorham. I’m with the founder of the perfume company, Byredo, in Paris, but I'm not here to talk fragrance, instead I’m here for the debut of Byredo's first leather goods capsule collection. 'I’ve known [British fashion photographer] Craig for about six years. We were friends before he started shooting for us. I was a fan of all the stuff he did in the 90s and a big part of that work was his ‘I Love Fast Cars.’ I kept pestering him about the archives and when I saw the outtakes, well, they were amazing so I convinced him to allow me to use them.’
The images Gorham are talking about are the results of McDean’s time spent documenting drag racing in the USA. From the action on the race track to the crowds hanging out, the shots capture the importance and fascination of American muscle car culture in the late 90s. Gorham has a mutual appreciation of the culture having spent his teenage years living in the USA.
'Growing up there, your car is everything. My first was Cutlass Supreme station wagon. So the opposite of these. It wasn’t great for dates, and I used to dream about those late 60s/ early 70s muscle cars. They're so iconic.'
Having seen McDean's full collection of work from that time Gorham explains that: ‘I basically said to Craig "I want to do a leather goods collection inspired by these outtakes." And he just trusted me.’ Inspired directly by McDean’s images, Gorham has created 15 bags alongside smaller items including purses, which are shown alongside those never-before-seen outtakes plus an unseen short film by McDean.
But don’t expect to see any bags featuring car prints. Instead, Gorham’s take on his inspiration is a lot more subtle. And a hell of a lot cooler. ‘For me it's more about the translation of what is in the images. My process is less about I want something to look like this and more about the exploration of an idea.’
Exploring this ‘fine line between craftmanship and industrial design’ Gorham looked at transferring the painterly elements to leather tanning techniques; So you’ll find that the poppy colours relate directly back to the images of Camaros, the glossy and lacquered effects reference car paint working techniques whilst sharp geometric lines reference the streamlined bodywork of a racing car. Meanwhile, the interior gets just the same amount of attention, covered with a soft leather, the contrast between this and the shiny hard exterior feels just like opening a car door and sliding into the seat. Elsewhere, smaller items like purses come in petrol inspired hues while others feature the number ‘454,’ a direct reference to a Chevvy’s engine.
Just like Byredo's cult fragrance bottles, which when they launched in 2006 were the complete antithesis to the usual attention seeking pink and gilded bottles on the market, the bags are as equally minimalist and not noticeably 'Byredo' branded. 'Our bottles achieved status by being clean and clear but that wasn’t the initial idea when we designed them. Whereas in this project, beyond the translation of craft, I also wanted to look at the parallel between the status of a car and the status of a handbag. Both say a lot about the owner. Both are a declaration of status,’ says Gorham.