No fan of contrived coifs, Frédéric Fekkai—the man who brought fancy haircare to the world—has made effortless styling cool
It seems all too perfect that Frédéric Fekkai popularized the concept of laid-back luxe hair. Born and raised in Provence, the celebrity stylist has the innate French ability to make a navy sweater and relaxed jeans, his outfit for a day of press interviews at a downtown Toronto hotel, look like the most stylish ensemble imaginable.
In 1989, Fekkai brought this laissez-faire sensibility to Fifth Avenue when he opened his first salon at Bergdorf Goodman. He introduced an alternative to the hard, extreme looks of the ’80s, like Madonna’s lacquered, platinum crop, giving clients the tousled, undone/done ease of muses Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. It wasn’t long before celebrity clients—Naomi Watts, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman—came calling.
The turning point for Fekkai came when he realized his roster of affluent Manhattanites would invest in high-end skin creams and designer accessories but resort to bargain shampoos—haute haircare wasn’t a thing back then. So, in 1995, he launched his eponymous line with financial backing by Chanel, arguably inventing a new category: prestige products customized for different hair types.
Beauty empire Procter & Gamble bought the Fekkai label in 2008, reportedly paying US$400 million and expanding the collection beyond department stores such as Nordstrom and into new retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada.
In May, P&G announced the sale of the line to Designer Parfums and Luxe Brands; Fekkai himself will remain a brand advisor/architect. We asked the business-shrewd innovator about creating his personal brand, what’s next for hair and how to help clients have fun with their style.
When you opened your first salon in 1989, why did you choose New York over Paris? First of all, this was an amazing moment—1989 marked the shift on magazine covers from supermodels to celebrities. And New York was effervescent. It was the place to be. It became the fashion capital of the world at that time.
And it was at this moment that you began changing the way women interacted with their hair. How so? [The style] was shifting from overdone and over-groomed to a much more easygoing, casual chic. And this is where I made my mark—giving women great style, but [making it] effortless, less contrived, less stiff. They were using colours like very platinum blond or very strong black or strong red. I came up with a softer highlighting contrast, making sure there was dimension to the hair.
You give style advice to women beyond their hair. Do you take a holistic approach to beauty? I’m more interested in supporting and guiding my customer on having an overall style. I don’t want to do a great hairstyle and then have them get confused about makeup or eyewear or whatever. But I don’t want to be a dictator. I need them to have a library of ideas, so they can play and have fun. It’s about discovering themselves. I want them to float and feel proud and confident in themselves.
You’re a sought-after style advisor. How did you develop that gift? Everyone can have it if they’re curious. I’m a very curious kind of guy and I really appreciate things. It’s important for me to get inspired when I travel, when I see movies, when I see magazines. And I just love aesthetics.
How do you steer clients when they come requesting a celebrity cut that just won’t work? I like to guide them and explain why a look will not work for them, or give them an idea of what look would be best. I think everyone needs to understand what [the right] style is for them. It means using the texture of their hair—don’t fight it. I want a woman to exude her own beauty and not always try to change it just for the sake of changing it. It’s important to figure out how to use her bone structure, and how to shape the hair to enhance her silhouette.
How did you create such a strong personal brand before the term was even coined? I created an effortless, casual-chic style that made a lot of press, and I think that’s because I also created a haircare line that was up to my customers’ standards. Before that, there was no luxury haircare, so it was important for me to create something that was the same quality as their skincare or their accessories. Why have luxurious things on your face and in your handbag and then use an industrial product on your hair? This is where I made my mark.
After decades in the biz, do you have any wisdom for someone who’s starting out? I’m inspired by people who changed their industry. It doesn’t matter what it was. It could be a restaurateur, it could be Steve Jobs, it could be Marc Jacobs. [I’m inspired by] somebody who would [create] change, who would be less predictable and come with something outside the box. That’s what inspired me to be who I am.
Frédéric Fekkai’s Go-To Products
Above, from left:
Fekkai Après Soleil Crème, $28. “It’s designed to bring moisture back after the sun, and it also gives a great finish.”
Fekkai Brilliant Glossing Style Crème, $30. “This leave-in gives dull, frizzy hair smoothness and shine. “It’s a wonderful tool. We love to use it.”
Fekkai Beach Waves Spray, $28. “It’s for the French look or the surfer look—effortless.”
Frédéric Fekkai’s Take on Modern Hair
- Short is back. “There’s a shift going on with millennials, especially in Europe, where we see a lot of girls with shorter hair. They’re an elegant group—sexy, too, but more daring.”
- Makeovers are out. “It’s not about creating another identity, but how this identity can work for you and how we can make something custom-fit for you.”
- Casual chic is going strong. “I think we still want something a little bit more easygoing and less complicated.”
This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Cosmetics magazine. For more, download our iPad edition.