Frédéric Fekkai on his Career as the Mane Maestro of Hair

by Aria Darcella

After hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai sold his namesake label in 2008, the brand lost a bit of its spark. But in 2018, Fekkai bought it back—and fans couldn’t be more thrilled. With a new product line out and more on the way, he’s ready to take the world of hair to new heights. The Daily caught up with him at his new Madison Avenue salon to discuss his career highlights, and what he’s working on next.

You moved to New York in your early twenties.  What was the city like at that time?  
Coming here in the ’80s was a blessing. New York was economically not in good shape but was artistically effervescent and vibrant! You could meet great artists or people in business anywhere. It was an amazing mix. Today, because the city is too expensive, artists are moving out. But in the ’80s, it was so great to see this amazing inspiration.

Did you work more in the fashion world, or with tony socialite clients?
Both. I was what we call a studio stylist. I was doing a lot of fashion shows, shoots, and red carpet. And because I was also associated with a salon, I was doing the commercial part of the job, which helped me a great deal. I had a keen eye for innovation and creativity, and then applied it to the real world, and how to give a customer a great look that is still relevant and—I don’t want to use the word “trendy”—but modern enough for them.

How did you land a salon inside Bergdorf Goodman in 1989?
I was working in a small salon at East 65th and Madison Avenue. Bergdorf Goodman’s president at the time, Dawn Mello, asked designers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren for a stylist who could take over the salon at Bergdorf. Both of them gave my name. Dawn came incognito to get a haircut. A couple of hours later, she called me and asked for a meeting. The rest is history!

What did your Bergdorf salon look like?
My inspiration was a mix between a photo studio, an atelier, and a salon. I redesigned it with a white marble floor. The stations were all white, with a light studio. It was interesting, because there were different departments—color department, a styling department, a lounge area, and a beauty bar—while other salons always had only one room. It was the first time that all the services were together in one place. Plus, a restaurant as well!

You were among the first coif pros to launch your own product line. How did that happen?
My clients were ladies with a sense of style, and disposable income. I realized what was available out there in haircare was mostly a commodity. And skincare was so high up—always innovative, chic, and more expensive. I decided to develop the line based on skincare innovations and formulas, and elevate that, creating a luxury haircare collection. Otherwise, hair is always an afterthought. As we know, hair has behavior—it changes color and texture, and the weather, water, and sun affect it. So, how can we fix all that?

 

You recently bought back your brand and renamed it Atelier Fekkai. What has that been like?
It was tough for me to see my name was on the bottle and on the salons when I was not satisfied with the level of services and the image. I wanted to make sure I was bringing back innovation, newness, modernity, and having a great dialogue with my customers that’s relevant to what their lives are about today. My life’s changed. I’m much more aware of what I’m eating, and what I wear. I’m trying to figure out how to be more sustainable. I’m much more sensitive to my health, and to the planet. I want to apply that to the product.

How did you develop the new Pure Collection?
I think we’re the first ones to have a professional formula with no silicone, no sulfate, no parabens. It’s free of nasties. Even the fragrance is 100 percent natural. It’s rare. It’s the first time we’ve done that. Again, I want to be the first one to do things, and I hope this one is absolutely going to be a hit, because it does the job and it’s really fantastic for the environment.

Why is environmentalism so important to you now?
It’s alarming how much plastic is in the world. It’s all over the place—in the ocean, the planet. It’s a problem. [I ask myself] How can we fix that? How can we take every measure, whether it’s recyclable plastic or finding other ways to minimize or eliminate plastic? It’s a mission.

How did you choose Carolyn Murphy to star in the Pure One campaign?
I’ve known Carolyn for a long time—I would say for at least 15, 20 years. We’ve worked together in the past. She’s always been, for me, an iconic American model. I like to have her representing our brand.

Carolyn Murphy

What other notable names have you worked with?
Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, Salma Hayek, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve worked with a lot of models—and, of course, Hillary Clinton. She’s great. Working with all the celebrities, it’s amazing how even they [just] want to feel great, feel confident. And beauty is about that—confidence.

Tell us about your new salon location!
We’ve been here for six months. The location, on Madison between East 57th and 58th streets, is great. You can get a quick touch-up and run, because it’s in Midtown. Plus, I love the terrace. Also, the size is manageable; it’s not about a big salon anymore.

What’s it like working with your wife?
Shirin [von Wulffen] is more involved with Bastide [a clean beauty/lifestyle brand], and she’s a great ambassador for that. She’s involved with development of products and skincare, definitely the branding, social media, packaging, and so on. She has a great aesthetic.

How do you two balance your work life with your personal life?
It’s a tough one. We try to not talk too much after business hours, and to spend time with the kids.

Do you think your kids will get into the family business?
You know, it’s interesting, my daughter loves to do braids. She goes on YouTube and learns all these braids. I’m so impressed; she does better than I do because of YouTube. You should see the braids she does. It’s amazing!

Wait, she goes on YouTube for hair tutorials instead of asking you?
No! She knows better than that.

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