With the right stylist, the proper cut, color and style, hair becomes more than something that sits on the top of your head. It can change the client’s self-image and outlook on life. For stylist and hair care industry innovator Philip Pelusi, the opportunity to transform someone’s life remains a driving force in his career. “You can change somebody’s look and impact his or her personality,” he explained. “Besides being creative, it’s the collaboration between the client and myself.”
That collaboration has lasted more than 40 years and has taken Pelusi from the salon to the top of the hair care industry. His empire includes 14 salons that perform 400,000 hair care services a year (including 80,000 coloring jobs), two product lines and a company that bears this name.
When it comes to a hair cut, however, Pelusi insists that it’s not what you take off, rather it’s what you leave on and where you leave it that makes a great haircut.
“Hair is the first thing people notice,” he observed, putting it ahead of skin, makeup and clothes. “But a lot of people don’t think about how they treat their hair and scalp,” he warned. “They have to start thinking about it like skin care regime. They are important, certainly more important than the clothes that they wear.”
Few hair care experts can claim raucous comedians as their inspiration, but Lenny Bruce, the original foul-mouthed standup comedian, was the muse for Pelusi back in the 1960s.
“I was floundering as a young guy, but I always had an interest in design and fashion,” recalled Pelusi. “I went to see Lenny Bruce, and that set a bell off. He had style and he had women around him.” Pelusi was drawn to hairstyling because, he says, there was a freedom to express himself, be who he wanted to be and still be a part of the fashion world. In fact, the hairstyling culture appealed to him so much as a young man that he sold his car to pay for styling school—a bold move for any kid.
It wasn’t long after he started his career that Pelusi realized that hair is greatly misunderstood by the client, the stylist and the hair care industry. Too many stylists are enamored with the style and not the material they’re working with. As a result, they’ll cut and shape hair so aggressively that they destroy the material with which they’re working.
“The better the fabric, or better the hair, the better it looks,” he insisted.
But back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the hair care industry was just waking up to the potential and the promise of gentler, natural ingredients.
“We were using shampoos that were one step beyond soap,” recalled Pelusi. “The balsam products were just beginning to show up on store shelves.”
As the natural movement found a toehold, a revolution was taking place in the hairstyling industry. Women started coloring their hair, perming their hair and heading to shopping malls to get their hair done. As a result, formulators started creating products to help protect hair, and that’s when Pelusi saw his opportunity to make a difference.
A Chance to Grow
In the 1970s, hippies came of age and wanted to create and use natural personal care products. Pelusi and his team began mixing up avocados and eggs, tossing them in a blender and applying it to hair. “We were coating the hair shaft, but we weren’t fixing the damage,” he recalled.
But by the end of the decade, Pelusi was experimenting with new materials such as hyaluronic acid and sodium PC, which provided more manageability to hair and bounce, especially in color treated hair. As a result, he developed a regimen for hair that’s more aligned with skin care.
Pelusi remains committed to natural ingredients, but the materials must perform, noting that many consumers say they want to help a particular cause or improve the environment, but if a product doesn’t perform, they’ll look for something else.
To meet these consumers’ needs, Pelusi starts by creating the best product possible and then strives to earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s certified organic seal—something that he’s achieved on 14 of the 25 products in his lines, which are made up of hair care products as well as body creams and scrubs and lipglosses.
Guardian protects hair & scalp.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to create a certified organic shampoo, since his products can only make 85% natural claims. Pelusi relies on sugarcane for 85% of his surfactant system, but to get the lather that consumers crave, his formulas contain 15% traditional surfactant.
“We can keep color from fading, treat hair and augment it with a little sudsing to get enough clean and still leave the good stuff on the hair shaft,” he explained. “We are committed to natural, but we’re not afraid of science.”
Still, his Tela Beauty Organics, is billed as the industry’s first USDA certified organic line of hair care products.
Protect and Serve
Some of the best selling products in Pelusi’s two lines, (he also markets P2 by Philip Pelusi for professionals), are designed to protect hair. Launched 15 months ago, Guardian is billed as organic sun protection for all hair types with an SPF 18. The water-soluble formula is said to eliminate frizzy hair, control static electricity, restore moisture and deliver instant finish. Organic antioxidants carrot and forsythia provide protection against free radical damage, while SPF 18 helps protect thinning scalps. The serum can be reapplied throughout the day without making the hair greasy.
Another protective product is Healer, which provides styling as well as protection from the curling iron or blowout treatments. It helps repair damaged ends too. The USDA certified 100% organic formula contains humectants such as shea butter and argan oil, while organic proteins pomegranate and tomato are said to work together as oxidants to strengthen hair and protect from sun damage and color fade. Many products in Pelusi’s lines are rich in rici mushroom, cassia and gustafolia seed (nature’s version of hyaluronic acid) that are said to help protect the scalp. Pelusi maintains that his products are taking the hair care industry in a new direction of providing protection as well as styling.
His Composer organic styling products are said to shape, define and add body while protecting hair from free radicals and pollutants. The formula includes organic apricot and water celery to bind weightless moisture to the hair shaft while smoothing unruly frizz. Many consumers want smoothing products that won’t weigh hair down, and that translates into lightweight, low-resin formulas, a Pelusi specialty. In the works are patent-pending, hydrocarbon-based silicone-free formulas that promise all the benefits of silicones without weighing hair down. Pelusi expects the silicone-free formulas to debut about six months.
As an expert in color, Pelusi combines modern anti-fade colors with foil treatments to achieve outstanding results without the chance of ingredients entering the bloodstream.
“People want more natural hair color that’s not perceived to be harmful,” he explained. “Other companies take out ammonia but they put something else in the formula.”
He is currently researching and developing "optical brighteners" to enhance the quality of the color and to eliminate issues of dullness and yellowing. According to Pelusi, consumerswill not accept the trend if the look isn't outstanding and doesn't redefine the idea of gray hair.
A Space of His Own
Giving clients exactly what they want has moved beyond the salon for Pelusi. He has a 7000-sq. ft. space in New York City’s Meatpacking District. The space, Tela Design Studio by Philip Pelusi, functions as an office, salon and learning facility for buyers as well as stylists to learn about Pelusi products. At the same time, it facilitates fashion shoots and has even hosted several fashion shows. “In my little world, I’ve been reasonably successful,” said Pelusi modestly. “This space is part hobby, part business. It gives us a chance to help emerging designers too.”
Tela Design Studio includes a wine bar and tea bar to keep the conversation between stylist, formulator and consumer flowing and growing. The studio’s teahouse was named one of the top 10 teahouses in New York City.
Bringing together an eclectic group is nothing new to Pelusi, who boasts, “We connect science and nature that are intertwined with one goal: beauty.” More info: www.philippelusi.com