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Salon Veterans Join Forces to Launch R+Co

Founders Howard McLaren, Garren Defazio (known professionally simply as Garren) and Thom Priano sat down with WWD to discuss the new project.

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Designed as part Warholian think tank, part research and development product hub and part stylist education collaborative, three hair stylists with more than a century of cumulative experience have formed a new brand. R+Co, or Rogue and Co., is the brainchild of Howard McLaren, Garren Defazio (known professionally simply as Garren) and Thom Priano, and is designed to push product innovation while at the same time harkening consumers back to a classic “hairdressing” experience.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“What has made other collectives amazing, and Andy Warhol’s Factory comes to mind, was this perfect storm of creativity that allowed magic to happen and I think our company shows a little of that, where we celebrate the culture of hairdressing,” said Tev Finger, president of R+Co. “It allows us to break new ground on not only what product should be, but also on what stylist education should be, what the salon experience could be and where we think we can help turn the direction of the industry for future generations.”

According to the founders, who sat down with WWD to discuss the project, the inspiration behind R+Co was in part a reaction to the effects of blow-dry and quick-service bars on the salon industry.

“My analogy is the record industry and Napster,” said McLaren, who has worked at Vidal Sassoon, Toni & Guy, Bumble and bumble and, in 2012, launched Whitehouse, an experimental salon and art business. “They saw it coming and they did nothing about it. They didn’t compete.…We want to wake up our industry and say look, we are losing the edge here, let’s rethink this and bring back something, which is that experience [of being] excited to get your hair cut.”

To that end, the R+Co team will be tasked with educating stylists around the country about employing both classic and modern techniques to create looks without overusing product.

“Bringing that experience back to salons was really the goal, because if we allow hair dressers to compete then we all win,” said McLaren. “All these little bits of knowledge accumulate into something that is then reflected in these products and in turn our client experience.”

As time goes on, according to the team, related industry thinkers and artists will be added to the collective. With additional insights, the product line and education components will continue to evolve.
“We want to make sure we keep our inspiration and our creativity in the forefront, and I think that’s why we haven’t really defined the boundaries of what we are going to do,” said Priano, a men’s grooming stylist whose clients include Brad Pitt, Taylor Lautner and Justin Timberlake. “It’s a changing [concept] and it’s extremely organic.”

The resulting lineup of 23 stockkeeping units — five sets of shampoos and conditioners, three creams, two waxes and pomades, two mousses, two aerosols, three sprays and an oil, is meant to address both professional and consumer needs in a simplified way. Prices range from $20 for One Prep Spray to $29 for Outer Space Flexible Hairspray. Shampoos and conditioners are priced between $24 and $28.

Featuring arty outer packaging with stock photos and original photography, each is meant to evoke emotion while offering a corresponding visualization of the product name and main benefit. For example, the brand’s Bel Air Smoothing Shampoo features a pink-hued jewel-dripping chandelier to imply a glamorous blowout, while Rockaway Salt Spray shows a crowded New York beach in the middle of summer, harkening to sun-kissed beach waves.

Robertet created five corresponding fragrances for the collection: Love Bite, Serious Gaze, Relative Paradise, Dark Waves and Rosy Eyed. Citrus notes, including blood orange, Sicilian lemon and tangerine, are universally found in each product’s fragrance. Ingredients in the formulas — which are vegan; gluten-, sulfate- and cruelty-free, and internationally sourced — include Australian yarrow plant and papaya extracts, Japanese damson plum and Indian geranium extract.

“I’m a minimalist and I’ve watched women at the counters at department stores, drugstores or wherever it is and they are reading [the product label] and putting it down, and they are scratching their head thinking what do I buy,” said Garren, of Garren NY, who has created looks for more than 1,000 magazine covers and counts among his clients Madonna, Karlie Kloss and Gisele Bündchen. “I think that [consumers and young stylists] are using too much product because they’ve been sold a bag of goods. It’s time to get back to beautiful, healthy, touchable hair.”

The range, expected by industry sources to generate $20 million in the first year at retail, will launch in May nationwide to 300 doors including select salons and retailers like Neiman Marcus, Space NK and C.O. Bigelow. The plan is to expand to international distribution in 2015 and enter about 1,000 salons, generating $100 million at retail four years from now. To get the word out, this summer the R+Co team will tour the U.S. to host stylist education seminars. How-tos, images and videos will also be shared digitally and social media will be a focus at the launch to foster dialogue.

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