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Top Secret Turning Heads

NEW YORK — Copycat products have the potential to kill a category. Remember pore strips?<br><br>Well, Denise Rossouw, a West Hollywood-based hairstylist, is hoping that consumers have a short memory when it comes to the history of hair...

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NEW YORK — Copycat products have the potential to kill a category. Remember pore strips?

Well, Denise Rossouw, a West Hollywood-based hairstylist, is hoping that consumers have a short memory when it comes to the history of hair attachments. The segment experienced great success in the Nineties when über hairstylist Jose Eber launched Secret Hair, the first do-it-yourself hair extension regiment. But attachments fizzled years later due to ineffective me-too products.

Now, hair attachments and extensions are hot again. And Rossouw, who claims an exclusive celebrity client list and credit on numerous motion pictures, believes it’s high time her two-year-old business, Top Secret Hairccesory, reaches more than just her celebrity clientele.

Top Secret consists of top crown pieces and extension clips made of 100 percent human hair. They take only a minute to snap on and Rossouw said Top Secret won’t cause hair loss — a common problem yielding from extensions that are glued and sewn on to existing hair.

And, all hair goes through a cleaning and cuticle treated process.

“If any hair cuticles on a hairpiece don’t go in the same direction, the hair will easily get matted,” said Rossouw. “It also has to be a right match [to existing hair]. We use a blend of hair from all ethnicities, such as China, Italy, India and Russia.” Rossouw heavily guards her manufacturer; she won’t even say on which continent it’s based.

Her 2002 collection, which will continue in 2003, includes 24 different colors and a number of styles designed for five different hair lengths: short hair (five to six inches), short bobs (seven to nine inches), medium length hair (10 to 12 inches), long hair (16 to 18 inches) and extra-long hair. Newer pieces will debut in 2003, such as ones that feature darker roots for blondes — an effort to create a more natural look for those with highlights. Hair colors will be updated, too.

Top Secret pieces are sewn onto a micro-mesh base and are secured to the head with a four-clip attachment system. This system makes the pieces quite unnoticeable compared with other extensions, according to Rossouw.

Top Secret hair pieces are distributed to more than 50 salons across the country, including the Joseph Martin and Rachel Russo salons in Los Angeles. Naimes Beauty Supply, a store that caters to motion picture industry stylists in L.A., and the company’s Web site, topsecrethair.com, also sell the products.

Rossouw plans to end 2002 with sales between $250,000 and $500,000.

But, she expects that figure to triple in 2003 when she launches Tricked Out, a line of synthetic hairpieces, which most likely will appeal to a younger consumer base. Tricked Out aims to gain distribution in stores such as Encino, Calif.-based Pure Beauty and Henri Bendel and will retail between $79 and $175. All styles will mimic the Top Secret hair line. Curly styles, though, will be added “since you can’t take a curling iron to synthetic hair,” Rossouw said.

Currently, Rossouw’s competition includes a number of synthetic hair attachments and custom-made pieces, which generally cost thousands of dollars to make. Top Secret prices are kept well below those of custom-made pieces; top crown pieces retail between $400 and $800, and extension clips retail between $125 and $225.

“Our prices are less because we mass produce them,” Rossouw said, not because they are of any less quality than custom-made pieces.

But one maker of custom hair pieces, Rodolfo Valentin, is skeptical of Top Secret, and non-custom made pieces in general.

“In my experience, the hair has to match exactly the color and texture of the client,” said Valentin, owner of Rodolfo Valentin salon in Manhattan. “The [hair extension] concept is to go with 100 percent natural hair with the origin of the client because when we start to use hair that’s a different nationality from the client, you won’t get an exact match,” Valentin said. His hairpieces begin retailing at $1,500.

Actress Sean Young, a celebrity who can probably have her pick of the litter, defends Top Secret. “Top Secret not only allows me to maintain my hairstyle without damaging my hair but it gives me the opportunity to explore new hairstyles.” Rossouw adds to that, saying she can create a head of hair in five minutes.

The grandfather of removable hair extension pieces, Eber, believes removable hair extensions have resurfaced and will appeal to an experimental market.

“It is a category that is here to stay and will not fade,” said Eber. “Now it is bigger than ever. The sewn-on types, the permanent types, the ones you take off. There will always be a woman who loves hair extensions, it’s not just for a New York woman. Can [Rossouw] reach a certain market? Absolutely.”

Rossouw began styling hair nearly 20 years ago. Born and raised in Seguin, a suburb near San Antonio, Rossouw worked in many salons in Florida and Texas before entering the TV world in 1987 producing makeover shows for PBS.

Soon after, she launched a short-lived line of cosmetics, Face Productions. In 1990 she moved to Los Angeles.

“I just felt like I had gone as far as I could go. I did all the beauty pageants with TV and I became really popular and I needed something more.”

Rossouw got her California styling license and hopped around salons in Beverly Hills. Displeased with the salon culture there — “they were all really snooty and used cheap hair color products” — Rossouw decided to open her own salon.

The salon closed within a year, but she immediately found work at Alter Ego, a West Hollywood salon, where she leased a styling chair. The move changed her professional career.

“That’s when I started styling for low budget productions. Actresses brought me into the business. By my third movie, I got into the union.”

Today, between working on movies, Rossouw is building a sales team to help Top Secret gain distribution to salons. She is finding many salons receptive to the attachments. Those that show hesitancy, she said, “don’t know what types of hair extensions are available now. They know the wear and tear of extensions and the time involved to apply them. There is still a lot of fear out there with extensions.”

But demand, she said, will not fade away.

“As a woman gets older, every decade they lose another 10 percent of their hair.”

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