A little over a year after buying back his namesake brand, Frédéric Fekkai is ready to reintroduce it to the market.
The new Fekkai hair-care line, now billed as clean, vegan and sustainable, is set to launch on Jan. 6 at Target, target.com and fekkai.com before rolling out to broader mass retail and international markets, including Canada, the U.K., France and then Asia later in spring. The price point — $20 per product — is at the high end for the mass market, and while Fekkai declined to discuss sales figures, industry sources estimate the brand could do $50 million in sales in its first year.
The Fekkai brand has gone through a series of ownership changes since its creation in 1995 as a joint venture with Chanel, including sales to Catterton and Procter & Gamble. Last year, WWD reported that the hairstylist-turned-entrepreneur had partnered with Cornell Capital to acquire Fekkai Brands, the joint venture created by Designer Parfums and Luxe Brands that bought the business in 2015, marking the fourth time the brand had been sold.
Before Fekkai and Cornell Capital, a $2.5 billion private investment firm founded by Henry Cornell, former vice chair of Goldman Sachs’ merchant banking division, bought back the brand — Fekkai is said to hold a minority stake and Cornell the majority — the original Fekkai, meant to be an upscale brand, is said to have languished for some time in mass retail, with the majority of its sales coming from the diverted products in the gray market. Fekkai Brands, which now consists of the Fekkai brand sold in mass market retailers and The One by Frédéric Fekkai sold at Ulta Beauty, as well as six salons in North America, is estimated by market sources to have a wholesale volume of about $35 million.
With Fekkai himself now back at the wheel, aided by beauty industry veteran Pierre Lampert, ceo of holding company Blue Mistral which includes Fekkai’s luxury lifestyle line Bastide that he acquired in 2016 with his wife Shirin von Wulffen, the 25-year-old brand has been reinvented and is ready to languish no more.
“We’re very proud — we’ve been working very hard with a lab to develop a formula to replace the [original] Fekkai line with the same purposes and same great performances, but without silicones, sulfates, parabens and phthalates,” Fekkai told WWD.
Twenty nineteen is a totally different landscape for the hair than 1995. When Fekkai originally launched in the mid-Nineties, the hairstylist sought to bring very high-end, high-performance, salon-tested formulas to consumers. Now, he says, consumers still want high-performance, but they are far more concerned than ever with the ingredients in their products.
“It’s not a trend, this clean beauty,” said Fekkai. “I look at myself and how my life has changed in the last five years — I’m vegan, I banned plastic in my house three years ago. There are no plastic straws, no plastic cups in the office.”
Fekkai feels fully tuned into consumer concerns about potential health hazards stemming from ingredients used in beauty products — he hears their concerns in his salons, which he spends time in to test products and help educate stylists. He’s even begun using cotton instead of foil for highlights.
The Fekkai relaunch is coinciding with a boom in new technologies that labs are using to develop formulas for hair products without tried-and-true ingredients that consumers have grown wary of.
“Clean formulas were a challenge in the past,” said Fekkai. “You could not have clean formulas with performance — the product separated or it smelled terrible.”
With the advent of new, more affordable technologies, Fekkai felt the right place to launch the line in the U.S. was in mass retail. He still considers it a high-end line, and the price point — $20 per product — reflects that. In the U.K., the brand will launch in Selfridges.
The launch is coming at a time when the lines between prestige and mass have never been more blurred, and Fekkai is very aware that consumers want to shop across a variety of price points, and more importantly, are looking for high-end products at lower prices. “I go to the Target — Tar-jay, if you want to call it that — in upstate New York, and the beauty department is clean, it’s modern. Shoppers today are shopping at Louis Vuitton and Target.”
The modernized Fekkai brand consists of 15 stockkeeping units, mainly shampoos, conditioners and treatments, across five ranges — Baby Blonde, Full-Blown Volume, Brilliant Gloss, Super Strength and Technician Color. Plans to add more styling products are already in the works. The products are made with a wide range of natural ingredients, such as green coconut water, vegetable-derived polymers, French oak extract, cold-pressed olive oil and rice proteins. Fekkai emphasized the fact that his bottles are sustainable — they are made of mostly PCR-plastic, and he is working on getting the bottles up to 100 percent.
Mass hair care has historically been seen as a commoditized category, but that is beginning to change, with consumers showing willingness to spend a bit more on their hair products. Kristen Ess Hair, a joint venture between celebrity hairstylist Kristen Ess and Maesa, is sold at Target and is said to be on track to do $100 million in sales in 2019. The products fall in the $11-to-$15 price point.
As the prestige hair market continues to grow quickly — NPD tracked third-quarter hair category sales as up 17 percent to $207 million — clean is becoming a bigger deal. WWD recently reported that Coty’s professional division is launching a clean, vegan hair line in Europe. Sam Brocato, another New York hairstylist, launched a plant-based styling line at Sephora, another joint venture with Maesa, earlier this year. In April, The Hut Group acquired Paris-based hair colorist Christophe Robin’s namesake line of natural products.