Frédéric Fekkai found fame and fortune in America by bringing French savoir faire to the hair-care category, and more recently, the entrepreneur has gone back to his roots — literally — with Bastide, a line inspired by and produced in and around his hometown of Aix-en-Provence. Who better, then, to receive the fifth annual French Institute Alliance Francaise’s Art de Vivre award, created to recognize those who have contributed to the promotion of the French art of living.
Martha Stewart presented Fekkai with the award on Monday evening, in a ceremony held at FIAF headquarters on East 60th Street in Manhattan, followed by a dinner at Le Bilboquet.
Stewart recalled her first haircut with Fekkai in 1991, whom she booked after hearing about a “sexy, fabulous French guy at Bergdorf Goodman who knows everything about what a woman should look like.” She scheduled the appointment right before a meeting with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and emerged from the salon “transformed into a gorgeous, sexy, unrecognizable person.” Wearing a minimalist Halston sheath and no jewelry (“Frédéric said no jewelry”), she went to the corner of 57th Street to await her husband — who ogled her up and down and smiled at her as he walked up the street. “He was flirting with me — he didn’t recognize me,” Stewart laughed. “My husband who I lived with for 30 years! I knew then it was over.”
Stewart recalled Fekkai’s early days, too, recounting his arrival in New York in 1982 with $600 in traveler’s checks in his pocket. By 2008, when Procter & Gamble bought his eponymous hair-care brand from Catterton Partners, sales were said to be in the $100 million range. For his part, Fekkai spoke of the emotional tug of Provence and its role in Bastide, which he has revamped with his wife, Shirin von Wulffen. “We bought this jewel of a brand and it’s been a wonderful journey. We are working as a family which is a little bit strange,” he quipped, “but we are having a great time.”