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The Merits of ‘Slow Beauty’ Touted

Frédéric Fekkai, most recently a cofounder of Bastide, champions the grassroots movement.

Hairstylist-turned-entrepreneur Frédéric Fekkai — bemused by today’s rapid pace — has become a proponent of “slow beauty.”

“It’s 200 kilometers an hour,” said Fekkai. “I want to do the opposite. I want to slow down. That doesn’t mean that I am going to be slower — I may actually go faster. But I will slow down.”

The story of his first, namesake brand began in 1989, when Fekkai opened a salon in Bergdorf Goodman. “We realized very quickly that the salon industry was quite primitive, antiquated at times,” he said. This in part was due to the fact that there were no in-salon brands, save for Sassoon, which had built a large business.

“So it was very important for me to create an environment and a culture that was different,” he said, explaining in it service was key. His salon was considered “the first day spa,” with options for hair, skin, nails and makeup in one place.

“I was coming from Europe, and I thought the salon needed to have a hotel experience,” said Fekkai. Staff, for instance, wore uniforms designed by the likes of Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Lauren. “We wanted to also create an environment where the customer had everything at her fingertips.”

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Landlines — in those pre-cellphone days — were available at each customer’s station. “That was unheard of,” said Fekkai. “In the waiting area, we had a computer — everybody was wondering what it was.”

Food was also available. The staff was vigorously trained on skills, including how to best communicate with clients.

“I think [we were] the first ones to invite customers to have a consultation for free, to not be intimidated,” said Fekkai. “We wanted to address beauty in general — and not just hair.”

The executive realized with a shock that while clients were using skin-care products costing hundreds of dollars each, their hair care had price tags of like $6.99. “I said, ‘Let’s create a hair-care line that has the principles of skin care,’” he said, adding that had to do with price positioning but also with the technology, innovation and formulation involved. “Hair care was sleepy, always the same. Skin care was always moving, new.

“We created a hair-care line that was really premium. It was unheard of in 1995 to come up with a shampoo at $20 when everything else was half that,” continued Fekkai.

Saks Fifth Avenue gave the brand a shops-in-shop in front of its main escalator.

Around that time, Fekkai realized that his brand not only needed capital, but also more infrastructure. “We were wonderful in creating content, but we were not equipped to have a strategy, communication — business in general,” he said.

Chanel infused capital into the group and helped build Fekkai into a multicategory brand but soon realized that hair care wasn’t its core business. So Fekkai bought back the label and continued growing it.

Some years later, Capital Partners made a capital injection, helping to further expand Fekkai’s infrastructure.

He sold off parts of his business and after, P&G acquired the brand in 2008. The executive stayed on as a consultant for some years, and today Frédéric Fekkai is owned by Luxe Brands.

Fekkai himself attempted to retire to the South of France, but failed. Instead, he tried running a fund then purchased a country home in his native Aix-en-Provence, France. There, he and his wife Shirin von Wulffen fell in love with the healthy lifestyle.

That got him thinking. “What is the future? You cannot be successful if you don’t take care of yourself,” Fekkai explained. “So beauty, I said to myself, is not product. Product is second.”

The Fekkais purchased a beauty brand, Bastide, which would become the embodiment of this philosophy. “We said we are going to do everything with the artisans of Provence,” continued Fekkai. “We have to do an authentic story.”

He called the manner in which Bastide is created “slow beauty.”

“People are proud of taking time to do things,” said Fekkai. “I want to sell that — to bottle up the idea of the dream of Provence, the beauty, the light, the colors, the scent…but also the quality, the importance of quality.”