Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher, who died Saturday at his home in Osceola, Wis., at age 72, was praised by former colleagues as a visionary who helped pioneer the natural beauty movement.
This story first appeared in the February 18, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Horst himself single-handedly created a new industry,” said Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which acquired Aveda in 1997. Lauder pointed out that, with his creation of Aveda, Rechelbacher conceived an exclusive salon and spawned a salon-based beauty business, then developed his own chain. Aveda was a unique brand and “it still is unique,” he added.
Lauder recalled how fervently Rechelbacher believed in the power of plant-based beauty products, working to prove that naturals are as good or better than the laboratory variety. One achievement was creating the first all-natural hair coloring products, Lauder pointed out, noting that “he worked until the very end.”
Following the sale of Aveda to Lauder for an estimated $300 million, Rechelbacher founded Intelligent Nutrients, which at first — due to his noncompete agreement — sold nutritional supplements only, but has since expanded into beauty.
Intelligent Nutrients is a certified organic, food-grade, nontoxic plant-based hair, skin, body, aroma and lifestyle company with the primary emphasis on using organically grown ingredients. It has also explored Rechelbacher’s passion for plant and human stem cells in antiaging technology, which he insisted is the future of beauty. Rechelbacher was so convinced of the purity of his products that he once actually ingested some Intelligent Nutrients hair-care products in front of a room full of stunned beauty editors.
He also dabbled in his original career, hairdressing, when he opened the Horst & Friends salon, an Intelligent Nutrients Certified Organic Salon, in June 2010 in the company’s Minneapolis headquarters. Rechelbacher turned over the copresidency of the company to his wife, Kiran Stordalen, and his daughter, Nicole Thomas, in 2012. Together, they and the company will continue to advance his life’s work and mission, said Stordalen.
Lauder talked to Rechelbacher on the telephone five or six days before he died after a two-and-a-half-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Despite his condition, Rechelbacher’s chief concern was that Lauder agree to attend the opening of his Intelligent Nutrients store in New York.
Lauder said that one of the many personality traits of Rechelbacher’s that impressed him was how he took care of his people. Lauder recalled that after his company bought Aveda, he and his wife, Evelyn, were taking a break in a resort in Phuket, Thailand. They were sitting at a table on the beach having dinner when Lauder spotted Rechelbacher nearby hosting a party of his closest associates, apparently as a thank you for making the company a success.
“Many people don’t know to say thank you,” Lauder said, “but he knew how to say it in a very special way.”
Born in Klagenfelt, Austria, Rechelbacher founded Aveda in Minneapolis in 1978. The city became his adopted hometown after a 1964 car accident in which he was struck by an intoxicated driver. In an effort to pay his medical bills, he began working in Minneapolis, where opened his own salon, Horst of Austria, in 1965. He was inspired to found Aveda after a life-changing trip to India during which he studied the efficacy of plants in beauty products. Throughout his career, he exhibited a powerful intelligence and a probing curiosity.
“How he lived personally, he tried to express professionally,” Stordalen said Sunday. “You see that in all the work he’s done. It was a personification of who he was. He lived and breathed the mission and has left an incredible legacy.”
As the founder of Aveda, Rechelbacher was among the first to seek fair trade sourcing, nontoxic ingredients, organic certification, plant-based aromatherapy and food-grade formulations in health and beauty products.
“It is with profound sadness that today we say farewell to our founder, Horst Rechelbacher, who left his body following a period of illness,” Dominique Conseil, global president of Aveda, said Saturday. “His vision inspires us every day, not only at work with Aveda, but in our lives. Horst led a life of extraordinary leadership, creating a vision of what he wanted to be, and then bringing that vision to reality.”
“The planet has lost one of its most passionate friends. So have we,” according to a statement on the Intelligent Nutrients Web site. “To know Horst was to wake up to the world around you, to your own potential, to a new way of thinking. His impact truly does live on in salons, shops, fields and minds worldwide. And his mission continues.”
Famously outspoken, colorful and often controversial, Rechelbacher was passionate about the cause of sustainable, eco-friendly cosmetics. He lived what he preached: His organic farm in Wisconsin is solar, wind and geothermal powered, and he grew plant ingredients there for Intelligent Nutrients products. He also supported a number of vocal cosmetics-industry activist groups, including the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and on his Web site railed against the dangers of such additives as phthalates, parabens and propylene glycol.
Rechelbacher served on the board at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Detroit, and supported the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program. Rechelbacher’s many awards included an honoris causa doctorate in Ayurveda from Gurukul Mahavidyalaya Twalapur, Haridwar University, in India. In October 2009, the president of Austria awarded Horst the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria, an award given to exemplary Austrian business leaders. Rechelbacher also was the founder and chairman of the Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to social and environmental preservation projects that operate on a grassroots level.
Besides his wife and daughter, Rechelbacher is survived by his son-in-law, Peter Thomas; his son, Peter, who, like Nicole, he had with his first wife, Michele, whom he divorced in 1980; Peter’s wife Mindy, and his grandchildren Emma, Richard, Evan, Ruby and Jada.
The family will hold a private memorial service, said Stordalen.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be sent to the HMR Foundation, via email@example.com.