Spend an hour with Sally Hershberger and it quickly becomes clear that the star stylist is kind of like the Forrest Gump of hair—a key playmaker at pivotal moments in beauty history. Break the price barrier with an $800 haircut? Check. Give Jane Fonda a gasp-inducing shag cut for her first post-divorce Academy Awards appearance? Check. Conceive category-killer ideas for John Frieda hair care. Make Hillary Clinton look cool on the cover of Vogue? Colonize the Meatpacking district before it became a bridge-and-tunnel playground. Check, check and check. But now, Hershberger is channeling her time, (personal) money and energy into 24K, her line of styling products that is available online and on HSN and set to launch in Sephora in July. Meanwhile, Hershberger’s namesake mass-market line is being scaled back, which she acknowledges only makes sense for a woman who now charges new clients $1,000 for a haircut. “This is me,” she says. “This is what I want to do. I am luxury.” Here, WWD Beauty Inc spends a few minutes with Hershberger and Doug Lloyd, the branding guru and cofounder of Lloyd & Co., who is working with Hershberger on the creative realization of the brand.
Beauty Inc.: How did you two first start working together?
Sally Hershberger: I always wanted to work with Doug and couldn’t afford him, to be honest. We both live in the Hamptons, we are both on the water, we both like to waterski. Now that I have my company back, I’m in charge and it’s all coming together. This is high-end luxury and Doug is the best for that.
B.I.: Why the transition from mass to prestige?
S.H.: I was in mass because I was with John Frieda for 10 years and we made it very successful and they sold it for $450 million. I said, I will continue in mass. I know this [market]. Mass significantly changed, yet I was in it—Walgreens wanted me, CVS wanted me, huge orders—and that’s why I got an investor, because you have to have millions behind you. Long story short, it was either go get another investor to put another huge amount of money in the company because you have to advertise if you’re in mass, or focus on who I really am.
Mass is like going into a circus. Women don’t know what to buy. You walk in there, and there are so many products and everything is louder than the next. It is almost impossible to look expensive at mass.
B.I.: What is the vision for 24K?
Doug Lloyd: 24K is such a visceral name, you automatically imagine what that brand stands for. We’re building everything around that, to leverage what Sally has built her career on. Bringing together the worlds of Hollywood, of New York, of fashion.
B.I.: Why has it historically been so difficult for a woman to establish herself in hair care?
S.H.: That is the million-dollar question. Men have always been the ones doing the hair. And owning salons is men. It’s starting to change a bit. I came from a family that were very successful and there were no rules. If you had a vision you just did it. That’s how I’ve always been. I’ve always picked things not because other people were doing them, but because I feel organic in it. Herb Ritts was the first photographer I worked with—I was 18 and he threw me in with Olivia Newton-John, who was like Madonna then. When I moved to New York, everyone said, “You do celebrities, you’re not going to be able to work in heavy fashion.” Then Steven Meisel and I started working together. I have been the only hairdresser who’s cross-pollinated celebrities with fashion in the old days. That’s before Vogue put celebrities on the cover, even. I don’t know why other women haven’t done it, I really don’t. I appeal to men and women. I don’t threaten women, I’m not competing with them, I’m not wearing higher heels than them, I don’t really wear makeup. And they just want to look sexy and hot. I did Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Roberts, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda. Iconic women. No one is really iconic right now.
D.L.: We’re in an Instagram society where everything is temporal and it’s really hard to establish a big career like that. It is definitely a different cycle.
S.H.: I don’t look at myself like I’m a woman. I just do what I want. I’ve never followed rules. I got in trouble in school all the time. I was meant to be a doctor or something. But I was good with hair because I was obsessed with my own hair. A friend of mine said, “You should be working for this famous hairdresser,” and then Herb Ritts met me and then I was doing every [magazine] cover. Then I gave it up when I was 28 and became a photographer and that took off. But then I said I have to go back and do hair, because this is just calling me, and I’ve got to do hair products, and then I met John Frieda, like that [snapping her fingers].
B.I.: What did you learn from John Frieda and Gail Federici, his business partner?
S.H.: Oh my God, everything. When it comes to doing hair products, everything. I learned you don’t go in the market with something that somebody already has. I did the Sheer Blonde line, which first year was like $30 million. I also developed the wave spray, but it was too advanced and now they are bringing it back because it was genius. Ideas come out of my head—when I’m talking they just come. I don’t strategize and sit there and say let me think how I’m going to get from A to Z. That is not my brain. It just happens.
B.I.: Doug — when you talk about the language of beauty, how do you see it changing and evolving?
D.L.: There is a lot more tone of voice used that feels more street and younger. It’s being more emotional, telling more stories and then connecting with the consumer.
B.I.: As opposed to it being more claims based?
D.L.: Yes. In the area that we’re playing in, we can be a little more style-y and sexy and have a tone of voice and point of view and really make a statement.
S.H.: Like Calvin Klein did. Or Tom Ford. That’s my sensibility. It’s clean. It’s minimal. It’s sexy.
B.I.: You’ve worked on all of these amazing people. Who haven’t you done that you would like to?
S.H.: Hmmm. Who? Who do you die over right now?
D.L.: Jennifer Lawrence?
S.H.: YES! She’s amazing.
B.I.: What would you do?
S.H.: I’d have to get her in my chair and then it would come out of me. I think she and I would work well together. I would like to do Madonna. I know her. I’d like to give her a whole new look. No offense to anyone, she looks great. I would like to see her a bit more, like, less of the hairdo, more cool. It would be great to see her take it all down. More natural. Strip her down. She would look amazing like that.