JOHN DELLARIA: BACK IN THE HAIR GAME
Byline: Andrea M. Grossman
NEW YORK — John Dellaria isn’t a backstage Fashion Week fixture or this month’s must-have creative director. He’s been there and done that.
Nowadays, the hairdresser’s hairdresser, as he’s referred to by his peers, spends his time building up Ariella, an eight-item product line he founded, and hunting for prime Manhattan real estate.
“I’m thinking of buying a building,” said Dellaria, 60, from the basement office of his 22-year-old SoHo hair care salon that bears his name.
The prospective building is meant to house a new business venture, one that would bring Dellaria, a 40-year veteran of the salon business, into the day spa arena. “It’ll be Italian style!” Dellaria roared, meaning it would be a full service salon complete with nail services, massages, facials and even a nutritional element.
The new digs, via its beauty services, may also bring Dellaria up close and personal with the new generation of beauty and fashion editors, many of whom wouldn’t know him if he offered them a free haircut — a $200 value. His lack of public appearances and press mailings has even led to speculation that his career has been eclipsed by former salon employees and Fashion Week celebrities Kevin Mancuso, Oribe and Danilo.
Dellaria, who despite his bold manner and uncompromised style, is partly to blame for his lackluster repertoire with industry newbies. His imbedded modesty has kept him out of the press for most of the past 20 years. It was only two months ago that Dellaria hired a public relations agency.
Dellaria, who speaks with a thick Boston-New York accent, is also a driven businessman, not a player in the horse-and-pony show that — at least at first — serves as the foundation for relationships between editors and public relations’ clients. The new Manhattan salon, which he hopes to open next year, would boost Dellaria’s Manhattan store count to two, and overall salon count to 24, with locations scattered throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The SoHo salon, which generates approximately $3 million in annual sales, is owned solely by Dellaria. The remaining stores, which operate under Dellaria Ltd. and are called Dellaria Salon, are owned by Dellaria, his brother Robert, and a third partner.
Many of today’s editors, who may be acquainted with Dellaria, usually don’t know his history, and what he’s accomplished not only for himself, but for the salon industry overall.
“He’s such a kept secret,” said hair stylist Danilo, who trained with Dellaria from 1980 to 1986. Danilo is an original member of Dellaria’s SoHo salon employee team. He recalled how the salon’s multilevel design was “so groundbreaking for the Eighties” and how Dellaria’s styling technique, Pyrametrics, continues to influence his craft.
“He taught me how to convert my artistic side through a scissors and comb,” Danilo said. “He’s an artist that gave me an amazing theory to work with that I still use to this day.” The basics of Dellaria’s Pyrametrics is acknowledging that the head is an oval shape, divided into three major planes: the flat, the perimeter of the hairline; the round, the curvature of the head that allows the hair to swing 360 degrees, and the roll, the changing point between the flat and the round. He’s also credited with coining the term “sciz-zoring,” a technique where he uses scissorblades as a razor and cutting in an arc to add volume to fine hair. In some circles, Dellaria’s technical approach to hair cutting is likened to that of a scientist.
“I find him to be a total genius,” said Oribe, who worked at John Dellaria from 1985 to 1987 prior to opening his own salon.
The basics of Pyrametrics is explained in full detail and illustration in “Changing Styles,” a 120-page book Dellaria wrote and published in 1984, which he lovingly dedicated to his son, Alexander, a 30-year-old stylist and colorist in the SoHo salon.
Dellaria’s entry into the salon business, however, was anything but systematic: Dellaria became involved in the hair trade by fluke. After graduating from high school, the Boston native joined a friend for a ride to the Mansfield Academy of Cosmetology, just for the fun of it. Dellaria, not his friend, wound up registering for the 1,000-hour beauty course. He was 16 years old.
After graduation, Dellaria honed his hairstyling skills at a variety of outlets, first at a Boston department store, then at a salon in the suburbs of Newton, Mass., and finally at Miami Beach’s landmark Fountainbleu Hotel.
In the mid-Sixties, Dellaria returned to Newton, Mass., to open his own salon, the Continental. The decade was filled with innovative wonders. “One day, I surprised my staff with blowdryers,” Dellaria recalled, laughing.
By the late Sixties, Dellaria branched out to Boston and opened a salon on tony Newbury Street. Over the next 15 years, three additional units emerged in the Boston area, and soon, to states along the Eastern seaboard.
The new territories brought Dellaria broad recognition from the salon community, and eventually, inclusion in an elite group of salon professionals. From 1979 to 1981, Dellaria was fashion director of Intercoiffure for America-Canada, an international association of hairdressers and salon owners who, among other things, style avant-garde photo shoots based on couture collections for the international press. During those years, Dellaria closed the Continental, relocated to Manhattan — “to be closer to the Yankees,” he half joked — and opened John Dellaria in SoHo. Inevitably, he was courted by the fashion world.
For the next 10 years, Dellaria remained on the Paris and New York fashion circuit, but in 1991 he took a step back, as many stylists do, to develop products. His first creation was D-Chrome, a patented hair-lightening system that’s distributed to nearly 10,000 salons in the U.S. and Copenhagen. He also, along with partner Joseph Tucci, founded Ariella.
Ariella, a name that was created by rearranging the letters in Dellaria — except the “d” — now includes eight stockkeeping units. Some star products from the line include Mist, a spray designed to give a full-volume look, and Stay, a white putty-like formula designed to keep hair in place. Coming soon is a leave-in conditioner to be called Squeeze. Prices for the product line start at $8 for Stay and go to $18 for a Color Treated Conditioning Shampoo.
By way of renewed interest, Dellaria returned to fashion this past season — it’s also why he hired the public relations team. He styled the hair for Douglas Hannant’s fall 2002 collection, which was inspired by the 1978 film, “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” starring Faye Dunaway. The movie star has been a client of Dellaria’s for years. “It seemed a natural selection for Dellaria to then style the hair,” Hannant noted.
The return to backstage was enlightening, Dellaria said, since part of the reason why he left the fashion world was because, of all things, it got boring. “Before [the designers] used to hide the hair. They didn’t want it to take away from the clothes,” Dellaria explained.
But in today’s age of beauty-sponsored collections, things, Dellaria discovered, have changed. “Now, you can even go in with a theme,” Dellaria said.
It seems after all these years, Dellaria has evolved into Fashion Week’s latest newbie.