SXSW The Wear House: How Frédéric Fekkai Forged His Own Path

Frédéric Fekkai is on one long lucky streak.

“Everything in life is about the circumstances of luck,” Fekkai said onstage at SXSW in conversation with Jenny B. Fine, WWD’s executive editor of beauty, “and knowing how to seize that luck.”

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Fekkai outlined his journey into hair, which started in law school when he was still living in France, born out of a stint assisting a hair stylist. “When I was working with her again, I met the creative director of Jacques Dessange, who asked me if I could open their first salon in New York,” Fekkai recalled.

Though that gig got pushed back a year, Fekkai began working with photographers before eventually being asked to helm Bergdorf Goodman’s salon.

Today, salons — Fekkai has two for his namesake brand — still play an important role in the business.

“The two salons help us to get great feedback from the customer and also the staff,” Fekkai said. “This is how we come up with new innovation and new ideas on product.”

Fekkai has also taken it upon himself to constantly and rapidly evolve his own assortment. That includes coming up with “clean” formulations and more sustainably-minded packaging solutions. “It’s our responsibility as brand builders to come to market with products that are not going to harm the environment. We developed one of the first green aerosols; there’s no gas, it doesn’t deplete the ozone [layer],” he said.

His top priority, though, is still creating products that perform. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “If people want a product that has performance first, that’s also sustainable and clean, wonderful. But nobody buys a product because it’s clean.”

Pioneering formats isn’t new to Fekkai, who also pioneered color-care shampoo and conditioners. “Hair care was pretty basic, it was a commodity. I said, why is skin care so innovative, so sophisticated, so high-price and hair care is not,” he said. “I didn’t go to the hair care lab, I went to the skin care lab. That put me in a whole different place.”

Even his own brand’s distribution benefited from that move. “I was mostly in places like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue,” he continued.

At that time, the lines between the professional and prestige channels were darkly drawn. Now, Fekkai acknowledged, that line has blurred. “When I bought back the Fekkai brand, it was this incredible wave of the [direct-to-consumer] brand: Glossier, Allbirds, and they were all the most admired brands,” he said. “The ones a bit more historic, like mine, had much more of an analogue story. Today, we see that the customer wants a brand that has credibility and authority that is genuine, and a brand that they can trust and can deliver an experience, both in-store and in salon.”

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