- Edition 1, Chapter 1.2 -
Who is Michael Gordon?
As the founder of Bumble and bumble, Michael Gordon was responsible for some of the world’s most popular sprays, pastes, waxes, and, yes, shampoos. He helped ignite a global craving for all manner of products, but he founded Hairstory believing the old model to be out of date and requiring a new approach informed first and foremost by his own hair story.
let's start from the beginning:
Born to Jack and Sylvia Gordon in North London.
Sylvia realizes her lifelong dream of becoming a hairdresser and opens Sylvia Gordon Ladies’ Hairstylists.
Sylvia dyes her hair platinum.
“When my mum finally became a business owner, she dyed her brown hair and became a coiffed platinum blonde, which really changed her personality. I learned then the power of a great transformation.”
Michael starts working Saturdays at the family salon sweeping floors, handing pins, washing up. The female patrons go crazy over his blonde curls… he appreciates the attention.
Michael takes his first vacation from Britain to the Italian Riviera, thanks to Mum’s success.
“It was like Dorothy entering Oz: an incredible explosion of color – everything so bright and sunny, the most amazing food – so utterly different from England.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon receive a letter from Michael’s school, informing them that he isn’t often there. They decide as a family, that hairdressing – not academics – should be his calling.
Michael begins an apprenticeship at René of Mayfair, a chic salon catering to the wealthy, titled, and always dressed. He is noticed primarily for his work ethic, working longer and harder than anyone else, and eventually becomes Rene’s assistant.
His only distraction might have been cars; he’s mad for them – still is – and his favorite always was, and always will be, the Jaguar.
“Rene was a virile, vibrant Frenchman. He’d screech up in front of the salon every morning in his white Jag (consistently late on purpose because he liked to make an entrance), jumping out to leave the doorman to take care of it. Then he’d charge through the salon through a crowd of at least three adoring women who had waited more than a half hour for him. It was great for me to observe his cool, charming, and flirtatious ways with his generous female clientele. With Rene, I was suddenly privy to a perspective on life that was quite rare.”
Michael discovers American Vogue.
“I had actually never heard of it before. This was its heyday, when Diana Vreeland was the Editor-in-Chief. The images were so beautiful and stirring. The clothing, hair, and makeup were foreign to anything I had ever seen. I kept reading the names that ran along the bottom of the page – credits listing, among others, who did the hair. Ara Gallant was the first name I saw repeatedly, working with Avedon and Penn – I was incredibly moved by his work and he inspired me to pursue all aspects of hairdressing. It also led me to the study of photography, which has been a lifelong passion.”
Claude, a flamboyant French hairdresser joins René who hands Michael over to assist Claude as a token of respect.
“Claude had been a protegé of of two legends: Monsieur Antoine and Alexandre de Paris. He was impeccable, whether he had money or not. From him I learned the art of artifice – faking it until you’ve really made it. He’d stand there in a three-piece suit – not an expensive one – which he’d bought on Carnaby Street, one of the most fashionable streets in London then. When asked about it, he’d say that it was a Pierre Cardin or some other great designer. When asked about one of the rather extravagant pins he’d wear in his tie or cravat, he’d reply with equal aplomb that it was from Cartier. It actually cost only a few shillings from the considerably less chic Oxford Street, but he could pull it off like nobody else.”
Claude departs for America, leaving Michael with a pair of cufflinks of jade and gold with ruby centers.
“I had no idea how valuable they were, but they were certainly the most expensive things I’d ever owned. Claude’s taste had nothing to do with price. He could make anything look good. I still own them to this day.”
Michael begins as a stylist with the House of Leonard, a younger, hipper salon – run by Leonard Lewis whose fame includes Twiggy's career-making crop.
“Leonard delivered one sentence to me during my time with him. He glided past me while I was finishing a client: ‘That was very good.’ That was all he ever said to me. But it was everything.”
Michael visits his brother in South Africa and discovers yoga, which changes his life, his mind, and his career.
“Discovering yoga changed my life. It opened up a dimension to life that I didn’t know existed, I cannot imagine what would have happened to me if I had not found yoga and practiced it the rest of my life.”
Moves to Johannesburg to study yoga with his teacher, opens the first Bumble and bumble, and leases an Alfa Romeo.
Michael’s daughter Heather is born.
“Heather was my first of four beautiful daughters. She was three and a half when we moved to New York City, and in many ways she gave me the determination to succeed. Watching her grow into the woman she is today has been one of the great honors of my life. She’s incredibly articulate and knowledgeable (she has a much more impressive vocabulary than her father). She studied writing in college and worked at Bumble as a writer for three to four years, mastering our voice and point-of-view. If Heather believes in something, she becomes very committed, and will argue anyone under the table. Her only lapse in taste seems to be that she likes Lamborghinis, but we’ve worked past that.”
Moves to New York City to open Bumble and bumble on West 57th Street, referred to then as Hairdresser’s Row.
With limited resources, Michael decides to be his own publicist, mailing out collections of photographs with simple story ideas to his favorite magazines. It works.
“The advice offered by many was to get PR; it seemed simple enough, although getting a publicist was out of the question since I simply didn’t have the funds for it. So, I started doing it myself. I mailed out a collection of photographs with a very simple release to 10 or 12 magazines and newspapers in New York. Amazingly enough, I got calls back, even from Vogue – a woman named Jane spoke to me on the phone a couple of times, then decided to visit the salon, which I tried to talk her out of. But she came and looked around and was very polite; she didn’t mention the fact that it wasn’t at all an impressive place. After a couple more meetings, she finally had the courage to say, “Well, I’m really sorry but the salon isn’t Vogue-y.” I laughed and said, “Yes, I could have told you that, but you must have seen something in my work, otherwise you wouldn’t have spent all this time… .” She gave us a small write-up and sent clients my way – that’s how it pretty much proceeded. I managed to do a similar thing at Mademoiselle, Glamour, and Seventeen, and got our name in magazines on a fairly regular basis. After a year or so, there was a story in a newspaper about the top 12 hairdressers in New York. By a wonderful sequence of events, the woman writing the story happened to interview two of the only editors I knew well and two models whose hair I’d cut, all of whom mentioned my name. I ended up being number 12 on the list of top 12 salons. We were the only new salon and by far the most affordable. I think my haircut price was published at 20 dollars in 1977, and most people were charging 50 to 100 dollars, so guess who got all the calls?”
Michael’s daughter Sian is born.
“Sian grew up watching me do yoga every morning, and while it took a while for her to discover her own practice, it’s now become her vocation. She was certified in the Bahamas and continued her education at Yoga Shanti. It’s quite something to see my daughters grow and discover themselves. Like me, she has impossibly high standards for herself, but I think since opening yoga studios in Montauk and Venice Beach called Love, she will begin to see her dreams materialize.”
Michael begins taking photographs.
“I loved taking pictures of my daughters Heather and Sian. They were the perfect models and the shots became very, very strong. I had a model friend at the same time named Stacy Williams, and I began taking her picture, soon as I was taking all her model friends photos, and soon after that I was being booked for beauty magazines. I became much more professional out of necessity – all the young photographers I loved were charging these astronomical day rates that we couldn’t afford at Bumble. So I stepped in. It was very convenient and very inexpensive to do all the shoots myself, and it lent an authenticity and cohesion to all the photography that came from Bumble. It was signature Bumble, and directly from its owner. It remained that way until the day I left.”
Moves Bumble to a new, larger space on East 56th Street.
After working with some of the best editorial stylists in the world, Michael notices they have very few products they actually like. He promises to make products with them in mind.
“I remember watching the great editorial stylist Orlando Pita blow-dry a model’s hair in the late 1980s, and he was using products he wasn’t crazy about. Fashion shows were becoming more experimental and theatrical, and therefore more demanding – no more neat little buns. The textural opportunities for hairdressers were exploding and so were the opportunities to use products. I realized it would be amazing to make products to keep my editorial hairdressers happy. I’ve always admired and sought out great editorial hairdressers who have helped me develop products by testing them with demanding, exacting standards. I see it as being similar to the great car companies who have factory-sponsored racing teams to test the limits of every piece of a car and give feedback to the mechanics and engineers in order to go faster and be safer.”
Miffed that hairdressers have no definitive tome on their heritage, Michael sets out, over the next ten years, to chronicle the stories of twelve influential hairdressers for a book called Hair Heroes.
Michael meets Vidal Sassoon.
“When I began to write Hair Heroes, Vidal agreed to be one of its twelve subjects. This was a tremendous honor, and also necessity, for no one has revolutionized hairdressing like Vidal. I met him at his house in Beverly Hills. Our interview covered all sorts of topics, and I was impressed by how educated he was, how thirsty for knowledge, and how generous he was with his spirit and time. He was very aware how much his time meant to people, knowing that one minute with him could make a tremendous difference in the lives of others.”
The core line of Bumble and bumble products is released.
Michael goes gluten-free.
“I’ve always been somewhat of an early adopter in different areas of health. I was twenty when I first practiced yoga, and I took it so seriously that I moved from London to Johannesburg, South Africa to be closer to my teacher and his studio. I’ve been practicing for over forty years. I took the view that I would treat myself well, because if I am in good condition it will only benefit the work I’m doing. In the nineties, a blood test revealed that I was gluten intolerant – something I had no knowledge of, except seeing gluten-free options on the menu of one of my favorite cafes at the time, Zen Palate. From that day forward I adopted a strictly gluten-free diet, which has improved my health and my mind.”
Estee Lauder takes stake in Bumble and bumble, and green-lights financing for the House of Bumble.
Surf Spray debuts as one of the great beauty launches in history.
Hair Heroes is published.
“Why did I write the Hair Heroes? I suppose it’s because when I opened Bumble and bumble, so many assistants came to the salon to be trained, and I found they didn’t know much about the career they had chosen. They didn’t know much about our history, since so little information was available as a reference. Who preceded them? Sometimes I’d just check, “Have you heard of Ara Gallant?” Blank faces looked back at me. And it wasn’t just the assistants. I found that hairdressers worldwide were often terribly uninformed about the stylists who developed our craft. Can you imagine a football or baseball player not knowing the stars from previous eras? I felt responsible to the people who had come to learn from me and I felt indebted to the industry that had become my life’s work. Hair Heroes is my way of establishing a history and a foundation for our profession.”
Noticing that hairdressers and salon owners face extraordinary challenges running salons, Michael creates Bumble and bumble University and its extensive curriculum, to empower the hairdressers in the salon network.
The House of Bumble opens: a six-floor, expansive oasis of “the craft, culture and commerce of hairdressing.”
“The term ‘house’ is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the great fashion houses of the past. Designers had buildings where everything happened. When I trained at René of Mayfair and the House of Leonard, I learned that. Everything happened at The House of Bumble: we created the ideas, the products, the packaging – we took our own photographs, wrote our own copy, created our own magazines. We did our own publicity, marketing, and sales; nothing was outsourced.”
Michael’s twin daughters Isla and Rose are born.
“It’s not easy for me to discuss my children; as their father it’s quite hard to describe them because all my thoughts are brimming with this unconditional love. However, I will tell you that Isla is ready to skip school just like her father and start her career, become a Youtube sensation, create makeup tutorials, get lots of followers, make lots of money and buy herself a horse. She’s actually eerily good at applying make up already. And Roxie already told me she applies hair color meticulously and with the utmost confidence. Rose is much more studious, and is somewhat enamored with her own voice. You can see her beaming with joy every time she says something. I don’t think it’s an ego thing, but pure delight with life. Rose is quite the perfectionist; she’s been practicing drawing horses for a couple of years now and has really begun to master it. She has a very off-beat sense of style and would be perfectly happy to wear the same thing for six months in a row. She usually refuses the offer to go shopping, which Isla more than makes up for.”
Estee Lauder acquires the remainder of Bumble and bumble. Michael departs.
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is released.
“In 2006, I went to see Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a brilliant and extraordinarily important film. I left the theatre very concerned about our planet’s future, and more personally, my daughters’ futures. I felt that if I were to start a new venture it would have a very powerful, always evolving commitment to sustainability. Al Gore’s thinking has certainly influenced the philosophy behind these products, and will continue to inspire us going forward.”
Michael creates a great work of passion: Vidal Sassoon the Movie, a feature-length documentary that has its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“The idea for the film started off as a personal tribute to Vidal as he was approaching his 80th birthday, and it grew into a major initiative to capture this man’s life both in a film and a book. My intention was to leave a lasting memory of him that would inspire young people and re-inspire the older generation of hairdressers, as well as the millions of people in the world to whom the name Vidal Sassoon is either familiar or personal or evocative. The impact that hairdressing has on society is not been well documented or recorded – much less respected due to the lack of serious written material – and I hope that the film is something that every hairdresser in the world can be very much proud of.”
Michael creates Vidal Sassoon the Book with long-time friend and designer Steve Hiett.
Michael has a powerful realization: why the hell are we using shampoo? It only causes grief. Aghast at how many different shampoos, conditioners, masks, and treatments are on the market, he becomes convinced that a less-is-more approach is needed, and creates Purely Perfect Cleansing Creme.
Purely Perfect launches in 2013; the press goes wild. The detergent debate ignites.
“Purely Perfect Cleansing Creme was an early experiment – the first attempt at reinventing hair products – with the intention of being completely detergent-free. In many respects we were not ready: the instructions were misleading (the French translation totally off) and the pump hardly functioned. Regardless, editors clamored to get into the studio, we still garnered a huge amount of press, and despite the flaws, the product worked incredibly well and people got it.”
Michael invites editorial stylist Tony Kelley, colorist Roxie Darling, and haircutter Wes Sharpton to collaborate on creating striking photography, stories, and films centered around hair. Hairstory Studio is born.
Purely Perfect sells out after a feature on Yahoo Beauty. Citizens everywhere ration until stock replenishes.
Cleansing Creme becomes New Wash and the star of a new product line: Hairstory.
Hairstory reimagines hair products and the future of the industry by empowering independent hairdressers.
The rest will be history.