- Edition 4 -
by Cat Meyer
In the three years I worked in salons I experienced a few different product lines. I didn’t think much of them outside of maybe one or maybe two products I loved. I did however sit through enough product knowledge classes to realize that these companies were simply copying one another. They would launch new products so often I found it overwhelming and quite frankly disgusting. I remember sitting in a class with a sales representative who explained that they had noticed our salon was using a lot of mousse from another brand and it "inspired" them to create their own. She was there to teach us about the three new mousses they were about to launch – not just one but three. I thought to myself "What the f*ck? Why would anyone need three different types of mousse? Isn't one mousse enough?" This is essentially where my curiosity of why and how products are made began.
Fast-forward to when I joined Hairstory at a most fortuitous time. Although I may have had a slight curiosity about how products are made at the time, I never really understood the amount of consideration that could go into creating products until working with Michael Gordon. When I started at Hairstory the products were still in development, so, like many of my colleagues I became one of our testers. There were only three products at that time, and they were all being reformulated. Although they worked well enough we still sought out to improve them. What was most engaging for me was the creation of what was to become Undressed: My favorite styling product, and one I know will have a huge impact on hairdressers and their clients.
In order to understand the making of Undressed you need to understand the impact of New Wash. New Wash has an incredible effect on hair, making conditioners and masques unnecessary. After creating a cleanser that worked on all hair types without the use of detergents, Michael began to rethink styling products. If you don't need to fix or manipulate hair anymore, the focus of styling products shifts to encouraging its natural texture. With this type of thinking you need far less products. Michael's intention will never be to release "three mousses" for the sake of sales. He set out with Hairstory to challenge the entire status-quo of an industry full of copycats.
After reformulating the creams that were to become Hair Balm and Dressed Up, Michael wanted to create a spray which offered effortless, sexy and touchable hair. Michael works with Jackie in order to formulate the products; she has been his collaborative partner for many years, including producing Vidal Sassoon the Movie with him. Michael brings his product concepts to Jackie who acts as a liaison between him the laboratories.
Jackie oversees the process of products from development to distribution. Once Michael approves formulations from the labs, the products then go through a vigorous testing phase. Here is where the fun begins. Every few weeks, products would be given to testers in clear bottles with no clue of their origin. Jackie would give very detailed instructions on how we should test them, which key components we're looking for. She would ask us to look for differences in texture, scent and performance. I loved the fact that our testers were comprised of team members, hairdressers and models with all hair textures – as Hairstory products are designed for everyone and not specific hair types. With each test, Jackie would communicate with the labs and they would make slight to major changes depending on the feedback. I was amazed by how even the slightest variation could affect performance. At Hairstory, every single ingredient matters and the priority is to use the finest and highest quality.
After many iterations of Undressed, Michael and Jackie realized that there were two different formulas that when combined in a very specific ratio created an entirely new product. That one formula got the approval of all the testers including myself. At that time its code name was 40%; we never knew why but we loved it. You can use very little or a lot, wet or dry; you can layer it and hair still feels soft and touchable. I think it’s very attractive to have touchable hair that still has texture. Depending on your hair it encourages a soft wave to a curl. You could also blow dry it into hair as it offers grip with lift but remains light.
One of my favorite stages to witness was the naming of the product. Although we liked using the code name 40 it probably wouldn't have made much sense outside of Hairstory Studio. Michael is very passionate, almost compulsive, about names and stories behind products. I think something like “Surf Spray”, or even more so “Undressed” are very different to what other companies consider when they are naming products. They’re evocative as well as descriptive. For Michael the challenge is always to make an amazing product and then to come up with a killer name, which is not easy.
For inspiration, we created mood boards using magazine tears and original images. We were really able to get a strong sense of the woman using this product – similar to as a designer does before a collection. This woman is chic, effortless and what many would describe as a modern French woman: Sexy but not in an obvious way. A small group of us were discussing different names and Michael made reference to Belle de Jour, a film starring Catherine Deneuve as a young housewife who explores the world of high-end brothels. Belle du Jour had a nice ring to it, but it didn’t quite embody a modern, chic woman. So the quest for a killer name continued. One day the word “Déshabillé” came to Michael. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but when he looked it up it translated to Undressed. That was it! It felt and sounded exactly like what the product would do. Not messy bedhead, not crunchy surfer, but undone, effortless hair.
In the early stages of conception Michael called on his good friend, designer and photographer Steve Hiett to help develop the brand. Michael had worked with Steve for a long time on previous collaborations such as Vidal Sassoon the Movie, its companion book, as well as his book Hair Heroes. There is a signature to Steve’s work and it complements Michael’s aesthetic. Steve worked with our creative director Alexander and graphic designer Nova to design the logo, specify the typography, and create a color palette.
Once the formulas and names were settled, we moved onto the packaging. For months in our round table meetings, when it was Nova’s turn to talk she was very secretive and vague about her projects. Nova and Alexander would sit with Michael reviewing mock-ups kept under a tight lid. He later explained that we work in such close proximity with one another that if the team were to watch Nova as she worked on design concepts it would dilute our response. He wanted us to have an honest, instant response to the packaging rather than witnessing it over time and becoming “numb” to the visuals.
Every so often however, Michael would ask a team member to “preview” packaging. We had a color palette that Steve created early on, but some of those colors just didn’t feel right for these products. Michael called me over to ask my opinion. On the screen were four white bottles with colorful logos and names. Nova showed us a few variations, but some of the colors didn’t seem to fit the products or the names. Then Michael suggested pink for Dressed Up and silver for Undressed, and when Nova showed us the changes we collectively nodded our heads "yes".
For over a year I have watched Undressed go from formulation to being used in a fashion show. Working at Hairstory has given me a newfound appreciation for product development. So many people are involved in the process and there is so much consideration, thought, and time that goes into it. Our product line is so small, there’s no room for mediocre. Each product has a story and serves a purpose.
As for the other product companies, I hope they copy us. I hope they realize that what they are contributing to the world is nothing but confusion. Detergent, water, and a countless number of useless products.
– Cat Meyer, Producer and Hair Colorist