Peter Coppola's Career in Beauty
Born and raised: New York, New York. I grew up on 116th street, first generation Italian, surrounded by my aunts and uncles. It was a real community.
Secret Ambition: I wanted to be an architect.
Hidden talent: I play drums and played them in a band.
Industry mentor: My mentor was Vidal Sassoon. He, coincidentally, also wanted to be an architect. I was privileged to be in his company. He was a gentle, wonderful man who really revolutionized the industry.
“Across the street from where I lived there was this little beauty salon and two pretty girls who owned it. I would go there on weekends and hang out with them. These girls said, you’re really good at this, why don’t you go to beauty school, and I did.” This is the simple opening to the story of Peter Coppola’s career which would see him taking part in changing hair history. Coppola, salon owner, television personality and creator of Keratin Complex, didn’t like beauty school (“too traditional for me”) but it set him on a path that would put him in the position of working with other change-makers.
“I was working as an assistant with Paul McGregor (the man who created Jane Fonda’s shag made famous in the film Klute) who was a trail blazer in the industry in late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In 1965, Vidal Sassoon was holding classes in New York City and everyone said, this is ridiculous, the cuts are so geometric, no one will wear their hair like this.” But Coppola knew different.
“The Beatles had just come to America and there was a whole revolution taking place in the 1960’s in hair, fashion and music. I saw the change coming.”
When Coppola went to open his first salon, he exemplified this change; he wore his hair longer, he dressed casual and cool and he welcomed a young client who embraced the new Sassoon styles. He wanted to offer the new Beatles-inspired cut to male clients, too, but at the time, it was illegal for a man to get his hair cut in a beauty salon. “The barber’s had a strong union and they fought against allowing men in salons. They said they would close us down. So we hired a lawyer and it went before the Supreme Court. We won. And the next day, we created the term ‘Unisex’.”
Coppola would go on to open a chain of new concept, cutting salons. His success attracted attention. “One year, Clarol’s Head of Marketing came to meet me in Long Island and said, ‘Listen, you’re kind of strange and we like that. We’d like you to come to NY, and visit us’.”
Coppola collaborated with Clairol to create Luminize lightening system. This was his first experience in product development and design. While with Clairol, he was encouraged to open a salon in Manhattan which he did, on prestigious 5th Avenue. Coppola, however, saw that the revolution in hair hadn’t overtaken New York’s tendency to embrace classic styles. Coppola sold up and returned to Long Island until he discovered what he described as “this new thing”, a shopping experience through television called QVC. He created Peter Coppola’s New York Soyagen Complex for the QVC (which stands for quality, value and convenience) audience.
“I was discouraged by everyone but I liked it because nobody was doing it. QVC told me, just talk about the product and you have five minutes to do it. I don’t think I had said more than five words before they said, ‘Thank you, Peter.’ But in those five minutes, 5,000 kits had sold.”
Coppola went on to create more product including an entire Volumizing System and his five minutes increased to five years of full programs and Coppola-dedicated airtime.
“QVC educated me about product development, about marketing and what the consumer looks for. The big change came when I found Keratin Complex which revolutionized the concept of smooth hair.” Today, with smoothing an entire hair category, Coppola continues to innovate in an industry he loves. He created Peter Coppola Keratin Concept, a formaldehyde-free line he developed with a “genius chemist” and he has plans to open another salon in New York and an academy.
“I’m celebrating forty years in this industry. Today, when I talk to young people, I always emphasize the importance of education. I also share the three d’s I live my life by-- desire, (to get up in the morning) , dedication (in your craft), and discipline. If you do it right, chances are you’re going to do well.”
To learn more, visit http://petercoppola.com
Originally posted on Modern Salon.