On February 15, industry pioneer, hairdresser, salon owner and Aveda Founder Horst Rechelbacher passed away. Rechelbacher’s vision shaped the way many in the world viewed the planet, the industry and even themselves. He was 72.
“His vision inspires us every day, not only at work with Aveda, but in our lives,” Aveda Global President Dominique Conseil wrote in a communication to all Aveda professionals. “Horst led a life of extraordinary leadership, creating a vision of what he wanted to be, and then bringing that vision to reality.”
Rechelbacher was born on November 11, 1941 in Klagenfurt, Austria, to an herbalist and a shoemaker. His family’s apartment overlooked a small salon, and age 14, Rechelbacher embarked on a salon apprenticeship at age 14, and immediately began winning the Austrian Junior Championships. At 17, he moved to Rome, where he worked in an exclusive Italian salon and throughout the early 60s he traveled Europe as part of the European hairstyling competition circuit, capturing many awards.
As part of this recognition, Rechelbacher had the opportunity to work the show circuit in the United States, and on his second American trip he was teaching seminars in the Midwest when his car was struck by an intoxicated driver and he was hospitalized in Minneapolis. The serious accident left him physically incapacitated for six months and in financial debt. In an effort to pay his hospital bills, he began working in a Minneapolis salon, then opened his own—Horst of Austria in 1965. As a salon owner, Rechelbacher created a unique model of economic sustainability for salons and spas.
In the 1970s, Rechelbacher traveled to India to study yoga and meditation, immersing himself in rich cultural traditions. On the trip, he became inspired by the spiritual and medical teacher Swami Rama, and gained knowledge of the ancestral ayurvedic therapies, herbal remedies and a more comprehensive approach to health and well-being. Drawing on ayurvedic principles, Rechelbacher launched Aveda in 1978 with the ambition of developing beauty products that would care for professionals, their guests and the planet through the power of pure flower and plant essences. Aveda became a lifestyle and a global movement encouraging many to live more balanced lives by achieving a sense of harmony in body, mind and spirit. Rechelbacher pioneered environmental responsibility and under his leadership, Aveda became the first business to endorse the Valdez/Ceres principles in 1989.
Two decades after founding Aveda, Rechelbacher sold it to Estee Lauder and shifted his focus to Intelligent Nutrients, a health and beauty company that establishes the highest standards of food-based, safe, non-toxic and USDA certified-organic ingredients. Following Rechelbacher’s passing, the company’s website posted: “To know Horst was to wake up to the world around you, to own potential, to a new way of thinking. His impact truly does live on in salons, shops, fields and minds worldwide. And his mission continues.”
Over the weekend, many industry friends shared their memories of Rechelbacher:
"I'll never forget my first show with Horst in New York back in the early days. I had never been in front of such a large and prestiguous group. We did beatiful hair and the audience loved it. After, Horst came off stage he gave me a kiss on the forehead and a great big hug. I had passed my test. He was so meticulous and at the same time recognized when you were doing your best and he inspired so many of us to get better than we ever imagined we could be. He taught me how to see beauty, create it and most importantly help the client see themselves as beautiful. He was a Daymaker."--David Wagner, founder of JUUT Salonspas, based in Minneapolis
“Hearing and reading everyone’s memories and comments upon Horst's passing has been cathartic…reminding and re-igniting the cause and calling that is Horst.
"Considering that my relationship with Horst began in 1979, my memories are wide and deep of the influence he had on me, our business, our industry, our world! With that, one rich memory is the event we held at our home in Springfield, Louisiana. We had set up a gospel tent, aka a wedding tent, positioned on the river in front of our home, and approximately 200 hairdressers sat under the tent for a full Sunday as Horst shared his thinking and passion for contributing to the planet with the hairdresser using shampoo as the means of ‘waking up the world.’ He spoke of Ayurvedic wisdom, wellness practices, personal responsibility, and anointing everyone with essential oils and aromas as he expressed his vision for each and all. It was magical! It spoke to a part of us that only a few ever considered…our higher purpose. It was so meaningful and steeped in transformational concepts that it resonated and the culture began to grow and build, one hairdresser, one salon, one guest at a time! For me personally, I had found my path and to this day I honor Horst and Edwin for having the most profound influence on my thinking and acting as it relates to my work, expressing who I am and my gift to the world.”—Debra Neill, CEO Neill-TSP
“Vidal was clearly a giant, and he had his followers. But people followed Horst in a more spiritual way. He taught us about environmentalism and to care for the world in which we live. This affected the most personal aspects in our lives... such as what we put in our bodies, what we feed our children, what lessons we teach future generations. For some people, he influenced almost every decision they made on a daily basis. He taught us not only to better ourselves as hairdressers, but to be responsible citizens of the earth. I did not like the term guru for him. He was more of a master.”--Karen Gordon, co-owner of J. Gordon Designs, Chicago, IL
“Thank you for mentoring me, loving me and giving me everything that you had. I am forever grateful. RIP.”—Ted Gibson, owner of Ted Gibson Beauty in New York
“In the good company of Horst, Billy and I often left stirred, shaken and changed. His actions, focus and passion were on the level of all great activists. That he stood in the arena with scientific, political and global business leaders while representing the beauty industry gives us all certificate of pride. Billy and I mourn the loss of his genius, of his undying passion, of his generosity, of his friendship and of his love. We were touched enough by it all to know that he shall be with us forever.”—Melissa Yamaguchi, co-owner of Yamaguchi Salon and Coastal Day Spa
“Horst's influence certainly redefined the Professional Salon Industry -- from the natural way he formulated his products to the standards he set in his salons. But Horst cast a broader net. In the late 1970s after a pivotal stay in India, he brought the awareness of the interconnection of mind, body & spirit through the traditions of Ayurvedic medicine to America. He invited us to explore a centuries-old system and compass for health, healing and lifestyle. Aveda is a shorthand for Ayurveda. That led to his raising awareness and use of the power of thousands of essential oils in the pharmacopeia. But, most important of all was his outspoken embrace of-- at that time the fledgling -- environmental movement leading beauty editors across the country to write about natural beauty, living in harmony with the Earth, and conserving and replenishing our natural resources. Horst's most significant achievement was challenging us all to be loving stewards of planet Earth. He lives on in the millions of us who accepted his challenge as we daily work to honor his legacy.” Jody Byrne, Trends and Sources International
"I'm so privileged to have become a part of the Aveda network in 1984, so early in my career, and am proud to have carried the torch lit by Horst and his vision. What a beautiful legacy he leaves to the world."--Karie Bennett, owner of Atelier Salon and Spa in San Jose
"There are people who come into your life who change things. Horst was one of those people. He changed the way we thought about the industry and introduced concepts of sustainability and natural-based products long before they became popular. To this day, his contributions are at the forefront of product innovation. While it is a sad time, I have many memories of him that make me smile. Horst would invite his industry friends to his spa at Osceola where we did Yoga, ate macrobiotic food and experienced life the "Horst" way. Some of us had a hard time with this "too clean" spa weekend, so we would sneak out, walk a mile to the local tavern where we'd indulge in cheeseburgers and fries, drink a few beers, and shoot pool, before sneaking back in to the spa without him knowing. Through my relationship with Horst and his company, I became a better stylist and owner. This industry is better because of his leadership. Some thought him to be tough and uncompromising, but I saw a man with a clear mission and vision and was I was drawn to his true quest for excellence. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I had to work with and know Horst.”—Don Bewley, founder of Eufora
“Horst felt that it was his duty to preserve life and give back to our planet and community. He left his mark on the beauty industry and the world.Our industry has lost an amazing leader.The planet has lost a great man and kind soul. He made the world a better place.Thank you, Horst, for caring. Rest in peace.”—Angela Justice, owner of Payton Place Salon, North Little Rock, Arkansas
“I am so sorry to hear of the sad loss of Horst. I still have memories of staying in Osceola in 1993 and learning his philosophy. The industry has lost a great creative mind. My thoughts are with Kiran and their family. The legacy of his message will be carried on by many. Horst would want us to celebrate his many accomplishments and continue to have an effect on influencing the planet.” Dr. Leon Alexander, CEO and President of Eurisko Design
"He left a mark that will forever be embedded into the Salon Industry. So sad to see him go."--David Linde, CEO and president of Creative Force
"Horst inspired me to go beyond my limitations to learn how to give more and be more for myself and those I come in contact with everyday. I will be forever grateful."--Carol St. Amand Romer, owner of A New Beginning Salon in Bethel, CT
"It is with honor I remember Horst Rechelbacher, a visionary who used his influence to create awareness and compassion for the environment, inevitably changing the world of beauty through the products he created. His pioneering efforts paved the way for others like me to innovate and improve the industry we all love--72 years too short, but time well spent, rest in peace."--Tamara Jercha, founder of the The National Association of Eco-Friendly Salons and Spas
“I got a call from Horst once that said, ‘Teddie, come to the Twin Cities, I have something special to show you.’ So the following Monday, I was at Horst’s, sitting on the floor, and he had plants and herb everywhere and his Indian partners were with him. That was a special meeting with a true visionary. I will miss his wit and creativity—he shared with all. Horst, rest in peace, you will live on through the many you have helped and touched.”—Teddie Kossof, Teddie Kossof Salon and Spa, Northfield, Illinois
"My first encounter with Horst was when I had the opportunity to go to Minneapolis in 1988. I had enrolled in a program that Aveda had at the time called Experience Aveda. I had made a pact with my co-workers, that if Horst came to talk to our group, that I would ask to have my picture to be taken with him. It happened that Horst was able to speak to our group. Listening to him talk was wonderful. I heard the passion in his voice that he had for the products that were developed from plants and flowers, to the ways that he felt every guest should be treated. As he spoke, one of his people came into to the room telling him that he had another appointment. He acknowledged the person, and said a few more words. This was my chance. I stood up and asked for a photograph. Horst was very gracious and posed with me for the photo. At that point, more people from the group asked for photos also. Horst did not get to his meeting on time. The next time that I had the opportunity to be inspired by Horst was when I had enrolled in a Retreat at the Spa at Osceola. Horst taught the group. We took models from start to finish--Hair Design, Makeup, and Wardrobe and finished with a photo shoot of our own individual models. I had heard stories that Horst could get quite upset when he saw something that did not please him. I had finished my model, prepped and waiting for our turn to be photographed… when I heard Horst ask my model, 'Who did your hair?' My heart sank… I thought for sure that he didn’t like what he saw. When the model acknowledged that I had created her hair design, Horst looked her hair over again and said, 'You are a very good dresser of hair.' I could not believe my ears. WOW! Later on when speaking to another designer at the same education, she told me that I had stumbled upon one of Horst’s favorite things to see in hair design. Finger Waves… yes I had finger waved my models entire head. I will never forget that experience of being told by one of the Great Masters of Hair Design, that I was good. What an inspiration Horst was to so many just like myself… his legacy lives on. Thank you Horst!"--Kim Delisa, Strategies Coach and President of Orion Beauty and Balance in Binghamton, NY
“I met Horst in 1969 while I was in beauty school. I won a contest and became Miss Cosmetology for the West Coast Cosmetology Show in San Francisco. The day of the hair show, the runners-up of the contest would have their hair done by one of the platform stylists, and it turned out to be Horst. He looked at our dresses and styled our hair in the most beautiful styles. He used a curling iron that was sitting in a fine oil. This was a time when most of us were still setting hair and teasing it. (In one more year hairstyles would drastically change with the use of the blow dryer.) My friend and I were both in awe of this whole styling session since we had never used a curling iron. Horst's girlfriend came out in a dress that he had made entirely from hair wefts. The dress had long, two-inch blonde braids sewn together, with long flowing hair fringe hanging from the long sleeves, much like a western jacket with leather. He also made a hat with a hole in the top so the model's long blonde ponytail poked out. Our 45-minute styling session inspired me so very much, and made me realize what a wonderful profession I was entering. It’s 45 years later, and I am still at it. I have my own studio called Salon Glam. I am 65 years old and still go to every hair conference I can. Horst was such an inspiration because he kept re-inventing himself and giving back to the industry. Looking back today I realized that Horst most likely was the beginning of my love of styling hair in an art form."--Kathie Rothkop, Salon Glam
Below, one of MODERN SALON's favorite interviews with Rechelbacher, where he expresses his passion for the beauty industry, the environment, living a healthy lifestyle and love of life.