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 at age 14, Rechelbacher embarked on a salon apprenticeship, 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. 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.”
Rechelbacher passed away from pancreatic cancer on his 570-acre farm and retreat in Osceola, Minnesota, where he continued to grow many of his ingredients. He is survived by his second wife, Kiran Stordalen; his daughter, Nicole Thomas, and his son, Peter.
Immediately following his passing, many of those whom Rechelbacher touched shared memories of him.
“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 prestigious group. We did beautiful 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
“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
“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, Ventura, California
“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. The planet has lost a great man and kind soul. He made the world a better place. Thank you, Horst, for caring.” —Angela Justice, Owner of Payton Place Salon North Little Rock, Arkansas
“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 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 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 every day. I will be forever grateful.” —Carol Romer,, Owner of A New Beginning Salon in Bethel, Connecticut
“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 herbs 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
“I still have memories of staying in Osceola in 1993 and learning Horst’s 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
“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
“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 and 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 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
“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 timed For me personally, I had found my path and to this day I honor Horst and Edwin Neill for having the most profound influence on my thinking and acting as it relates to my work, expressing who I am any 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
“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, San Jose, California
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Originally posted on Salon Today