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Memo Exclusive: Honoring Horst Rechelbacher at the Beauty Changes Lives Experience

Anne Moratto | March 22, 2018 | 3:28 PM
Kiran Stordalen, Horst Rechelbacher and Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher
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Kiran Stordalen
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Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher
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The Beauty Changes Lives Foundation 2018 Legacy Award will posthumously honor Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at The Beauty Changes Lives Experience co-hosted by America’s Beauty Show and Pivot Point International.

The event at the Art Institute of Chicago will include an intimate Legacy Award dinner followed by a Runway Fashion Show that showcases sponsored NextGen teams and their mentors. Rechelbacher’s partner in life and business, Kiran Stordalen, and his daughter, Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher, partners in Intelligent Nutrients, a certified-organic hair and body care brand, will accept the award honoring his contributions to the industry.

MODERN spoke with Stordalen and Thomas-Rechelbacher about their memories of Horst’s life, work, and his talent for encouraging success in others.

MS: Every story needs to start somewhere—tell us how you met Horst.

Kiran Stordalen:  It is a little bit of a cliché but he was a photographer and I was a model and we met on set. Our world views lined up and we had an incredible shared personal and professional life. At the time, Aveda was still a very small company but it was growing. Horst had a real commitment to natural and essential oils, and to the physical and psychological effects of that ingredient category. The way we evolved together was looking at sustainability and the way you can impact the world around you through business. This was the 1990s and the idea of mission-centric business was rare at the time.

I weaved my way through the business as a copywriter, product developer, brand manager, color cosmetics, and then into creative direction and marketing. 

MS: Tell us a little bit about Horst’s start in beauty.

KS: He grew up in a small town in Austria, and he would watch the goings on of a salon across the street and found it very inspirational. Horst always said he was dyslexic and that working with hair represented an opportunity. He was intrigued by beauty and style and his talent and hard work won him several hairdressing awards and took him to Italy and then, because it looked so much more open and egalitarian, to the US. Competitive styling events in the US gave him a platform to show off his abilities and to, as he would say, seize the moment. One of his most marked characteristic is that he was fearless.   He moved to Minneapolis where he opened a salon and another salon.

MS: What was the start of the schools?

KS: He wanted to teach his stylists how to do hair correctly and he was paying them extra to stay in the evening for that training.  Eventually, because he saw such a need, he opened it up and started offering education to a wider audience. He was such a professional and really wanted the industry to keep advancing.

At the same time, while he is selling other brand’s product in the salon and using them at the school, he travels to India where he experiences a much more holistic approach to beauty and he starts to question—what are we breathing in when we use these products, what am I touching every day and how is it impacting me? The Aveda products he developed created this vertical integration of the brand across the salon, the school, and retail and they all worked together so neatly. It appeared to be some well-devised master plan but it was born out of an organic need. People look at a company like Aveda, which seemed to arrive as a success, but behind it was so much hard work.

MS: You are a trained hairdresser, yourself—how did things start out for you?

Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher: I used to be a barrel racer and when I was 12, I broke my femur and was in hospital for a month and Dad said, you’re done with horses, you can go to beauty school. He had just opened the institute, Horst and Friends, so that summer—and every school summer vacation to follow—I went to beauty school. I would go with my father to photo shoots to assist him, I’d get in the minivan to go to hotels and talk about the products (and everyone would say, who is this guy and what’s aromatherapy?) and I spent hours working next to him. If we went to Paris or India, that was work. By the time I graduated high school, I knew how to cut hair but Dad wanted me to learn the discipline of haircutting and he said the best precision technique is Vidal Sassoon. So, great, I thought he was going to send me to London but instead he sent me to Hamburg, Germany. I didn’t speak the language but Dad said, go figure it out, you’ll be fine. He saw every challenge as an opportunity and that, yes, you’re going to fail but you’ll learn from it and move forward. He always said look inward and you’ll find what you need. It’s easy to give up, it’s another thing to open that door.

MS: What do you think drove your father to create Aveda and the Institute?

NTR: Dad was always a seer and a seeker. He was about connecting and inspiring people and opening up the door to them to be creative and be challenged and be entrepreneurial. He felt it so important to develop a business sense because the more you know the more you can do—for your industry, your business, the planet. 

When he was building his business in Minnesota, he started to act like a magnet. He was drawing people to him for education and he was offering training in precision haircutting, very detailed work that no one else was doing.

In the early days of the brand, it was all built on education and connecting for a bigger meaning. It was quite powerful and he put his whole heart into every formula. To him, it was so much more than shampoo, it was about the attributes, the aroma, the key ingredients and also a responsibility we have to the next generation.

MS: If Horst could say something to hairdressers today, what might it be?

NTR: Focus. Get your act together.  Really think about what you’re putting in your body. Learn as much as you can about the business. Be of service. Maximize every single minute of time with your client. Create an experience for them.  If you build a strong foundation, you’ll make the best decisions and find the best partners. 

KS: Whenever he talked to students, he said you have to love what you do and be passionate to sustain your drive. He also understood the importance of education and also just showing up and doing the work.

MS: What are you looking forward to at the Legacy Event?

KS: With the Beauty Changes Lives Experience, we hope to convey the breadth of Horst’s experiences; he was a complicated person with a lot of interests and so much of what he did was a personification of where he was in his life, either embracing eastern traditions, exploring a love of aroma, and the beauty and craft of hairdressing.  We want to touch on that whole circle for whatever presentation we offer.

NTR: Beauty Changes Lives is about giving talented people an opportunity and valuing these professionals who care for people and make them feel beautiful. I’m so happy that they are honoring my father because I saw what he sacrificed to build his vision. What he created wasn’t just haircare; it was passion, and sustainability and caring for the planet but he had to work very, very hard to get to that higher place. Let’s continue that journey, let’s recognize what has been given to us, let’s stick together, honor the planet, and elevate everything we do for future generations.

****Kiran Stordalen

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