I was truly sad to learn of the death of Horst Rechelbacher – founder of Aveda – on the weekend from pancreatic cancer. Horst was a true pioneer in the beauty industry, and his ecological vision, values and business savvy influenced not just the world of cosmetics, but had wider resonance across, food, fashion, wellbeing, media and brands in general. He w as one of my personal and professional heroes.
Originally from Austria, Horst trained in hairdressing and after moving to the US and opening his own salon, he founded the naturally-based Aveda in 1978. The company was bought by Estee Lauder in 1997, and for many years Horst remained at the helm, before handing over to the equally committed Dominique Conseil, Aveda’s CEO and President.
I was very lucky to meet Horst on several occasions, while working as a beauty editor in London. Sustainability has long been a passion of mine, and being able to talk with someone who held such a deep commitment to enabling ecological change at both a grass roots and mass level was tremendous.
On one occasion I travelled to the biannual Aveda congress (a truly egalitarian affair where everyone from the CEO to the press to the far-flung distributor, travels coach class on possibly the world’s most cheerless airline), held in the company’s hometown of Minneapolis. To see Horst in his own environment – complete with cutting edge hair cut and colour demos from some of the world’s top names in the biz, factory tours, seminars with indigenous elders from across the globe, an art exhibition echoing with chanting Buddhist monks, and yoga sessions – was to get to grips with the wonderful mix that had made up his company. Aveda lives and breathes sustainability, and despite many knockers, from my under-the-hood experiences of the company over the past 15-years, it is one of the most commercially committed.
This is a testament to Horst’s ability to blend what people want with what we and the planet need. Aveda and his subsequent company Intelligent Nutrients (intelligentnutrients.com), have been a blend of top class aesthetics and styling, with wellbeing and sustainability. Aveda was one of the key forerunners of the LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) way of life that we take for granted today.
Every meet-up with Horst was filled with learnings about sustainability and wellbeing, a shared hope that people like him were going to change the world for the better, and many many laughs. What press images of Horst Rechelbacher never capture is the twinkle he always had in his eyes. He was often up to mischief and thrillingly scurrilous in his opinions. If I can keep some of his passion, impact and vision going, then maybe I can share some of his twinkle. For now though, I’ve only got tears in my eyes.