Why Bumble & Bumble Founder Michael Gordon Stopped Making Shampoo
I'm always in search of new and better ways to simplify my beauty routine, so when I heard that Bumble and Bumble founder Michael Gordon had launched a new product line that's a minimalist take on the traditional shampoo and conditioner combo, I had to investigate. I reached out to the hair industry legend and, to my delight, found myself having coffee and croissants with Michael himself recently in Manhattan.
As we geeked out about all things hair and beauty related, I found out more about his new company, Hairstory, and what inspired him to try to disrupt the beauty industry for a second time (no big deal!). Read on to find out why he's fighting the good fight against detergent, why regular shampoos can make your hair feel like over-cooked spaghetti, and what a man who's seen it all really thinks is beautiful...
With Bumble & Bumble, you raised the bar on haircare products — and hairstyling itself — for an entire generation. Some would stop there. What inspired you to start a whole new company from scratch?
There were a few reasons, but the main motivation behind starting Hairstory was that I thought what was happening in the hair industry was sad. Everyone was copying everyone and there didn’t seem to be any originality. Parallel to this, I was becoming concerned about the environment and what I thought was the senseless creation of products that had no purpose, or whose purpose was to make people buy more stuff. Once I discovered that detergent really was the cause of damage to people’s hair, this all became the foundation for Hairstory. I asked myself, ‘how do we get rid of all of this stuff?’ Hairstory, New Wash, and our three styling products were born from this idea of less is more.
We're big believers in minimizing the damage that routine shampooing can cause to your hair, and have been following the co-washing trend with fascination. But New Wash is something different. For hair geeks like us, can you explain what, exactly, sets it apart?
New Wash is not a co-wash, it’s simply a very effective way to clean anyone’s hair regardless of how thin or thick, straight or curly. The conditioning benefits that you’ll notice from using the product are really a result of not stripping your hair with harsh detergents. So, while the ingredients in New Wash will make your hair feel good, they exist to clean without stripping and as a result, leave your hair extremely soft and manageable. This is very different from scouring with shampoos, all of which contain harsh detergents and require users to fix the damage done by following with a conditioner. Many products on the market are necessary only because shampoo strips all of the good things from the hair, leaving you forced to fix it with a laundry list of products. It’s a bit like over-cooking spaghetti and then covering it with sauce to mask it.
What kind of response have you gotten from clients who are using the products? Are they perplexed by it at first? Is there an "aha" moment that typically occurs?
Most people see an immediate and positive change; it’s love at first use. But some people are a bit confused, generally because they haven’t used it or been taught to use it the right way. Once they have a hairdresser show them how it works, or get better instructions from us, they usually change their minds and see the benefits of it. And of course, some people just don’t like it—they like their foam and suds.
Serums, creams, salt spray ... there's no end to the number of styling products most of us pile on our hair. Ignoring all the marketing lingo, how can women determine what they really need to bring out the best in their hair?
If Haagen Dazs can make delicious ice cream with only five ingredients, and some of the best bread in the world is made with only water, flour, and salt, it would seem that you don’t need a lot of ingredients or necessarily a lot of choice in most things. Hair is actually a lot more simple than product companies would have you believe. What’s complicated it is the product company, drug-pusher mentality: more stuff, more stuff, more stuff. It’s a marketing exercise in making you believe that you need more things than you really ever will.
Hairstory is demystifying this, making it really simple to have incredible hair. You wash your hair with New Wash (no conditioner, no masque, no detangler). You may need Hair Balm afterward, which is pretty incredible moisturizer (or not), and then Undressed works on pretty much anyone’s hair, no blow dry required. Spray in your hair and squeeze, you’ll get the most beautiful texture without stickiness or crispy-ness in your hair, and you can always add more. If you blow dry you can use Dressed Up for volume to create a slightly more polished look for an an evening out. Simple.
We've found (to our delight) that women today tend to be less interested in following beauty "trends," and more interested in finding a routine or style that works for them as individuals. Are you seeing something similar?
I agree. I think that women are extremely confused. They would love to figure out how to make their hair look good predictably, but when faced with a never-ending shelf of product options and magazines that aren’t really great at explaining hair products (and are often beholden to advertising dollars) they get overwhelmed. I guess what we’re ultimately saying with Hairstory is that modern luxury should be simple, understandable, and imbue you with confidence. We believe that you can look good without resorting to a blow-dry bar and that you shouldn’t have to worry about what your hair will look like every time you wash it.
You're not only creating a new product line, you're out to shake up standard definitions of beauty through the imagery your team creates at Hairstory (and spreads across social media). How would you define the Hairstory aesthetic? Or, put more simply, what do you find most beautiful?
I find lots of things beautiful. I guess if we’re talking strictly about women, I like seeing women who are quite individual, who seem to have a developed yet natural sense of style. I’ve always been a fan of women with great short haircuts, something that’s really cool; it seems to signify a strong sense of confidence. I suppose I feel like anyone can look attractive, they just have to be willing to let someone give them a great haircut. It’s probably a cliche, but Parisian women are generally viewed as having a distinct, subtle sense of style; I can’t imagine them embracing a blow dry bar. Their style is effortless, which is what we try to achieve with all of the work we do at Hairstory: That cool, perfectly-done-undone.
When it comes to hair, you've seen it all, and I can't resist: Are there trends you see now that we'll all regret when we look at pictures later?
I have to say I’m quite sick of the Williamsburg look: The barber shop, 1, 2, or 3 option, the man bun, etc. I also really hate the blow-dry bar look. It’s a smart business idea, but women just end up looking like Barbie dolls. It’s all very cookie cutter.