Hair stylist and executive
Born c. 1951; son of a hairdresser; married (divorced); children: two. Education: Apprenticed at the salons of Rene of Mayfair and Alexandre, both London, England, mid-1960s.
Addresses: Office—c/o Bumble & bumble, 146 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022.
Began career as hairdresser at the House of Leonard, c. 1968-70; Elizabeth Arden salon, creative director, after c. 1970; opened first salon in Johannesburg, South Africa, c. 1972; opened London salon Bumble & bumble, 1977, and New York City salon, 1981; introduced line of hair-care products, 1995; sold stake in company to Estée Lauder, 2000.
Michael Gordon's Bumble & bumble is a successful Manhattan salon that spawned a cult-favorite line of hair-care products. The British-born stylist became one of a new generation of celebrity hairdressers who began as floorsweepers in the 1960s and went on to become millionaire owners of thriving brand-name salons with a worldwide reputation. In 2004, Gordon opened a posh new salon space in New York that included a school and café.
Born around 1951, Gordon grew up in London. His first unofficial job was helping his mother, a hair-dresser, at her job, and by the age of 14 he was determined to leave the Jewish Free School in Camden, a section of west London. His mother found him a spot as an assistant to Rene of Mayfair, one of London's most famous hairdressers at the time. "He had the most glamorous clients in Britain," Gordon recalled in an interview with Times of London writer Lisa Grainger. "If they weren't film stars, they had a title—you know, Lady, Countess, Princess, the Right Honourable. It was an incredible world to a teenage boy."
After training under another top London stylist, Alexandre, Gordon was able to land a job with the House of Leonard, a haute-salon of London's ebullient Swinging '60s. He was just 17 when he started, and worked alongside another young hairstylist who would later revolutionize the field, John Frieda. The House of Leonard was a favorite of editors from British and American Vogue, and Gordon worked on many daring editorial spreads that highlighted the new, free-spirited or futuristic direction that fashion was taking at the time. By the age of 19, he was made creative director of the Elizabeth Arden salon on Bond Street.
Gordon went to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a vacation, and liked it so much that he decided to stay and take yoga classes. He also married, and by the time he was 21 opened his first salon there. By 1977, he was back in London and had opened a place there. He chose the "Bumble" name, he explained to Grainger in the Times of London interview, because "I didn't want something poncy or formal like the places I had worked, but I wanted something English. And because I had set up with my brother (a partnership that lasted three weeks), we thought we'd take the mickey a bit out of British company names like Smith and Smith or Brown's and Sons. So Bumble and bumble we became."
When his marriage ended and he wanted a change of scene in the early 1980s, Gordon headed to New York City. His East 56th Street Bumble salon opened there in 1981, and within a year the American edition of Vogue had named it one of the ten best salons in the country. Its stylists, who survived a rigorous, three-year, on-the-job training period, emerged as leading names in the fashion world as coiffeurs for designers' runway shows and magazine layouts.
Gordon began mixing his own hair-care products in the early 1990s for his clients, but did not begin selling them until a few years later. His styling creme quickly became a cult must-have among the fashion crowd, and was notoriously difficult to get outside of New York City or Los Angeles. It was available at his counter, and also at a handful of other salons, which had to submit a lengthy application in order to be considered for membership in the network. Many did not pass muster. "We don't need to be everywhere," Gordon explained to WWD writer Julie Naughton. "One of the best things about direct distribution is that we can control where we are—which keeps the brand special."
Gordon's Bumble & bumble line was estimated to be selling about $25 million dollars' worth of styling aids by 1999 with no advertising budget whatsoever—the products had snared a market share merely through word-of-mouth. It was an attractive property, and the cosmetics giant Estée Lauder came calling. Lauder owned a number of prestigious lines, including MAC Cosmetics, and was interested in expanding into the hair-care market. Gordon sold a 60 percent stake in his salon and product line to Lauder for an amount rumored to be around $20 million. Part of the reason he did so, he told SalonNews, was to establish a presence outside of North America. "We are in many great prestige doors overseas, but the international arena is not big for us," he told the paper. "Due to our size, we didn't have the resources to deal with it. Lauder has amazing expertise in international—it's really a different world, and it requires a lot of capital and a lot of expertise in many specialized markets."
The new millionaire spent some of his windfall on a New York City apartment and a house on Long Island and took a break. He produced a 2002 book, Hair Heroes, which featured interviews with some of the world's top hairdressers. His interviewees include Vidal Sassoon and Gene Shacove, the inspiration for Warren Beatty's Beverly Hills hairdresser character in the 1975 movie Shampoo. Shacove died just before the book appeared in print, and Gordon said it was an unforgettable interview. "I realized what a brilliant acting job Beatty had done," Gordon told New York Times reporter Penelope Green, "because Gene's way of speaking and his language was exactly like Beatty's in the movie."
Thanks to the Lauder deal, Gordon was also able to fulfill one of his longtime goals with an innovative, impressively luxurious space called the House of Bumble, which opened in New York City in 2004. The eight-story renovated building in the Meatpacking District featured windows that overlook the Hudson River for cut-and-color clients, a school for future hairdressers called Bumble and bumble University, and even a café. Again, he decided to name it "House" in homage to the bygone retail era of his youth. "I'm old enough to remember the old ateliers, where the design, the artisans, the craftsmen, the office people and the shop were all under one roof and were all proud of their craft," he told Grainger in the Times interview. "I like the fact we're all now in contact, all working together towards great, creative styling that's based on the best historical styles and the work of the best stylists. If you're a hairdresser, that's nirvana."
Hair Heroes, Bumble & bumble, 2002.
New York Times, December 22, 2002.
SalonNews, April 2000, p. S10; July 2000, p. 2S4.
Times (London, England), July 17, 2004, p. 76.
WWD, February 18, 2000, p. 10; June 5, 2000, p. 2; July 21, 2000, p. 10.