David Raccuglia is the founder of American Crew – a hugely successful, leading men’s professional grooming brand which pretty much opened up a market for products dedicated to men’s grooming. Quite a statement, and quite a man. If you were to create a new business card for David today with his wealth of knowhow, it should also read: trained barber, salon owner, entrepreneur, professional photographer, creative director, innovator and of course beauty industry executive. Tribu-te’s UK publisher Nicky Pope went along to catch up with David on a recent visit to London, intent on finding out about the man behind the brand:
The brand innovator
Nicky: David, it’s 28 years since you started the brand, what’s changed in that time?
David: I think that the aesthetic of American crew hasn’t really changed. Our packaging for example remains– we feel it looks good and has a place. But ours is an ever-evoloving industry – the men’s industry in 1994 when we launched was in its infancy. There really wasn’t a mens brand to speak of. American Crew was launched with the love and respect for classic grooming, but not trend grooming. It was very much to achieve the looks, texture, shine and hold that we had from products in the 40s and 50s. We felt that trends can adapt themselves to our products not the other way round.
Nicky: So you’ve grown, not changed?
David: From the outset, I was swept up in wanting to be the most diverse brand that would appeal to all textures and cultures – hence now we have 40 products. We are the one mens brand that really works at diversifying and giving options to everybody.
Nicky: And the look of American Crew in terms of photography?
David: From the beginning we produced collections. I’m the photographer now, and have been since probably about 2000. Initially I had a photographer who was great – still a mentor and friend – and we shot very classic, black and white. It looks 90s but not trendy – it was classic. Still is.
The American Crew guy
Nicky: Who was the American Crew man?
David: We’ve always celebrated what I would have considered the ‘classics’, so Armani was very inspirational especially in the mid 90s – he was producing at that time a very American classic collection, double breasted suits, very vintage… that resonated with me.
Nicky: And has the customer changed over time?
David: The customers have evolved rather than changed. We started at a time when a lot of men were cutting their hair off. So think of rock bands like U2 with frizzy hair, scrunch-dried, damaged rock look – we complete annihilated that… we wanted to go back to shine, and quality cuts! And back then, most hairstylists had no idea how to cut the classics… how to fade a neckline, the right proportion of length on top to the sides. I’m a barber and a hairdresser and at the outset, that was my main role at the start; to use our curriculum to better the services of hairdressers doing mens hair, then having them inspired and to love our product. We were their brand.
The new now
Nicky: Why do you think we do still segregate hairdressers as being either mens’ or womens’ hairdressers?
David: It’s true, [we’ve come to see] hair is genderless and rather it’s more about leaning towards working with short or long hair. Most of my barber friends are much more rigid than the hairdresser is. The hairdresser is more open to cutting mens hair as long as it fits their tehcniques they use. Whereas a barber maybe doesn’t like to do colour, and they are focussed on clipper work. At American Crew we kind of merged barbering and technical haircutting. But in today’s world more than ever, just learning shapes that work in a genderless way is very relevant. That said, even aggressive clipper work I see going on in the non-binary world. So we’re in changing times. Which means the hairdresser should learn to be able to cut aggressively with the clipper, and the barber should learn to move hair around with their hands and a scissor.
Nicky: Is there still a finite description of what makes a barber?
David: It’s so hard to describe these days. A seasoned veteran tends to want to do what they do best. So if you’re a barber who likes short aggressive stuff, that’s what you’ll promote.. a classic barber is very different. So when someone is coming into barbering or hairdressing and asks me what they should do, I say make a mood board about why you want to be a hairdresser or a barber, show me what you think is cool. I can tell from a moodboard where someone is going.
Nicky: What does that mean for American Crew?
David: I want American Crew to be wildly inclusive or wildly diverse. I don’t want anyone to say we don’t have something for them. Do I want to get into hair colour, coloured shampoos or care products? No. We want care for the scalp environment but nothing more. I don’t know that there’s a gender in that, it’s more of an attitude. In the non-binary world American Crew fits well. Our clients tend to want fast results, something more straightforward.
Time after time
Nicky: Do you have a favourite era that influences you?
David: Yes. Rock n’roll started in the 50s, and that’s not my main inspiration. I’m more the 40s, something more elegant. The 20s were really extreme …like Peaky Blinders! But if you see vintage photos of the 1940s, men had perfectly parted, coiffed hair; a man was meticulously groomed with product that meant he could make it through the day. The 60s were the Beatles, the 70s anti-establishment with hair growing out, and the 80s was androgynous, bleached. I feel like when I started American Crew in the 90s it was when I had enough!
Nicky: What’s the secret to the staying power of American Crew?
David: Here’s the funny thing about the mens category.. it’s easy to get in. It’s just not easy to stay. It’s a commitment. We’ve always been a very ambitious brand. We love the training and the education. Anyone can buy in an influencer or educators, but we created an army of people in every country who can educate. I taught people and spread them out… with this you get consistency. Then with consistency you get numbers. Where I feel that a lot of good brands have made two mistakes. One is to copy – but they should do something new. Sure, I was inspired by a Japanese pomade I found in the 80s, but I modernised it… made it ourselves. You can’t just copy. Then the other mistake is in trying to go too fast.
Nicky: Is David Raccuglia vital to the brand?
David: I think it will do very well without me! The brand is definitely not just me. Sure I have an influence, and I take my role very seriously, but it’s not in being a founder and running around. Rather it’s about guiding and leading and working with younger people. Grooming is my hobby, my love… there aren’t so many people like that. I realise the history of the craft of barbering and mens grooming is getting redefined, this genderless attitude coming into the world is amazing. Getting rid of the toxic masculinity of a brand is hard, but I find it exciting.
Nicky: Do you ever wonder what would’ve happened if you didn’t bring American Crew to Revlon?
David: I did sell very early, but Revlon was very good for our brand. They bought us twice; we sold to Revlon, then Revlon sold to Colomer in Spain. Both of those companies were great for us. Revlon Professional in the 90s helped me grow into a global brand. Colomer was really amazing in Europe because they were a colour brand. American Crew got a ride on a pretty nice ship.
Nicky: What’s coming up now as Crew approaches a 30-years anniversary?
David: We have just launched Matte Clay Spray – the Pandemic broke the routine for a lot of men, where they had their 4-6 week appointment, so they grew their hair and liked it! Hair is loosening up… we created a spray version of the jar which means you get it through longer hair. Another new jar product is called Whip… for a nice controlled look. Not hold, just control. We’re really creating a lot… we more to come.
So! The story continues. David, thank you so much for your time and honesty. It’s a fascinating insight into the personality behind, and personality of, American Crew.
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