10 Questions For David Raccuglia of American Crew

American Crew's Founder Answers Our Questions About

David Raccuglia, Founder of American Crew
David Raccuglia, Founder of American Crew.

In 1994, American Crew founder David Raccuglia started a revolution in men's grooming when he walked into a distributor's office in Chicago and asked them for $25,000 to produce the first batch of American Crew Shampoo. At the time, David sensed there was an important movement underway in men's grooming. These days, there are dozens of product lines marketed specifically to men, but I feel it was American Crew that kicked the movement into high gear. Today, American Crew is likely the most popular men's salon brand in the world.

In our industry, David Raccuglia is a star. He and the company he founded are continually blazing new ground and helping barbers and stylists take their service to a new level. It was my pleasure recently to have the opportunity to sit down with David and pick his brain about his product line and our industry.

Dave Alexander: David, I've been using your products in our stores since the beginning and I'm continually excited about American Crew products and imaging. Tell me what inspired you to start American Crew?

David Raccuglia: I became a hairdresser in 1977 and I actually started my career by going to barber school. After barber school, I immediately went to beauty school and kind of abandoned the whole men's side of the industry. At that time, in the early 80's hair was very unisex and androgynous. All of what I learned in the classic barbering arena was dead, so for many years I spent time doing men's hair which was basically longer than women's hair at that time. As you remember in the early 80s, hair was so aggressively short on women and it was longer on men.

So, I ended up moving to Chicago to open a male salon and I started to see men changing. There was sort of a return to classic grooming and clothing. Armani became very popular with vintage looks and I started to become very interested in classic barber styles, which most hairdressers couldn't do very well. Being that I had barber training, I was able to do a fade and taper. Even in the African-American community, a lot of the celebrities started wearing short hair and shaving their heads. At the time, there were really no men's products. I was doing a lot of styles where I was slicking hair back and found myself going to the department store to buy Brylcreem or pomade in order to get that look, so it inspired me to start a styling range that was exclusive for men. That started the quest for American Crew. Barbers and men's hair, at one time, probably made more money and were more influential with their clients than hairdressers were. Think about a guy in the 50s. He got his hair cut every two weeks, but all of the sudden men stopped coming on a regular basis. I started to see a shift back towards that -- my clients were booking appointments every three or four weeks to maintain that look, so it was a very inspiring time for me to jump into the men's arena again and go back to my roots as a barber. So I did.

DA: David, one of the things that attracted me to American Crew initially was the incredible imaging your company uses, from the "beer bottle brown" bottles your shampoo is packaged in to the beautiful black and white photography you use in your marketing. Where do you find the inspiration for your company's packaging and imaging?

DR: It's interesting. I found an amber tonic bottle from the 40s. It was glass and it was from a hair tonic company out of Los Angeles. I don't remember the name of it, but that's where the inspiration came from for the amber bottles. It was sort of a classic apothecary look and I thought it was just so perfect for men. It has a medicinal, very serious look to it.

DA: I notice you actually do most of American Crew's photography, which is quite stunning by the way. What was your motivation for taking on that task?

DR: I've always loved photography and I've always been attracted to the black and white imagery from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I'm a self-taught photographer and I'm immersed in classic photographers like Robert Frank. I've always felt like black and white and men's grooming go hand in hand because at the time men's grooming was at its best, most of the images were black and white. So, there's a relationship for me back to the era of grooming and a black and white photo that makes a man feel comfortable. As a man, when you look at a photo in black and white, it feels pretty comfortable and I think it's easier for a man to relate to a man in black and white. I've always been a fan of photography, even since high school. I'm just lucky enough to have been in the position to hire myself for that job in our company. I'm glad people enjoy my imagery because I enjoy doing it very much.

DA: Switching gears a little bit now, I was on the American Crew website and notice you've completely revamped the site and added a section for salon professionals. What other things do you have in store for those of us who are behind the chair?

DR: The website is very new. It's just been launched and we plan on adding a lot of updates on education. We have a whole new revamped education program right now called the Menswork In-Salon Training Program. It's one of the most comprehensive men's education programs ever done -- over 35 hours of education, teaching 18 classic male haircuts and contemporary male haircuts based on the Menswork Method, Crew's definitive technical approach to cutting men's hair. The stylist section of the website is going to keep updating; we'll be getting a dialog opened up between us and the stylists, there will be updated style galleries, step-by steps, trend cuts, and make-overs.

DA: David, many traditional salons struggle with growing and maintaining their male clients. One of the things that impresses me most about American Crew is your education -- how you teach stylists how to incorporate traditional barbering techniques into their practice. What advice would you give to stylists looking to grow their men's business?

DR: When a man walks by a salon and looks in the window, he's really only looking for one thing -- to see if another man is in there. Men feel comfortable where men are, so one of the things it's really important for salons to do is to make sure their salon has a male friendly environment. Be neutral with your colors, make sure there is male imagery and products for men. It's the simplest business in the world to build because all a stylist has to do is say to their female customers, "I've just been to an American Crew class and have learned a lot about men's hair and I'm really interested in it. So if your husband, brother, or father is interested in getting a new haircut, please recommend me to them because I'm starting to specialize in men as well." The networking of using the female customer is so incredibly powerful. Every woman influences 8 to 10 men, so it's a very simple networking community if they're interested in it. That's one of the best ways a stylist can build their portfolio of male clients.

DA: One of the things I've enjoyed about some of the Menswork classes I've attended is the cutting edge styles that are taught by American Crew educators. I realize that some of the styles featured in Crew's collections may be a bit extreme for the average Joe, so how can a stylist incorporate some of your cutting edge work into everyday practice in the salon?

DR: That's a great question. Think about the mohawk, for example. That's a very extreme haircut, but that mohawk in its extreme form inspired a new revolution in the faux hawk. Men started wearing the center of their hair sticking up, but they calmed it down a bit. We inspire with extreme styles, but we know that what we are doing is taking those extreme shapes and adapting them to a real consumer. When you think about it, all the sticking up hair, the choppy hair, and extreme stuff really does work its way into mainstream. That's why we show the salon professionals the styles in order to inspire at its extreme and they're able to take that and adapt it to their everyday styles.

DA: Lately, the American Crew line seems to be slimming down a bit with what appears to be a tighter focus. What influenced the decision to revamp the line a bit?

DR: We're in a fashion industry, and change is adapting to what's happening in hair and fashion. What we've done is streamline our line and kept only the products that are relevant to today's textures. When bellbottoms became dead at one time, they went away for a long time, but sooner or later they came back. Hair products are no different, especially from a styling standpoint. Hair textures become relevant and then they become not relevant and so do the products used to create those textures.

DA: The barbers and stylists reading this article would kill me if I didn't ask this question, but do you have any inside scoop on what we can expect in the future from American Crew?

DR: There are a couple of things. First, there's going to be a very big launch in October 2009 and I've been sworn to secrecy. You can always count on American Crew to be looking into the relevance of men's hair texture and grooming. We will have things constantly in development to address the new textures in hair and that's what we're doing right now. There will be new products coming out soon and those styling products will be very relevant to the new textures and trends in men's hair that American Crew is working on right now. Later this year, we do have a big launch that will be an entirely new category for American Crew.

DA: Where do yo see men's hair trends going in the next few years?

DR: I always look at youth for everything. If you look at the young men of today, they're very different from young men of ten years ago. Then, teenage boys were very inspired by athletes sticking their hair up with lots of gel. Today, the young man has longer hair. We always say -- and it's very true -- over the age of 30, nine out of ten men have hair that's three inches or shorter, but under the age of 20, we're starting to get as many men who have hair four inches or longer. There's a huge shift. We're starting to see a culture change where young men today are starting to look very different from their fathers. Hair today is a little longer, a little more natural as it was in the late 60s and early 70s and we have to understand that textures and products are going to have to be adapted to that trend. There's a lot of change happening in men's grooming and for the better. I love the fact that you can line up ten guys today and you could have everything from a shaved head to shoulder length and there is still style somewhat relevant and classic in every one of those guys. So, we have to understand that it's changing. The aggressively short hair is moving a little more toward the older side and the younger guys are starting to wear hair that's a little longer.

DA: David, like me, you're moving into middle age. You always appear to be very stylish and somewhat cutting edge. What advice do you give clients looking to maintain an edge as they get older?

DR: I'm going to be 50 this year and I've got a lot of guy friends who look at me as being this very stylish guy and the think of themselves as regular Joes and the advice I give them is always very simple. To me, style and trend are such a different thing. I think for a man to be stylish is very easy -- a little bit of facial hair, growing your sideburns down a little bit longer, taking a good look at a trend and adapting it to your style as opposed to abandoning your style for a trend. Guys who are balding can get a great haircut with a clean taper in the back. Go to a stylist who understands head shape and male-specific design. Don't fall into a category where you're comfortable. Push it, you know. Every guy I know has the opportunity to be stylish and it's really simple things. I think facial hair can be one of the most attractive things on a guy. It's such a simple way for a guy to change his look. What length depends on the face of the guy.

If you look back to the 30s, 40s or 50s, a very stylish time, men tried a lot harder. Guys today get a little sloppy and comfortable. No disrespect, but leave your golf clothes for the golf course. And hair is so important. I don't understand when somebody says to me, "oh it's so expensive to go to a stylist," but they go to Starbucks for a $3 latte six days a week. That's $90 on a coffee habit! So, tell me what's more imporant, your hair or your coffee habit? I go to 7-Eleven to get a $.50 cup of coffee for my caffeine and go get a $90 haircut. I just think it's so important to be relevant and understand just what a statement your hair makes.

DA: David, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. I'm looking forward to seeing what you and American Crew have in store for us in the future.

DR: Anytime.

David Raccuglia is a barber, hairdresser, photographer, and founder of American Crew. American Crew was established in 1994 and remains one of the worlds most popular men's grooming lines.

Additional support for this article was provided by Wallace Barlow, an Atlanta hairstylist specializing in men's hair.