NEW YORK, United States — Frédéric Fekkai is preparing to buy back his namesake haircare brand, with a deal expected to close on October 31, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The brand, which sells a wide range of shampoo sets and styling products that retail between $20-$30, has bounced from owner to owner in recent years, with each struggling to reverse sliding sales in the face of competition from newer, more social media-friendly brands.
A representative for Frédéric Fekkai declined to comment. Designer Parfums and Luxe Brands did not respond to a request for comment.
Fekkai founded the brand as a salon at Bergdorf Goodman in 1989. Shop-in-shops at Saks Fifth Avenue and numerous salons across the country soon followed. The company expanded throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, fuelled by investments from Chanel and, later, Catterton Partners (now known as L Catterton). Procter & Gamble acquired the company from Catterton for over $400 million in 2008.
The consumer products giant attempted to broaden Fekkai’s appeal by distributing to both luxury and mass-market customers. But the strategy backfired, alienating long-standing customers of the luxe-leaning brand without catching hold in the broader consumer market, according to two former employees.
P&G sold Fekkai Brands in 2015 for $50 million to a joint venture controlled by Designer Parfums and Luxe Brands, according to Women’s Wear Daily, at a time when the consumer products company was divesting many of its beauty brands, including Covergirl and Clairol, which were scooped up by Coty.
The brand has lost its cool factor.
Financial terms of Fekkai’s offer to buy back the brand were not disclosed, though the company is likely worth a fraction of what P&G paid a decade ago, industry analysts said.
“The brand has lost its cool factor,” said retail analyst Jane Hali, of Jane Hali & Associates, pointing to a dearth of significant influencer partnerships and a lack of products with buzzier, natural ingredients. “You have to keep up with the buying audience and, today, that’s millennials and Gen-Z.”
Last year, the Fekkai brand debuted a new product line with shiny blue packaging (a contrast to the traditional pale pink and yellow) called The One by Frédéric Fekkai, which was meant to court millennial consumers. It launched exclusively at Ulta, where it’s still sold, along with Nordstrom and HSN. Products include an attention-getting single-use hair cream packet shaped like a condom packet.
Despite these efforts, the brand is not exactly trending.
It ranked in 75th place out of 86 brands analyzed for their digital health in Gartner L2’s latest Haircare & Color report. According to Chelsea Gross, an analyst at Gartner L2, the company’s online presence has fallen over the past few years, as it’s struggled to generate reach on social platforms and maintain search visibility against unbranded terms such as “hair products.”
On Instagram, a crucial marketing platform for brands today, Fekkai has only 23,700 followers – a weak showing compared to newer haircare entrants like DevaCurl (472,000) and older contenders like Bumble & Bumble (281,000).
Fekkai and his wife Shirin von Wulffen, who live in Aix-en-Provence, France, last year launched a natural-leaning beauty brand called Bastide, inspired by the creations of local artisans. Rather than haircare, the line focuses on fragrances and body products and is sold in select Nordstrom locations and Holt Renfrew in Canada, alongside a handful of independent boutiques. According to one source close to Fekkai, the line was a response to the “depressingly fast-paced” corporate churn that his namesake brand had fallen into.
Fekkai may struggle to revive his namesake brand, however. Analysts point to the declining popularity of traditional salons as a potential problem for the Fekkai brand. Sales through salons remain core to the brand’s strategy today, alongside drugstores like Walgreens, which began selling Fekkai during its P&G days. In 2009, when Sephora got wind of the planned down-market shift, it dropped the brand.