In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and industries about how they broke in and found success.
If you Google Rossano Ferretti's name, you'll quickly find that's he's widely referred to as "the most luxurious hairdresser in the world." (Charging $1,500 for a haircut can have that effect, but more on that later.) But honestly, expensive price tag aside, Ferretti's raison d'être — to make every woman feel her most beautiful — is so simple it seems almost naïve. But Ferretti, who is originally from a small Italian town called Campegine, is the definition of a veteran hairstylist, having been in the industry for more than two decades. Fashionista met with the maestro at his newly reopened New York City salon on the 19th floor of the Fuller Building, where he shared the story of his ascent through the global luxury salon ranks and walked us through his eponymous range of hair-care products (which have recently been picked up by Sephora and will hit stores in February of 2017, NBD!). Read on for our interview.
I read that as a child, you always had an interest in art and beauty. When did you know you wanted to pursue hairstyling as a career?
I promised my grandfather — who was a barber — that I would never become a hairdresser. I wanted to be an artist. All my teachers would tell me I was going to be an amazing artist, because I had such an [eye for] proportion. But my mom said to me, "Why don't you try [hair]?" It wasn't very fun because I lived in a little village with a two-chair salon. But I went to London when I was 15 years old for a week, and that's when I realized I had something different, and basically, that changed my vision. I came back to my mom and said, "Mom, let me try this." I started to experiment with haircuts a bit with my friends and whoever, and I became passionate. [Now] my life is based on my passion. I feel fortunate to do what my passion is. At that time, I realized I could do something interesting in the hair business because I was seeing results. When I was 19, I already had a phenomenal clientele. [I went from] nothing in a village to this.
How did you build that clientele at the age of only 19?
You start to cut hair and people talk about you. It's all about word of mouth. It's all based on that; I open my salons based on that.
You spent years developing your signature technique, The Method. Can you explain exactly what that is?
I wanted to change many things in my industry. One of the things was what a salon looks like. Twenty-five years ago, I opened my Parma salon, which was a beautiful apartment, and then five years later, I did my Verona salon. These two salons changed the hair world; now, you see many apartment salons, you see many that want to be an apartment, but I was a pioneer. Balayage was something I did in 1997, and it really changed the concept of color — it was the first really organic [way to do] hair color in terms of technique and results. But the salon and color all come from the cut: My invisible haircut is really the result of a phenomenal technology that I've been developing over the years. Every hairdresser was [cutting] hair the geometrical way. Triangle, square or layers — it was always very geometric. I realized one day that if you don't follow the natural shape of the hair, and you don't go with the hair, following with your body and your movement with the scissors, you'll never get the [right] result. It took me 15 years to develop it, and then it took another 10 years to build a team and to teach them. So basically, I spent over 20 years of my life on a haircut.
What's a normal day like for you?
"Normal day" is a strange phrase for me. I wish I could have a normal day sometimes. Most days, I wake up at 5 a.m. and work on e-mails until 8 or 8:30, since we have salons all over. I might do some interviews, and then sometimes during the month, maybe three days a month maximum, I cut hair for friends and clients; it depends where I am. I design my salons, so I'm always very busy and I do a lot of conferences around the world. I also like to cook, and I have a wine collection. Before, I was more of a "beauty" coach, but now I think I'm more of a "lifestyle" coach. I don't smoke, I don't do stupid things. I'm very healthy — my life is a holistic journey.
Hair trends are everywhere in magazines and on social media, and people seem to always looking for the next 'cool thing' to do with their hair. What are your thoughts on that as someone who believes in a more organic approach to styling?
I created a world — my salons, my empire — around that philosophy. Why should you want the haircut of this actress or this model or whatsoever? Maybe it'll fit for you, but maybe not. What I should do, as a consultant, is understand you, your needs, your beauty, what you want and how you like to be. I can then work on your [personal] beauty, not whatever actress's haircut. It's not about trends. Everybody can say what he or she likes —I'm not against anybody — but I cannot think in that [trend-based] way.
What is amazing in my life, honestly, is that everywhere I open a salon, I make people very happy and feel very unique and special. So if you're a famous actress, I'm happy, but if you are anyone else, I'm happy in the same way. I never put myself in the category of "celebrity hairstylist" because it doesn't mean anything to me. I'm a hairstylist that wants to make the client of the salon very happy and beautiful.
You have salons around the world in major cities in Europe and Asia. What does it mean for you to open a new salon in New York City?
The only salon that made me cry as a 50-year-old was the sixth floor location in the [Fuller] building when I opened it. When we moved to the 19th floor, it felt very special, because this was my dream. I'm living my childhood dream. I'm in New York, in Manhattan — what else is there? I don't think you can think of a better location.
What was it like to develop your own range of products?
I had worked for many companies in the past, and for nine years I've been a spokesperson for L’Oréal worldwide. I helped launch many Shu Uemura and Kérastase products, so I had a lot of experience in products. Six years ago, I felt like it was my time to come out with my soul and my experience in a bottle. I'd been working and testing the products around the world in my salons. I couldn't believe how many horrible products were on the market. I was obsessed with creating a phenomenal product with phenomenal packaging, made in Italy with amazing ingredients, quality and scent. You have to have good ingredients, use innovative technology and test it on real women. That's what we did for three years, all over the world: India, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Milan — on my clients, who are the best testers in the world. They're very demanding. I was also obsessed with being green, so my conditioner [requires] 90 percent less water to rinse out. My products are free of sulfates, formaldehyde and parabens. Shit-free, I would say. I can't believe that people still work with chemicals when you can develop something better.
Any new products you're currently working on?
We have the first antiaging hair serum on the market, and next February, I'll be launching a hair mask, and then I'll do a mousse for very curly hair. And then we'll come out with a new styling line, too.
We're all aware of the transformative powers of a good haircut, and I read that you charge up to $1,500 for a service. That's a pretty expensive haircut!
My hair salons charge from $155 to $250 for a haircut, but if you want me, you have to pay extra. But I'm also not usually available.
What would be your advice for someone who wants to have a career in beauty or hair styling?
If someone wants to become a hairstylist today, I think you really have to look at your heart and see how passionate you are. This business is based on two things: heart and passion. It's about your aesthetic sense. Many people want to be architects, but can't design a beautiful house. Many people want to be hairdressers, but can't design a beautiful haircut. You have to have a sense of proportion, and can never be tired of learning. I learn something new every day. You have to do a lot of research and you need to know who you are very well because if you want to make people happy, you need a certain work ethic. Everything I do is to make people feel beautiful.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.