By Liz Petoniak
By the numbers, what Philip Pelusi Salon Group has achieved in 50 years is an amazing feat. Since 1965, CEO and founder Philip Pelusi opened his first salon in Squirrel Hill at the age of 20, with one receptionist and five stylists, including himself. Today, the salon group has grown to 12 locations in the Greater Pittsburgh area is currently trending at 400,000 services per year. He’s also developed two ahead of the curve product lines, P2 Performance X2 Professional Products and Tela Beauty Organics by Philip Pelusi, which are sold by more than 100 retailers and salons internationally. Philip Pelusi professional products encompass hair and skin care, and PURE Cosmetics. And, Tela Beauty Organics is widely recognized as the first USDA-certified organic line of performance hair care products.
Yet, these facts and figures only give a glimpse into the passion and innovation behind the Pelusi brand’s larger triumph: the positive impact it’s made on its staff, clients, and the community. Whether you’ve enjoyed renewed confidence after an industry-revolutionizing Volumetric® Haircut, found results and peace of mind in his products’ natural and organic ingredients, or participated in the salon’s philanthropic endeavors like the Pelusi Fall Trend Runway Show for Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh, Philip’s innate drive and curiosity along his creative quest made it happen. Philip and his wife, Jennifer Danilchick-Pelusi, Tela Beauty Organics’ director of sales and marketing, welcomed us into the colorful Philip Pelusi Education and Training Center for a photo shoot and interview, where we had the chance to pick the brain of the genius behind it all.
What first sparked your interest in hair?
PHILIP PELUSI: Growing up, I was influenced by my sister who was very fashionable. She brought home French Vogue, Italian Vogue — many interesting international fashion publications. I was fascinated with the fashion, the design, and photography. Basically, I think that inspired me to develop as a hair designer. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on me until maybe 10 or so years later. I tried beauty school to see if I would like it. Then, I sold my car to be able to go full-time and finance my way through.
At the time you opened your first salon, did you ever predict it would grow into the success it is today?
PP: I wasn’t sure. But, failure wasn’t an option. I never doubted that we would be successful, but I wasn’t sure how successful or how far we could take this. I found out very fast that it would take a lot of work. It enabled me to do all of the things that I wanted to do, not just to work and to develop a clientele, but also shooting my fashion work and training staff. I think what got me through was that I had the passion to do it.
How did you develop the Volumetric® haircutting technique?
PP: My instinct for hair, the feel…I just felt comfortable. I felt the minute that I first cut a head of hair that ‘this is it.’ I can’t explain it. It’s like a little light bulb just clicked. I also discovered early on that hair is a fabric. And, the better the fabric, the better the design. Intrinsically, I knew I needed to create a trademarked cutting system — to name it, to identify what I was doing so that I would be able to teach others that worked for us, and to support my need for great design and to combine health and beauty.
At what point did you realize you needed to develop your own line of products?
PP: I started developing products in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s because I wasn’t satisfied with what was there. The product had to complement my Volumetrics® hair cutting system, and it had to have a sensitivity to the way we work and what we were trying to achieve — high quality and performance. I sought out herbalists and chemists, and it was a huge breakthrough when I realized I could transform and synthesize a product into what I wanted to see and feel. We tested the products on ourselves first, and then on clients. So, we got real-life feedback. It wasn’t just theory. The chemist and I explored, experimented, and sought out ingredients from all over the world, and we worked on one product at a time until we got it right. We leave no stone unturned, as far as ingredients go. We’re not concerned about something being too expensive because what matters is quality.
Why did you decide that you wanted to create a line of organic hair and skin care products?
PP: We were always concerned about marrying health and beauty; that’s the key. Back when I started developing my own product formulas, I was the first in the industry to use ingredients like hyaluronic acid, zinc and yeast derivatives, calcium proteins, grape seed extract, sage, blueberry, and blackberry. These ingredients were relatively new then and mostly used for skin care. There was not much available at the time, so I experimented blending concoctions of moisture and protein, such as yogurt, avocado, celery, and bananas. I discovered that it would coat the hair, but it wouldn’t penetrate deep enough to have any real effect. So, the natural curiosity was always there — it was only limited by the ability of the world to figure out that they wanted to go in that direction. Through our contacts worldwide, we were able to find organic ingredients as time went on. And, as our philosophy and we evolved, Tela was a perfect fit for us, for how I felt about the fabric of hair, and the kind of passion we felt for well-conditioned, beautiful, shiny hair. Everything works better when you have that.
What is the experience like creating hairstyles for runway shows at New York Fashion Week?
PP: We’ll bring 12 to 18 stylists, depending on the show, and we could be doing anywhere from 20 to 30 models. The trick there is you have very little time to achieve the look. It’s exhilarating but chaotic backstage. Women’s Wear Daily recognized Tela Beauty Organics for being the first organic performance professional care line, and then we morphed from that right into fashion week and using it on the runways. That caught everyone’s attention and like-minded designers started to seek us out. We found it’s an amazing opportunity for us to hit the international stage. One of the things that is the most pleasing to me is that we are able to bring this experience and high-style to my team from Pittsburgh, and they can share it with their clients at the local salons.
You’re always dressed so stylishly. What inspires your fashion sense?
PP: I must say, I love fashion and I love change. I think the idea is to embrace fashion and have fun with it. You want to be serious, but on the other hand, it’s OK to have fun. I think it’s a very creative expression that fits what I do, and it feeds me, and vice versa with working in a forward-thinking, creative area.
Why are organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure important to you?
PP: Working so closely with women all of these years, you really develop a bond with clients. It’s almost like family. Having seen some the situations my clients go through, once you wrap your brain around it, you can’t not want to do something to be helpful in that particular area. We also do thousands of fundraisers for other charities locally; our salons individually are always doing something.
What is the next step for Philip Pelusi?
PP: I think we’re poised for the next level of growth and success for the future, especially in the Pittsburgh area. I am always stimulated by innovation and challenging the possibilities of how we will work in the future. The next step is to continue to develop future leaders. I think even more important is providing solutions for our clients, artistically, using products, and making beautiful hair. And, last but not least, growing our national and international presence that started with Pelusi hair care brands that are recognized for ahead of the curve product formula, approach, and design. I have always said, if something is possible in a formula, we will be the first to do it. And, this is why I use science to create performance organics; a product has to perform.
Fifty years is an incredible achievement. What does this mean to you and to what do you owe your success?
PP: It’s very gratifying. When I stop to reflect, it means a lot, but we’re so busy working on the future. I think back and I realize I have a lot of people to thank. We couldn’t have done it without our incredible team leaders and staff — the people who worked for us over the last 50 years, that dedicated themselves, and believed in what we’re doing. And, especially all of the people in the Greater Pittsburgh area who have come to our salons. I think back to my sister inspiring me early on and, most notably, the man behind the scenes, my brother Henry. He’s the vice president of the Philip Pelusi Salon Group, and he just does so much that allows us to work on the creative and to keep that standard at such an elevation. And, of course, my wife Jennifer for her talent and her inspiration with Tela Beauty Organics. My daughter Marta is working with us now…my niece Nikki Blahusch, our National Educational Director. We are one big family here. I have so many people to thank, I don’t know where to stop. Maybe my sixth grade teacher? [He laughs.]
Cheers to 50 years, and many more to come!
Philip Pelusi Salons, philippelusi.com.
Tela Beauty Organics, telabeautyorganics.com.