This bottle of hair gel may seem mundane, but it tells a fascinating story of local innovation and of a visionary in the field of beauty. His name was Horst Rechelbacher, and his legacy is a company called Aveda. He was a trailblazer who introduced environmentally conscious and cruelty-free organic cosmetic products to the masses.
Horst, who was known to all by his first name, was born in Austria in 1941. He learned about herbology from his mother. She instilled in him a passion for studying plants that would grow into a reverence for ancient holistic medical practices that relied on natural ingredients. After apprenticing with a barber at the age of fourteen and excelling in the field of hair styling, he traveled throughout Europe and the United States teaching seminars and participating in hair styling competitions. While passing through Minnesota in 1965, Horst was in a car accident that left him with costly medical bills, and he ended up staying here in order to pay them off. The next year he opened his first salon in Minneapolis. In 1978, he founded Aveda. Horst wrote, “I envisioned it as an organization devoted to promoting the health and beauty of individuals and the world. I wanted to do what I could through this business to help sustain the plant life that gives us all life.” Horst’s empire would grow to include a chain of salons, an enormous product line, and schools all over the U.S. and Canada. The Aveda Institute in Minneapolis was founded in 1982.
Aveda’s products, like the vintage flax seed and aloe hair gel in Hennepin History Museum’s collection, can trace their roots back to Horst’s experimentation in his own kitchen sink during the seventies. Later, for the mass manufacture of his products, Horst insisted on fair trade sourcing and continued to use only organic plant-based ingredients. Today, Aveda is an international cosmetic empire. In 1997 Horst sold the company to Estee Lauder for $300 million, though he stayed on as chairman. According to Horst, his decision to sell the Aveda was contingent on “the opportunity to stay on and remain active in running the business and preserve its identity.”
Horst passed away in 2014 at the age of 72. By that time, the hairstylist-turned-pioneering-eco-friendly entrepreneur had already achieved legendary status. His international cosmetic empire established a new philosophy about beauty, nature, and health. The ancient wisdom that Horst lived by still resonates today. As printed on the cosmetic bottle in the Museum’s collection: “Be gentle and you will need no strength, be patient and you will achieve all things, be humble and you will remain entire.”
Rechelbacher, Horst. Aveda Rituals. Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1999
This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.