Beauty maker Philip Pelusi puts his mark on fashion
Philip Pelusi has an eye for beauty.
He sees beyond the locks he cuts as an artist, creator, sculptor and designer, say his clients and stylists.
"Philip has a natural feel for hair, like any sculptor," says creative director Jeffrey Reitz, who has worked for Pelusi for 32 years. "He is one of the few people I know whose left and right side of his brain are working simultaneously. That is the sign of a great leader."
Bloomfield native Pelusi, 70, is at the forefront of his industry. For a man who never finished high school, he has built a successful salon empire that accounts for between $12 million and $20 million in annual sales from more than 200,000 haircuts, 78,000-plus color processes, 10,000-plus texture treatments, 10,000-plus smoothing treatments, and more than 100,000 products sold each year.
"Philip is a down-to-earth, very humble guy," says big brother Henry Pelusi, vice president since 1986. "That comes from our parents. He strives to achieve the best possible styles that people would like. ... He cares about the people he works for and with. ... He never slows down."
Before Pelusi arrives at his South Side office at 7:30 a.m., he already has sent several text messages and e-mails during his morning run. Several employees already are waiting.
First in line is Vincent Zepp, assistant to president Pelusi. After eight years, Zepp can pretty much read his boss's mind. He finishes Pelusi's sentences during their meeting.
"I never need caffeine around Philip, because he has enough energy for several people," Zepp says. "His work ethic is amazing."
Pelusi has five e-mail addresses and logs 70 to 80 hours per week traveling between his 12 local salons and a state-of-the-art studio in New York.
Product education director Nikki Blahusch stops by. When she is not traveling around the country, she works at the South Side training center.
"Philip is more demanding of himself than others," she says. "Every day is a new challenge, because he is continuously working on reinventing things. He has the sage wisdom of a grown-up -- with the energy of a college student. He has a great sense of humor and never seems stressed."
Between staff meetings, Pelusi uses Skype to check in with Jennifer Danilchick, who does marketing and communications for Tela Beauty Organics by Philip Pelusi in the New York studio, located in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, which also houses the brand P2 by Philip Pelusi.
Pelusi uses the studio as a springboard for designers breaking into haute couture. He spends two or three days a week in New York, a few in Pittsburgh and often one or two in other parts of the country or the world.
His cozy office is filled with photos and products of the past, as well as bottles containing products he's working on. Pelusi recently introduced Blow Out, the first USDA-certified formaldehyde-free, organic keratin smoother. He's also working on a product to help people manage their curly hair.
Before he cut one strand of hair, Pelusi was slicing sheet metal. He became interested in hair and fashion while browsing his sister Anita's Vogue magazines. He sold his first car to pay tuition at Pittsburgh Beauty Academy.
Pelusi made $4.95 for his first haircut. His first stylist job was at Saks Fifth Avenue. He moved to Studio of Elegance in Squirrel Hill and eventually purchased it.
He says he loves the immediate satisfaction of doing hair, but maintains only a few of his own clients.
Rosemarie Rizzo Parse, a distinguished professor emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago, has been going to Pelusi for 25 years.
"I have watched him grow into an internationally respected figure in his field," she says. "His creativity and innovative ideas are second to none. ... Philip has magic in his fingers."
Pelusi says his clients' stories about traveling to New York and Paris and Milan motivated him to experience that beauty and bring it back to Pittsburgh.
For the past 10 years, Pelusi has taken his talent to New York Fashion Week, where, during runway shows, he is known for his jackets with unique embellishments.
"I've worked with Philip for about three years now -- and I always enjoy our collaborations," says Kati Stern, designer for Venexiana. "Philip understands how important beauty -- and hair, particularly -- is to my runway shows during New York Fashion Week. Philip is truly an artist -- his medium just happens to be hair."
Working at it daily
Pelusi, who employs more than 350 stylists, works to give back to his employees. Recently, he took longtime workers on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York.
"He is profound and generous of spirit," says Phyllis Montgomery, who works in business logistics for P2 by Philip Pelusi. "You can learn from him just from being in his presence. He is an amazing boss. Philip drives all of us."
Christie Wilt, an independent stylist, consultant and educator from Columbus, Ohio, says Pelusi gives stylists the confidence and tools they need to be successful in the hair industry.
"Philip is consistently enhancing and inventing products that enable me to offer my clients proven performance (in) every single service," Wilt says.
Pelusi considers the business aspect fascinating. He credits an Andy Warhol saying, "The most fascinating art is business," as a motivator.
"I constantly have 50 balls in the air that I am juggling, and I have to keep hitting each one to keep them up in the air," Pelusi says. "You have to keep an eye on all of them so you don't drop any of the balls."
The Philip Pelusi file
• Opened first salon in 1965
• Operates 12 salons in the Pittsburgh area, and the Tela Design Studio in New York, a 7,000-square-foot facility that houses Pelusi beauty products and a fashion center for emerging designers, educational and special beauty events
• Products are available in more than 140 salons nationwide and some Nordstrom department stores
• In 1994, converted a former church to the 6,000-square-foot S.P.A.C.E Design Center on the South Side, an education studio where more than 10,000 hairdressers have been trained
• Has styled celelbrities such as Queen Noor, Diane Lane, Marisa Berenson, Sandra Bernhard and Jennifer Lopez
• Selected as Hairstylist of the Year by The Hairstylist USA in 1984 and named one of the top five hair cutters in the United States by InStyle magazine in 2005. Named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young in 1998.
• One of this year's six honorees to be inducted into Pittsburgh Fashion Week Hall of Fame this fall