2 February 2023

Estetica’s Exclusive with David Raccuglia: The American Crew 25th Anniversary Interview

A famed hairstylist and photographer, David Raccuglia founded American Crew back in 1994, setting the foundation of the men’s grooming industry as we know it today.

25 years later, Raccuglia celebrates the brand’s current position as a world leader with men’s grooming being one of the largest growing categories in the salon industry.

What does it mean to you to celebrate 25 years?
It’s proof that I’m old! (laughs). It’s great! The most exciting part of the anniversary by far is the fact that, if you go back 25 years and listen to American Crew’s message, you’ll see that all of our predictions came true. We predicted a large men’s category. We predicted it being almost 50% of the beauty category. We predicted men spending more time and energy on grooming. We predicted this even though it was a very difficult time and it took years, maybe a decade, for this brand to really start to spread its wings. The second decade we started to fly, and now we’re soaring. It’s exciting to see your goals being achieved!

Was there a key moment when you thought: “We’ve made it!”?
I don’t think we’ve made it yet! I’m not somebody who rests on their laurels. There are different goals. The bar keeps getting reset. We have jumped over several bars, but we’ve set a higher one that we’re still after right now as a brand.

What about the beginning? Did you think at some point you weren’t going anywhere?
I thought it was cultish – I never thought it was senseless. But I thought it was going to be a cult: a small very dedicated group of people would focus on men’s grooming as barbering, but I didn’t think it would get into such a global position. So the cult part of it I always believed in and we were very happy to stay at that level. But that’s not what happened. The industry embraced us and we grew greatly.

“It all starts with a good haircut. Without this American Crew has no palette to paint on. So that’s part of our 25th anniversary: we have the best barbers in the world.”

Talking about barbers… you’ve always been there for them, even when the barber culture was at a low in the 90s.
The barbers in the 90s were still relevant but very cultish. There were always the guys who got a cool barber haircut, but they had to change, they had to adapt more. I love barbershops. I love anyone and still love hair salons. I don’t think the barber-salon conflict is real. I do believe back in the 90s, setting up a men’s area, giving the assets to the barbershop to look relevant and current and cool was important. American Crew helped with this, but the truth is, the reason we’ve done so well in this brand is because our barbers are great – in their country and in their neighborhood. This is what I always say on a corporate level when I try to give a description: you go to a town, you go to a city, you go to one barber. And that barber, that shop will set the tone for what someone thinks of American Crew.

What’s the secret behind the American Crew success story?
What I’ve always felt was interesting is that we make a great product, not a good product. You can put our product next to almost any product and we’ll probably over-perform – as good or better. But that is not why somebody buys your brand. They buy our product because they believe in us, in our vision, our esthetic, our look, everything about our culture, our education, what we do for the industry. That is why they buy us and continue to buy. Does the product perform? Yeah! Of course it performs!

What’s your strongest emotion about American Crew’s beginnings?
It was incredibly fun. In the early 90s I very strongly felt that our message was truly relevant. We had to go preach the gospel. It felt like we were like a rock band touring America from city to city, packing it up, going to the next city… and that was what made American Crew: the relationships we built through our road shows. We hit it hard! Through the first ten years, anybody who’d have us, we did it.

When we look at your American Crew photographic collections, it there a story you want to tell behind the images?
Men don’t trust. If you’re trying to appeal to a man, you have to give him a picture not only of a man he would like to look like, but of a man he might like to have a beer with. There’s a certain element of character that’s needed. An Americam Crew man has a character. So I’m trying to present this character who’s got a little swagger, but he’s got a soft and strong side. So we try to work with that. Handsome is in the eye of the beholder… and I have a different way of looking at handsome than most people do.

Some of the latest collections refer to the American Crew partnerships, like the one with you did with Elvis and now with Harley-Davidson.
“Yes. The Elvis campaign was so much fun because there’s something about Elvis Presley that just makes you smile. You see his picture, you see his image, his hair. There’s so much history with that, having him in the barbershops in posters and in point of purchase displays – I think it was a very uplifitng and cool part of American Crew’s history. And then Harley-Davidson – it was lots of fun to celebrate our brand look for the year with motorcycles and Harley. I feel that whether you are a doctor, a lawyer… a lot of these people like to be road warriors on the weekend – so it was a very interesting campaign for us.

Of all your “sons” at American Crew – and we’re talking about products, which one is the most special for you?
“Well you can’t ignore Fiber. It’s such a strong product that it has transcended our own name at some point. I think the Fiber product was one of the best ever launched by American Crew and it’s still very exciting because it’s one of those that is not a trend. It’s a true, true classic. Fiber is a texture that is not perfect, and it stays. That’s a hairstyle that American Crew was responsible for and it’s still here. We love that. And it doesn’t look dated either.

  • How do you see the brand evolving, especially on the new frontier of skin care?
  • It took us a long time to get into skin care… I think the category wasn’t ready. Now I actually feel that barbershops should really listen to this because they have the opportunity to be the first with American Crew Acumen to give really good quality skin services and skin care to men.

Something we’ve always wanted to ask you is why American Crew?
I’ve always like the word ‘crew’ as it was a group of men: my crew. Men like to be part of things that other men are part of. So the crew… and I’m very American. I consider the word ‘American’ a very positive thing and it keeps me grounded. It grounds the brand. If somebody says to me, ‘Oh I don’t like this image or that image,’ I say, ‘Does it look American?’ And if they say ‘It looks too American’… then I know I did a good job.

“I think the next 25 years is going to increase the popularity of grooming: skin, more subcategories. Men are going to be more interested in the right care than they are today. I believe care –of both skin and hair– is the future.”



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