The Daniel Kaner Interview

The Daniel Kaner Interview

Introducing Oribe Canales to the world of Rhelm

If you can trace the many years I’ve been a friend and business associate of Daniel Kaner back to one single moment, or even an object, that object would have to be a large piece of bamboo… Daniel reminded me of this when I had a chat with him recently, reminiscing about how we met, sharing memories of our lives within beauty and fashion and chatting about our shared admiration for the iconic and inspirational figure of Oribe Canales. Before I explain the bamboo, however, and also how Daniel has always been someone who always ‘got’ where and who I wanted to be and helped me to  achieve those aims, I should probably tell you a little bit about Daniel himself. These days, he’s renowned as the co-founder and president of high-end independent hair-care brand Oribe, but every story has to start somewhere, and Daniel’s tale begins back in Minnesota. 

When Daniel grew up in Minnesota, the Kaner kids were friendly with kids from the Kashuk family. Being friendly with local kids was one thing, but what Daniel couldn’t have known back then was that his big sister’s best friend Sonia Kashuk would, in time, play the role of offering Daniel a step up into the beauty business before going on to become his wife.  As Daniel has explained,  he’d always noticed Sonia as he was growing up:

“She was a unicorn, always designing clothing and windows. I knew she’d moved to New York, so I’d look her up any time I went there. Years passed before we ran into each other again, in Saint Paul. That was the early ’90s. We’ve been together ever since.”

Prior to this, Daniel had attended the University of Minnesota. Sonia introduced him to Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda. At the time Sonia was already consulting for Aveda, and Daniel was brought in as a consultant initially before being tasked with overseeing New York distribution for Aveda.  

In time Daniel left Aveda to join Bumble and Bumble, working with co-founder and stylist Michael Gordon. Bumble and Bumble, for anyone who doesn’t know, started life as a hair salon in New York City in 1977, and it was there that Daniel’s path first crossed with mine. I first went up to New York to observe Bumble and Bumble when the salon was brand new. At the time, I’m happy to admit, I thought I was a pretty kick-ass hairstylist, and then I went into Bumble and Bumble and saw them basically being crazy, throwing brushes and combs around, and thought to myself ‘Ok, I’m a country bumpkin, I know nothing’. Needless to say, I learned so much from my time watching the people at Bumble and Bumble and I like to think that’s where my journey really began.   

When Darrell (Carolyn’s husband) met Daniel

In order to explain how I finally met and came to know Daniel, however, we’ll have to rewind a little to the start of the article and those large pieces of bamboo that I mentioned. Darrell was asked by Horst of Aveda for his company Fleetwood Fixtures to help in equipping the in-salon shops with fixtures such as trays made out of real bamboo.

Darrell cut down the bamboo needed, transported the giant pieces of wood to the US and cut them in half to reveal the natural green of the shells which were what Horst wanted to function as the trays in the salons. This natural green appearance was highly important, being the driving factor behind the choice of bamboo in the first place. Once the bamboo had been cut in half, however, it died and the chlorophyll in it drained away, meaning that the bamboo turned yellow instead of staying green. Painting it the right shade of green didn’t work since, as well as robbing the bamboo of its appealing green hue, the absence of chlorophyll led to the creation of mold and bacteria on the bamboo.  The suitably green but sadly moldy bamboo trays had to be sent to be irradiated in a laboratory which usually specialized in irradiating equipment to meet surgical grade levels of sterility. Only then – beautifully green and spotlessly clean – could the bamboo trays be fitted in the Aveda salons.

I can’t help feeling that the tale of the bamboo fittings works as a wonderful metaphor for the beauty and hairstyling industry in general, in as much as it involves a large degree of technical skill, attention to detail  and hard work being devoted to creating something which looks stunning and at the same time completely natural. 

Do something that’s more you

It was while working with Daniel on this project that Darrell persuaded him to visit the original North 5th Street Bell Tower salon in PA, which was housed in a large Victorian mansion. It tells you everything you need to know about the friendship and respect that was immediately present between Daniel and I that when he saw the original Salon he was able to spot that it wasn’t the right location or space for what I wanted to do in the industry and – even more importantly - felt able to share this insight with complete honesty. This was our first meeting remember, and yet Daniel felt able to say ‘Look, you’re young, this is old.

This isn’t you. Do something that’s more you’ As well as giving me a motto for life in the form of ‘Do something that’s more you’ Daniel had hit upon a feeling that had already been growing within me. On a practical level the building itself was becoming difficult to operate within, as the growth of the salon meant that too many blow dryers were blowing out the circuits, and there was a lack of space for parking. In simple terms, it was becoming a money pit, and Daniel’s words chimed with this and with my own feelings about what I wanted to be doing. The upshot of this was that I was spurred on by Daniel - and Darrell – to pursue the purchase of an amazing stable in Wyomissing, which was sitting on the busiest intersection of Berks County and was only being used by the Wyomissing borough to store maintenance vehicles. I contacted the borough on a pretty much weekly basis until the stable was put up for silent auction, which I’m glad to say I won, enabling me to start building a business which, in physical terms, truly reflected the vision which was driving me.  

I know for a fact that many people, upon seeing the original Victorian mansion building, would have felt compelled to tell me how wonderful it was, particularly if we’d only just met. I’ve always been grateful that Daniel felt able to be honest instead, and from then on we were close friends. He’s always been a coach and a mentor for me, and most importantly someone I could rely upon to tell me the truth. I stayed in contact with him because I knew he was going to reach great heights in the industry, and because, on those occasions when my career felt a little bit ‘Meh’ and I was considering quitting or trying something else, he was always there to coach and counsel me.  

Enter Oribe

The scaling of great heights that I mentioned began in earnest for Daniel when Bumble and Bumble was sold to SJ Lauder and, although he agreed to stay on for period of time, Daniel felt it was time to start looking for his next project. The catalyst for that next project came in the form of hairstylist to the stars Oribe Canales. On the one hand, Oribe had already achieved huge levels of fame and success. Just six years after graduating Continental School of Beauty in Buffalo, New York, Oribe (as he was always known) was given his first magazine cover in the form of  football quarterback Joe Theismann on the front of GQ magazine, and his style perfectly aligned with the era of the supermodels in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Working closely with the makeup artist François Nars, the photographer Steven Meisel and the stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Oribe worked and became friends with models such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista, as well as forming a famous bond with Jennifer Lopez. It was Daniel’s wife Sonia, who had worked with Oribe, who first felt that the charismatic hairstyling genius was a brand waiting to happen. As Daniel explains:

“Sonia worked with him in the fashion industry, would oftentimes do the make-up and Oribe would do the hair and it was more than just a working relationship it was a friendship and a great fondness for him and she saw his magic and just believed there was something there. I remember before Bumble and Bumble had happened, visiting him at his salon and having conversations about possibilities but the time wasn’t quite right. Post Bumble and Bumble….I went back to knock on his door to see if he wanted to participate in creating a brand. We all thought it would work because Oribe himself was unique. He wasn’t just a hairdresser, he was a force of nature, and his work, his personality, his charm, his personal style was added to the style of work he did, and people really liked seeing him and being around him.”

This is something I can vouch for myself. Oribe – who sadly passed away in 2018 – was one of the few people that I can honestly say everybody – man, woman or whatever, was attracted to. He had a magnetism and a down to earth quality which meant that while he could be flamboyant – a flamboyance reflected in the work he did – it was a masculine flamboyance. It wasn’t over the top, or ‘hairdressy’ or fake.  At this point in our conversation Daniel said that rather than the word ‘flamboyance’ he’d use the word ‘texture’ to describe the way Oribe interacted with the world. “He had this quality, I remember he’d come to the house, my kids would come out of their rooms, my dog would come out its basket. People were attracted to him and you could see that glamour and wink and know that there’s something there.”

It was partly this magnetic personal appeal, combined with the idea of the brand set out by Daniel, which helped to persuade me to make an investment in Oribe back in the earliest days. Daniel recalls coming to see me with his vision of what the Oribe brand could be:

“I remember coming up there and sitting across the table and having a conversation with you. I remember having the books – because this was in the days before digital portfolios – I had physical portfolios that had his tear sheets from shoots that he had done. I also had an interview I did with him over the period of a year in four sittings and I think each of those four sittings were long enough for him to smoke three packs of cigarettes. I also had a montage that it had taken me two and half years to put together and that I still carry around with me because I’m a scrapper and a clipper. And what I also remember is that the investment in Oribe that I was looking for was a large amount of money, an amount that, even today, if someone asked you for it you’d have to really think about it. And you just wrote me a check and handed it over there and then. No banker, no contract or escrow, just the investment.”

Daniel often tells this story of my investment in Oribe, and while it’s the kind of tale that might have my accountants tearing their hair out, what it illustrates is my faith and trust in Daniel and in the Oribe brand. The next couple of years putting the brand together were highly stressful for Daniel. As he puts it ‘I don’t think my stool was solid for two years’. Okay, it’s not a pretty image, but it’s one that helps to capture the kind of stress and anxiety that goes into building the brands and names we all admire and love. One thing Daniel didn’t have to work about was personal commitment. I believed in him and I believed in the brand and I still do. Perhaps the best pointer to the success of the investment is the fact that all these years later we’re still such great friends.

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