Friday, November 2, 2012

Bobby Pins Are His Weakness

Robert Caplin for The New York Times
Ricky Kenig is the  founder of Ricky’s, a chain of beauty supply stores with a downtown feel and plans to expand nationally.

UP five floors, past the receptionist and a row of eager job applicants, is the Chelsea office of Ricky Kenig, the founder and creative director of Ricky’s, the funky beauty-store chain known for glitter, wigs and a colossal assortment of hair products.

Topped with a close crop of salt-and-pepper hair, the 49-year-old Mr. Kenig is quirky, boisterous and immediately affable. He rattled off a welcome (“Please have a seat, any seat. Want some water?”), dissected his outfit (a cartoonish black-and-white shirt and Balmain jeans) and gave a tour (photos of him with Kelly Ripa, Jason Wu and Lil Jon) — all at a quick clip that would impress Woody Allen. 

“I have a shopping problem,” he said within five minutes of introduction. One wall was lined floor-to-ceiling with hair clips, cosmetic sponges and other makeup tools. “I buy multiples of everything. It used to be twos. Then, I skipped threes and went right to fours.” 

He pointed to his oxford shirt by Supreme, emblazoned with repeating images of Snow White.
“I have this same shirt in gray and two more at home in a Ziploc bag,” he said. 

His energy, which he described as manageable attention deficit disorder with a compulsive tic, is the kind that moves, amuses and dominates — sometimes all at once. It’s also the creative zeal that has fueled the Ricky’s stores, beloved by the city’s stylists, makeup artists, designers, drag queens and downtown girls for its zany mood. 

“I’m not a corporate guy,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to take a corporate guy backstage at a fashion show. They’ll be handing out business cards left and right. The makeup artists, they’re really artists.” 

Even so, he’s had a measure of corporate success, in part by cornering the city’s market for high-end salon products and Halloween costumes. Ricky’s is also undergoing something of a growth spurt, moving beyond its New York City backyard into places like East Hampton, N.Y., and Miami Beach. In the last two years, the chain has opened 6 stores, and now totals 28. 

There is also a new chief executive, Richard Krantz, a retail veteran who was appointed in April, replacing Mr. Kenig’s younger brother, Todd. The plan is to expand nationally, starting with a second shop in South Beach this summer. 

“Retail runs in my veins,” Mr. Kenig said. 

His father, Al Kenig, opened Love drugstores, a New York chain, in the 1970s. It has since closed. His mother, Milly Kenig, who died in 2000, ran a clothing and beauty store called Daphne Snodgrass in Rockland County, N.Y., where Mr. Kenig grew up. 

“The neighborhood was all Hasidic Jews,” said Mr. Kenig, who is Jewish himself but not religious. “It was such a weird place. I couldn’t wait to get out and move to the city.” 

With the exception of two years at the University of Arizona (“I like to say I was just visiting,” he said, grinning), Mr. Kenig has lived in New York, where he spent his early 20s working seven days a week at Love’s original store, at East 64th Street and Third Avenue. While his father focused on the nuts and bolts, Mr. Kenig sensed an opportunity in an untapped demographic: the city’s thriving gay population. 

“My father was a little bit old school,” he said. “He was in the beauty business, but he was also selling odds and ends like hangers. I think he was a little uncomfortable with the beauty world, because for men, it’s all gay.” 

“I was very comfortable in my own skin,” added Mr. Kenig, a twice-divorced father of three daughters (18-year-old twins and a 7-year-old), who live with him in a sleek modern apartment in TriBeCa. (The mother of the twins is a manager at a Ricky’s store in Brooklyn.) 

With his father’s support, Mr. Kenig opened the first Ricky’s at 718 Broadway in Greenwhich Village in 1989. It channeled 1980s street culture: loud neon signs, large television monitors and a Pop Art logo of a pink and blue toothpastelike tube. 

Ricky’s was an instant hit with the downtown creative set. The photographer Steven Meisel was an early customer, as were other fashion insiders who relied on Mr. Kenig to stock products that big chains deemed too niche. When Mr. Meisel wanted bobby pins with a matte black finish, Mr. Kenig used sandpaper to create the desired look. 

That kind of customer feedback led Mr. Kenig to produce his own line of Rickycare products, which includes such seemingly esoteric products as a magnetic wristband for hairpins, a three-finger heat-resistant glove for handling hair irons and a dizzying assortment of bottles, jars and applicators. 

His No-Crease clips were inspired by trips backstage at fashion shows, where he noticed that hairstylists were tucking tissue paper under bobby pins to avoid creasing the hair. He designed a clip with extra padding.
“Guido Palau has taken a liking to them,” Mr. Kenig said, referring to a well-known hair stylist. 

“Anybody can go to Amazon and buy anything now,” he said. “But we’re about the experience. We still believe in getting the product in the right people’s hands, and if they vouch for it, that’s all you need.” 


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