The killer cool re-emergence of a salon
After an extensive renovation, Michael Christopher Designs begins a new phase of bringing the cutting edge to fashion
By Richard L. Gaw Special Sections Editor
Greenville Community News, November 7, 2006
Invent something that's never been done before and you are a genius. Re-invent what you have invented all over again and turn it into something altogether new and you are practically knighted. Though Michael Hemphill of Michael Christopher owns no crowns, his Michael Christopher Designs has, for the last thirty years, served as the one salon in our community that takes the gold standard of what it means to be bold and cutting edge and moves it here, there and everywhere.
Over the course of a two-week span that began in late June and ended in early July, Hemphill took his studio on Pennsylvania Avenue and had it gutted practically to its core. The nail, mortar and plywood evidence of the work going on inside the salon had, in fact, been conceived one year ago, when Hemphill began studying the effect that a new splash of light and sound could have on the space. He also began asking his clientele what they wanted from his salon.
"It was quite natural that our clients would have a huge impact on where we were going to take this," Hemphill says. "People should come to a salon and have an outstanding experience that will last for the next six weeks of their life."
The finished product - 6,000 square-feet of re-designed space at a cost of $300,000 - is the combined result of Hemphill's creativity and the needs of his clientele. Six rooms were re-created, infusing a kaleidescope of new lighting, leather chairs imported from Italy, cloudand-sky ceilings from Los Angeles, and over 20 individual work station pods to promote privacy. In addition, clients now have the ability to access the internet or communicate with their office through the use of laptop computers stationed throughout the salon.
"I wanted to sew a common thread through the whole experience of being at Michael Christopher Designs," Hemphill says. "When you're ripe, you're rotten, but when you're green, you grow."
Style maven gets new look of his own
Delaware business pioneer rethinks salon
By LULADEY B. TADESSE, The News Journal
Posted Thursday, September 14, 2006
Michael Christopher Designs Salon & Day Spa is accustomed to giving people a new look, but on the eve of its 31st anniversary, the Wilmington salon is getting a new look of its own.
Michael Christopher Hemphill, the salon's owner and creative force behind the improvements, has invested more than $300,000 to modernize the 6,000-square-foot salon and better equip it to meet the needs of his clients and 80 employees.
"It was beautiful before," said Alexis Tweddell, 40, of Middletown, who has been going to Michael Christopher for nearly eight years. "The fact that he wanted to remodel and update and make it cutting edge is always Michael."
At the salon's grand reopening Friday, the clients will notice a "salon of the future" featuring different chambers, each with its own atmosphere, music and furniture.
Flat-screen computer terminals sprinkled in the waiting area near the entrance and the "hair coloring theatre" give the salon a high-tech feel.
There are 25 pod stations accented by shimmering screens hanging from the mirrored ceiling. The electric plugs and hair equipment that previously rested on a shelf in front of each station have been shifted to shelves behind each station, taking away the clutter in front of clients.
And then there is the shampoo chamber. The warm, dimly lit room has a blue sky ceiling panel, a yellow hologram projected on a deep blue wall and barely visible black sinks. Meditative music plays in the background and the sounds of the water from the tap sound more like small springs. "People come here not to relax, but for a relaxing experience," said Hemphill, who caters to about 300 clients a day. "Why not make it an experience that people want?"
More salons are focusing on the convenience of clients, offering wireless Internet service for business executives who want to work all the time and a relaxing atmosphere for those who want to escape for a few hours, industry experts said.
"He is more on the cutting edge," said Christine Kauffman, executive vice president of Veeco Manufacturing Inc. in Chicago, which designs and manufactures salons and spas. "We are not doing a lot of that kind of work."
Ann Tasker, a former employee at Michael Christopher who recently opened Pasca Salon in Wilmington, said she expects the industry to follow Michael Christopher's lead.
"It's modern, it's upbeat," Tasker said. "It's what the industry is doing today."
When Hemphill opened his business in Wilmington in 1975, the city hardly had any trendy hair salons. There were mostly mom-and-pop beauty shops. Hemphill made a name for himself by winning dozens of national and international awards, including North American Hairstylist of the Year for Creative Excellence in 1997. He also has worked with stars ranging from Bruce Willis to Elizabeth Taylor.
An average haircut by Hemphill costs $100, or $45 to $65 from one of his stylists.
Michael Christopher has managed to establish not just a salon, but a recognizable brand beyond Delaware. The salon has its own line of hair products.
Over the years, there have been many new salons that have opened in Wilmington -- mostly by former Michael Christopher stylists.
"I consider Michael still the leader," said George Ritzel, a former Michael Christopher employee who now owns George Marcus Salon in Talleyville.
Ritzel said Michael Christopher's redesign makes sense.
"You need to make changes continuously to make your clients interested," he said. "When Michael makes a change -- he makes a major change. You should be doing that every few years because styles change, fashion changes, looks change."
Besides revamping the interior of the salon, Hemphill plans to expand his product line. In January, he expects to be featured on QVC, the television shopping channel, where he will introduce a new hair cleansing product that can be mixed with shampoo called Erase. QVC requires vendors to sell as much as 5,000 products in a minute.
In addition to expanding his $3 million business, Hemphill plans to work on a few new projects including an e-commerce site that will sell jewelry, handbags and other accessories manufactured in China. He also plans to work on home interior decorating projects for some of his clients.