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Michael Christopher Salon Blog

Michael Christopher Speaks is the blog for Michael Christopher Salon located in Wilmington, DE. Learn helpful hints, watch how to videos, be the first to see new products, and upcoming events at the salon.

The cutting edge

Michael Christopher Salon - Thursday, December 07, 2017

The cutting edge 

Jun 22, 2017 01:23PM ● Published by J. Chambless

Michael Christopher: 'I don’t want to retire. I'm having a blast.' (Photo by Jie Deng)

By Pam George
Staff Writer

When the news broke that a developer planned to raze the Galleria Shoppes on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilmington, many Greenville-area women – and more than a few men – panicked. Michael Christopher Salon & Day Spa had been a fixture there for 37 years. Construction on the new mixed-use building on the site was expected to take up to two years. What would they do?

Owner Michael C. Hemphill mulled that over. “My knee-jerk reaction was to leave and come back in two years,” he said. “But two years could become three, depending on how long the building takes, and I thought, ‘Michael, that’s insanity. If you can find something better, then move on.’”

Retirement was never an option. “I don’t want to retire,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a good retiree at all. I work three days a week, I sell on QVC – I’m having a blast.”

He began searching for new digs within a two-mile radius of the Pennsylvania Avenue salon. Pettinaro invited him to tour the developer’s Montchanin Corporate Center, which is tucked just off Route 100 where it meets routes 52 and 141. The brick structure had once housed Columbia Gas and then MBNA.

Hemphill was impressed with the well-manicured campus and stately facade. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is like a sanctuary – it’s fabulous. I love the approach and where it’s located.”

He wasn’t concerned that it lacked the visibility of the Pennsylvania Avenue site. After all, Michael Christopher Salon & Day Spa is established. Hemphill has been a guest on local TV shows as well as “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America.” In the Wilmington area, he’s a household word.

But the building also presented drawbacks, namely generic corridors leading to traditional office spaces. Then Hemphill spotted a four-bay garage in the back of the building. The broker discouraged him. Hemphill, however, immediately saw the possibilities, a skill he developed as a stylist.

“In five minutes, I have to figure out how tall the clients are, how much they weigh, how long is the neck, how short is the nose, what kind of hair they have – is it curly or straight, and are there any cowlicks? – and what can they handle,” he explained.

His snap judgment was on target. The new salon, which opened in April, has not missed a beat. In fact, he’s gained new customers thanks to the site’s accessibility and the plentiful parking.

Hemphill is clearly not one to spot an opportunity and promote it. “His vision is the secret to his success,” said Rebecca Barry, the education director and manager of the Wilmington salon, who has been with Hemphill for 32 years. “He has the ability to see what others can’t, and he’s proved that with reinvention of the salon.”

To be sure, the Kennett Square native became a master at branding long before that term entered the marketing lexicon.

Beauty is in the blood

It helped that Hemphill knew what he wanted to do from a young age. He grew up in the industry. His father, Clifford, owned two salons four blocks from each other. (Both were named Clifford’s Hair Fashions.) His mother worked the front desk.

After school, Hemphill headed to the salon to do his homework and watch the stylists. “They had cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, ashes falling off, and there was all this hair spray. It was crazy,” he recalled. “If you’ve ever put a match to a can of hair spray, it’s like a blow torch.”

When he finished his homework, he entertained himself by styling the hair on a mannequin. “I enjoyed it; it came easy,” he said. By age 14, he was riding his bike to neighbors’ houses with a briefcase full of curlers and stale beer (a makeshift product that produced a stiff effect). The ladies had their hairdryers ready, and he set their hair for a few dollars.

Because he was too young to enroll in local hairdressing schools, he talked his parents into letting him attend an 18-month program in Toronto that accepted young teens. “It was very fancy,” he said. “Teachers came in with big hats and mink coats. That’s all I needed to see; I thought it was very glamorous.” He stayed with a retired schoolteacher, who helped him keep on top of his regular curriculum.

Back home at 16, he became an apprentice at his father’s salon and accumulated the hours that he needed to get his license at vo-tech school. When he was 17, his father died. His mother, who had four children at home, shouldered the salon on her own with Hemphill’s help. He is the only child who entered the family business. By law, she had to go to hair school to own the salon, which he ran when she was in classes.

At 20, he wanted to open another spot in downtown Wilmington, but his mother was reluctant to take on the additional risk. In 1975, he opened his own shop above a bar on the second floor of a city building. In 1980, the salon moved to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hairstylist to celebrities and Dela-brities

The rise of Michael Christopher Salon coincided with the age of the celebrity hairstylist. Picture Vidal Sassoon, who gave Mia Farrow her trademark pixie cut. In the 1980s, there was nothing quite like Michael Christopher in Delaware, and actresses who came into town to perform at The Playhouse called the salon for services.

In addition to serving high-profile clients, celebrities like Sassoon also created a line of hair care products. Hemphill did the same. It’s a practical move, as well as a business opportunity. Proprietary products give him control in an age when conglomerates are gobbling up smaller companies in the hair care industry. After a merger, formulas might change, and some products are discontinued. The shampoos and conditioners are also subtle reminders that clients might need to schedule a cut and color. “It’s like having a billboard in the bathroom,” he said.

In the days before YouTube, Hemphill created a how-to VHS series on blow-drying, and packaged it with products. The kit was a hit on West Chester-based QVC.

Hemphill has continued his relationship with the shopping channel, and a newer product, Erase, is a big seller. The product was inspired by a client with stubborn hair spray residue. No matter what he did, Hemphill could not remove the buildup. He learned that baking soda, mixed with shampoo, could do the trick. He worked with a California lab to develop a ready-to-use, branded product.

Over the years, Hemphill has not been afraid to push the envelope and try new things. It’s a lesson he learned in the early 1980s from the late John Rollins, who was born on a farm in rural Georgia and became a Delaware-based entrepreneur with interests in automobile and truck leasing, exterminating, media, harness racing and the hospitality industry.

“I always go to the top person for advice,” Hemphill said. “That’s where the buck stops. People at the top love to share.”

Hemphill asked Rollins what he needed to do to grow his business. Rollins told him, “If you don’t get close to bankruptcy at least once, you’ll never make it.” To get off the fence and explore growth takes money, he said.

Rollins was right. Michael Christopher opened in the Bloomingdale’s store in King of Prussia and in Pike Creek. Hemphill, at one time, wanted to be in every Bloomingdale’s location. Then he experienced the reality of managing a site in Florida. The department store’s financial woes and the decision to split with his partner in Pike Creek prompted Hemphill to scale back to the one location.

New beginnings

As of April, that location is that much closer to Greenville, where many of his clients live.

The new salon was designed to meet modern expectations and industry trends. “The pendulum swings every 10 years,” said Hemphill, who frequently renovated the old salon.

Signs on the Montchanin campus direct customers to the back of the building and to the incline leading to the old garage, whose doors have become windows. Out front, there's a courtyard-like setting that resembles the rooftop of a posh New York City penthouse. You can almost picture Carrie and her “Sex & the City” pals lounging in the area, which features potted hibiscus, waist-high planters with lush plants, and outdoor wicker chairs.

Once inside, customers can power up laptops and iPads at the computer bar and grab a cappuccino from the self-serve machine, or wine from the beverage fridge. Longtime clients may recognize the fire engine-red chandelier above the reception area and other pieces from the old salon.

The 16 stylists’ chairs benefit from three sources of light, including the natural light that streams through the window during the day.

The mixing area for hair color is visible, much like an open kitchen in a restaurant. Clients can watch the action, which in most salons is tucked out of sight.

One task, however, is offered in a quieter environment. Since many love the luxury of a lengthy shampoo and scalp massage, the shampoo chairs are sequestered in an area that links to the day spa section of the salon. While they enjoy the suds, they can gaze at the shelves of handbags and hair accessories.

The days of the mega salon and day spas have given way to more specialized and personalized services. Clients don稚 have a day to devote to pampering. But they do want quick-hit routine services, such as manicures, facials and waxing. The salon has three treatment rooms, one of which has a shower. There痴 also a pedicure room.

“We’re more condensed,” said Rhonda Hutchinson, administrative assistant, who’s been working with Hemphill since 1978. “The atmosphere is so relaxing from the moment you turn into the drive.”

Hemphill said that customers have been pleased with the move. Some have been with Hemphill since he first started at Clifford’s so long ago. Celebrating more than four decades in the industry, he's styled mothers, daughters and granddaughters.

And more are on the way. Recently, an 8-year-old approached Hemphill to ask if he was Michael Christopher. He said yes. “Wow!” she marveled.

Hemphill smiled and told himself, “My brand is good for another 15 years!”

To contact Staff Writer Pam George, email

The Knot Dream Wedding Makeup Artist Talks Bridal Beauty

Michael Christopher Salon - Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Knot Dream Wedding Makeup Artist Talks Bridal Beauty—Get the Details Here

The stylist behind Elena Delle Donne and Amanda Clifton’s wedding makeup can’t wait to play up their natural beauty. Here’s the inside scoop on her bridal beauty game plan.
by Maggie Seaver

Kristina Ruggerio, of Kristina Ruggerio Cosmetics, isn't just lined up to do The Knot Dream Wedding Couple Elena Delle Donne and Amanda Clifton's day-of wedding makeup—she's also an old friend of Elena's from high school and has done the WNBA star's makeup in the past (and can't wait to do it again for her wedding day). How cool is that? We caught up with the Wilmington, Delaware–based stylist to hear about her plans to beautify the naturally gorgeous brides-to-be.

What can we expect from Elena and Amanda's day-of wedding makeup?

"I’m planning on enhancing both Elena and Amanda's natural beauty. Of course, we’ll play up Amanda's beautiful, bright eyes just enough to make them sparkle even more than they already do, along with a pale bridal pink mixed with a pale peach to bring out the blue in her eyes. Elena has such a beautiful smile, so we'll want to keep her lip color pretty natural—most likely a blush or mauve tone to compliment her green eyes, with a pop of gloss in the middle to brighten. I want them to look like the best version of themselves."

How did they land on each of their looks?

"We’ve played around with different looks over the years. They're both naturally gorgeous and they [glam] up beautifully as well. I know the look we'll go with for their day will be simple elegance, something they'll feel extra beautiful in. I just want their natural and stunning features to shine on this special day."

What are your top wedding makeup tips for brides?

"Whenever you're doing makeup for a long day, or in photographs, you want to make sure you apply enough color to your cheeks, lips and eyes—specifically eyeliner, especially in between your lashes, to make the lashes appear thicker and darker. This will make everything pop in photos. Be sure to apply a translucent powder, mainly in the T-zone, to avoid any shine in pictures. Prep your face with makeup primer first, and set your makeup with translucent powder at the end to ensure longevity all day and all night. Lips should be freshened up every couple hours."

What has it been like to work with Elena and Amanda?

"Elena and Amanda are dreams to work with. They're so laid back and so funny, to the point where I'm afraid all of our makeup will run whenever I'm around them—they bring me to tears of laughter every time! Waterproof mascara is a must any time I see them—especially for the wedding day."

Do the brides know what each other's makeup will look like, or will it be a surprise?

"I know both women are very in tune with each other—they're so close—I’m sure each will assume the other will go somewhat natural, but with an elegant twist. It’s going to be a stunning wedding, and when they both get to see each other completely done, I truly believe they'll both be blown away. I can’t wait to see their faces—I'm getting chills already!"

With Kristina in Delaware until Elena and Amanda's November 3 nuptials, Brittany Lo of New York City–based Beautini stepped in to give the brides a preview of their wedding day looks. Watch their full makeup trial on for serious beauty inspo.

Sanctuary in Greenville

Michael Christopher Salon - Thursday, December 07, 2017

Michael Hemphill, hairstylist to Delaware notables such as Jill Biden, Carla Markell and Elise and Pete du Pont, is moving his Michael Christopher Salon to Greenville after 35 years at the Galleria Shops in Wilmington.

Hemphill’s salon and Empowered Yoga are relocating to the Pettinaro-owned Montchanin Corporate Center, a graceful brick complex that once was home to MBNA.

Other Galleria tenants must move too, at least temporarily, because Newark developer Angela Tsionas plans to tear down the shops at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. to construct a $40 million, five-story mixed-use building by 2018.

Hemphill, who has styled the hair of many Playhouse actors, including Debbie Reynolds, is known for reinventing his current space several times with a waterfall feature, a white grand piano at Christmastime, and a serene black shampoo chamber with a lighted ceiling. After years in a busy downtown location with difficult parking, he said he plans to create “a sanctuary.”

“I call it the-gates-of-hell-close-behind-you,” Hemphill said. “The reason I chose the space is because I think it’s like a sanctuary. We’re all connected so much to our phones and our computers.”

“We want to be in there by the first week of April,” he added. “That’s the plan, if everything goes smoothly. You know how construction goes.”

The current salon is 6,000 square feet, but part of it is subleted to Morgan’s of Delaware, the dress shop. The new space will be closer to 3,000 square feet. “We want to be green in what we’re doing,” Hemphill said. “We don’t want to burn up more space than necessary. But we’re actually going to supersize some services.”

He said more space will be devoted to permanent makeup trends, eyebrow trends, day spa services and new hair techniques.

The salon took over a four-bay garage, so there will be large windows to the outside. Hemphill said he tried to create a Carmel, California look.

A new outdoor garden will allow customers to take their complimentary coffee or wine outside in nice weather.
‘This new salon’s all about relaxing. You feel it the minute you drive in. It’s just a beautiful property. It feels like a sanctuary or a country club,” Hemphill said. “When I drove in there, all of a sudden I felt relaxed and you usually don’t have that experience when you’re in a shopping center.”

Hemphill said he did a ZIP Code study to determine the spot most convenient for his clients. He found they come from Greenville, West Chester, Wilmington, Unionville, Kennett and Newark, so he looked for a central location within a two-mile radius of his current shop with good road accessibility.

Greg Pettinaro, CEO of Pettinaro, said Empowered Yoga and Michael Christopher will be the only retail clients in a center that includes offices of companies such as Bryn Mawr Bank, Citigroup and Brandywine Center for Integrative Services.

Pettinaro said current county code allows up to 10 percent of tracts zoned office regional to be retail locations, but his company will go before County Council this month because a previous owner signed a deed restriction stipulating there would be no retail.

Before leasing the location, Pettinaro said his company met with representatives of Hagley Museum, Kennett Pike Association, Beck’s Lane Homeowner’s Association and surrounding neighbors and they were all supportive of the change.


Michael Christopher Salon - Monday, November 07, 2016

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?"

Styling Client Hair
News Article

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.


Michael Christopher Salon - Saturday, November 09, 2013

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.

Michael Christopher Working on a Client Hair
News Article

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."