Horst Rechelbacher dies at 72; founder of Aveda beauty products

Horst Rechelbacher built Aveda into an international brand known for its eco-friendly practices and lush-smelling products.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda Corp., owner of a line of upscale organic salon products, and game-changer in the world of beauty products who brought Earth-friendly production practices and products to market on a mass scale, has died. He was 72 and had pancreatic cancer.

Rechelbacher, widely known by his first name, died Saturday at his home in Osceola, Wis., the company announced.

In 1978, Rechelbacher launched Aveda Corp., with a staff of two and a goal of building a bridge between beauty and medicine.


By the time he sold the company to beauty conglomerate Estee Lauder for a reported $300 million in 1997, he had built Aveda into an international brand known for its eco-friendly practices and lush-smelling products.

Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1941, Rechelbacher learned about the plant world from his mother, an herbalist. That knowledge became the centerpiece of his career and a passion that grew through the decades.

Rechelbacher claimed to be a terrible student who never made it past fourth grade. He became an apprentice barber at age 14 and by the 1960s was teaching seminars and competing in styling circuits across Europe and the United States.

While on a tour through the Midwest, he was in a car accident in Minneapolis. With hefty medical bills to pay, Rechelbacher stayed in the Twin Cities to work them off and never left.

Rechelbacher opened his salon Horst & Friends in Minneapolis in 1965. Soon, he was formulating shampoos in his kitchen sink, mixing organically grown foods and plants.

He later opened a chain of Aveda Concept Salons to sell his products, which over time included hair care products, body spritzes, nontoxic house cleaners and nutritional supplements.

Rechelbacher was a strong personality who didn’t mind ruffling feathers, or taking gambles. In 2006, he convinced Regis Corp. to become a partner and invest $10 million in Intelligent Nutrients, a company he launched in 1995 that specializes in organic, nontoxic health and beauty products. But in 2009, Regis ended up writing off $7.8 million in losses and gave the reins of the business back to Rechelbacher.

But Rechelbacher kept working at perfecting the products and grew many of the ingredients on his 570-acre farm and retreat center in Osceola. He fought to make the products USDA-certified organic and safe enough to eat.

Rechelbacher is survived by his second wife, Kiran Stordalen; his daughter, Nicole Thomas, and his son, Peter.

Crosby writes for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and McClatchy Newspapers.