The man behind American Crew sat down with us to chat about jazz photography, the best advice he’s ever received, and how he changed the way we think about men’s grooming.
What inspired you to start American Crew?
I began my career in 1977, during a time when hair was very androgynous. After going to barber school, I found much of my training wasn’t being put to use. I always had a passion for classic grooming, and opened my first salon in Chicago in the late ’80s, which is when I started to see men’s grooming habits changing. Having been originally trained as a barber — which at the time, most stylists had not been — I was able to adapt my styling to this trend. I quickly realized, however, that the choices for men’s grooming products were limited. At the same time, I felt there was a resurgence in the barbershop on the horizon. My clients started booking appointments every few weeks to maintain their look. I was inspired to create a line specifically for men, designed with credibility and range.
The brand has been around for almost 25 years. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in men’s style?
Men’s hair and style today is a lot more fluid — there’s no one “in” style. The barbering wave brought the manicured look back to the forefront, which is something that will live on, but now, men are moving toward longer and looser styles, too. Today’s man knows that his appearance is part of his message.
What’s the best advice you’ve received over the years?
Explore your passions. My father’s barber, Bob Di Angelo, exuded happiness behind the chair, and you could always feel his love for the craft. I knew from a young age that I actually wanted to enjoy my career from seeing this. And beyond just your career, embrace other pursuits. Had I only explored one focus, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
You do most of the company’s photography. What’s your photographic background?
I’ve loved photography for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, I had a darkroom at home, but it was always a hobby, not a career. The moment my love for photography was reawakened was when I worked on a cover shoot in Russia with Mark Havriliak. We collaborated on a book of men’s hairstyles and I was able to watch and learn from him as he photographed. Eventually I started to take on the photography for American Crew. When you’re a hairdresser first and a photographer second, you know exactly what you’re looking for and what should be captured.
Where do you find your aesthetic inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, but I’ve always loved the aesthetic of classic, refined actors. There’s a particularly wise style that they emanate which has always appealed to me, and I’ve incorporated that into my own personal style.
Who do you admire as an artist?
It’s so difficult to narrow it down, but I’d say William Claxton is a top inspiration for me as a photographer. His jazz photographs are incredible, and I always reference his work with Chet Baker, as it really exudes authenticity. Authenticity is always what I look for in our American Crew images because they should show men owning their look in their real lives as much as possible. I don’t want men to change their fashion, their lifestyle, or their work. I want men to live comfortably as they are.
Can you share some advice on how men and their hair can look their best?
Find a great barber! One who you trust and that really understands men’s hair, head shape, grooming and skincare needs, and style. Ask questions, ask for product recommendations, run haircut ideas by them. They are an arsenal of years of grooming knowledge — use them!
What’s your grooming regimen?
My skin regime is minimalistic. I’ll wash my face with American Crew ACUMEN In-Shower Face Wash. I always shave, whether it’s cleaning up my beard, or keeping my shave close. Finally, I’ll end with the ACUMEN Energizing Hydrating Gel, which is an oil-free moisturizing gel that hydrates and revives the skin. My hair is always a priority and is where I spend most of my grooming time. Hair, to me, makes a statement, and it’s important that I’m keeping my style relevant and true to myself.