Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2000 | 9:45 a.m.
John Paul DeJoria was living out of his car when he made the best, and possibly the riskiest, decision of his business career.
It was 1980 and he and partner Paul Mitchell had obtained a $700 loan to begin selling hair care products -- from the back seat of DeJoria's car.
That business, Paul Mitchell Systems, grew to become one of the top hair-care corporations in the world, with grosses of more than $600 million a year.
DeJoria now lives in a 9,000 square-foot home (which he bought from actress Suzanne Somers eight years ago) on the outskirts of Las Vegas with his wife of seven years and their 3-year-old son. (He now uses his car, a black BMW, simply for transportation.)
The man behind the white and black bottles of top-of-the-line shampoo, conditioner and spritz is a worldwide hair-care mogul -- and a Las Vegan who cares about the community.
As a resident, DeJoria has contributed to the city through donations to schools, the arts and community programs. As a businessman, he's involved with businesses in the hotel and liquor industry. And as a person, he's found love and settled down.
DeJoria has traveled a long road to get here. He sold encyclopedias door-to-door, worked as a janitor, repaired bicycles, and collected cans and bottles as a homeless person in two periods in his life.
But those were minor moments in the overall richness of his life.
In 1971 DeJoria was working at a dead-end job and decided to do something about it.
With great enthusiasm, DeJoria dove headfirst into a career that he thought could be his crowning achievement -- the hair, skin and makeup industry. He worked for Redken Laboratories and became a national manager for the company.
He eventually met Mitchell, who hired DeJoria as a consultant to aid in his vision of maximizing the hair stylist's time to work with clients. DeJoria also offered creative options with more modern gels, tools and other products (for instance, a hair conditioner that could be applied without needing to be washed out but left no residue to muck-up fine locks).
Together they built an empire.
In 1989 Mitchell died from pancreatic cancer. DeJoria continued the legacy the two had created.
Wade Graff, the director of the Salon at Bellagio, has been in the hair care industry for 16 years and said DeJoria and the Paul Mitchell name are synonymous with quality products.
"Everybody in the industry has the utmost respect for him," Graff said. "He has brought the beauty industry out of the beauty shop mode and now it's thought of as more of an art."
From DeJoria's command post at his Las Vegas home -- a nook off his bedroom where he conducts business with a speaker phone, a pen and pad of paper -- he continues to expand the product line and maintain its integrity.
Monitoring quality keeps the Paul Mitchell name respected, DeJoria said.
He and Mitchell began by offering products that the market had never seen. From their original sculpting gel, the list has grown to include more than 35 products as well as the year-and-a-half-old hair color options.
"The trends we've gone through ... " DeJoria said, nodding his head in thought. "When we started, we started with hair sculpting," which offered a wet or dry look for the long (and big) **hairstyles** favored in the '80s and the shorter 'dos of the early '90s.
Now hairstylists are trained, DeJoria said, to use many different products for all types of hair textures and provide one cut that gives three different looks.
"The hair stylist shows you how to have a daytime look and take that to a nighttime, sexy look," he said. "It's a new direction."
Las Vegas is taking a new direction in the hair industry, DeJoria said. Some big names have opened tony salons in the valley in the past few years: William Whatley, Laurent D. and John Barrett, to name a few. Robert Cromense, DeJoria's director of Paul Mitchell Systems, made his Las Vegas debut last year with a salon at Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.
"You have some of the greatest hair stylists anywhere in Nevada (now)," DeJoria said.
He talked excitedly about the focus on hair color in many salons. Paul Mitchell Systems is working on a hair color that will cause little damage to dry and chemically treated hair.
After all these years DeJoria has yet to get burned out on hair. Why does this industry still give him such a thrill?
"Hair changes all the time," he said. "Styles change, feelings change."
Paul Mitchell Systems was one of the more outspoken cosmetic companies to campaign against using animals in research and testing.
"We are the first to ever publicly advertise we don't test on animals," he said.
As the media brought the issue to the forefront, DeJoria said, many companies stopped testing.
"We called the world's attention to it and, by gosh, maybe 10 years later people paid attention," he said. "To this day the majority of cosmetic companies no longer test on animals.
"Why pour shampoo into a rabbit's eyes to see how much shampoo you can put in an adult's eyes before they go blind?" DeJoria said. "I'll put them in my hair, in my eyes before I would give them to anyone else."
Ever the activist, DeJoria has involved himself in other political causes, such as the Campaign for Consumer Product Safety, whose purpose is to educate the public about identification codes. **When printed codes are erased from a bottle, or altered, the product (especially foods or detergents) can be out of date and possibly dangerous.
Currently there is no law that makes it illegal to tamper with dates or coding on any goods to be sold. Supermarkets continually buy and sell tampered product (the casing or dates have been tampered with, not the content), he said.
DeJoria met with Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Las Vegas, to discuss bill HR2100, the Antitampering Act of 1999. Sen. Jim Gibbons, R-Las Vegas, also supports the bill, DeJoria said.
"It's important because they can do this to baby food, they can do this to anything and it's not (safe)," he said. DeJoria spoke to the heads of select grocery stores that he learned were selling his product illegally.
"They said that they will continue to do it as long as it was legal," DeJoria said. "They could be selling product that is 5 years old."
Color him happy
At home in Las Vegas, DeJoria has taken a respite from the demands of his product line. But he still wants quality products from the source.
Hence the chicken coop out back. The crow of Doodle-Do, the DeJoria's young rooster, greets guests as his flock of 12 chickens look on at the cozy casa he and wife Eloise have remodeled in northwest Las Vegas.
"We like fresh eggs," he said.
On a recent hot afternoon, DeJoria answered some questions about his life at his luxurious-but-understated home. He wore black slacks and a black T-shirt and his long dark hair, streaked with gray, was pulled back in a neat ponytail.
"I'm comfortable here," DeJoria said, leaning back on a leather couch into a warm red pillow, photos of his children -- ranging in age from 3 to 35 -- grouped casually behind him.
Forecasting great growth, DeJoria moved to Las Vegas in 1988 -- and it didn't hurt that he was unattached, rich and adventurous.
"Las Vegas is a great place to be single. There's so much to do and so many fine restaurants and places to go," DeJoria said.
But a blind date in 1991 would have him focus more on family.
"I met my wife, Eloise, I proposed in '92 and told her I'd buy a house, put it under both our names and she could decorate it," DeJoria said.
Eloise's Texas childhood is evident in the whimsical southwestern style. An aged, miniature wooden horse watches over the dining room, which overlooks a modest pool and Jacuzzi.
In the bedroom, the red-and-green painted wood bed is the centerpiece of a sparse-but-charming room. Designed by Eloise, the bedposts hold metal spurs and the words "Sweet Dreams" are spelled out in horseshoes along the curved headboard.
"This is my favorite room," DeJoria said.
Lots of windows look out over the many intimate courtyards tucked in the corners of the grounds. The house is a definite oasis for the family.
"We like to relax and be away from everybody," DeJoria said. "This is our time, our place."
The philanthropist is also very involved with his adopted city (he owns a home in Austin, Texas, so that Eloise can be close to her family) as well as the Nevada School of the Arts. When the organization was in need of funds to build their institution in 1994, DeJoria offered more than $140,000.
"Oh, he gave a large contribution," Paul Hesselink, dean of the NSA, said. "He's interested in art education, specifically art for kids."
DeJoria also sponsors local student athletic teams, including the Gunners youth soccer team.
"What the heck? Why not?" DeJoria said, when asked why he is involved with so many endeavors around the valley. The city, he said, has "grown so fast. We need these things."