Before Rihanna set social media on fire by dyeing her hair crimson and Katy Perry wooed with her range of blue hues, there was another period in history defined by its unabashed smashing of style rules. Punk rock developed as a movement in the 1970s, sweeping through Great Britain and the United States with controversial sounds and a matching, anti-establishment aesthetic. From crass lyrics to torn clothes, the point was subversion: Nothing was supposed to look too pretty. Hair was no exception to this rule. Lines were jagged and forms were geometrical. Tresses got spiked into mohawks, sheared to shaggy bobs and stained every color of the rainbow. At the center of this storm was the first-ever vivid hair color brand: Crazy Color. The counter-culture company perfectly embodied the subversive zeitgeist of the time. Fast forward to today, the now iconic brand is owned by Professional Beauty Systems (PBS), a Scotland-based company that distributes hair and beauty products to more than 80 countries. Crazy Color is the U.K.’s No. 1 professional, vibrant tress hue group, with an international presence across six continents and more than 50 countries. Although it began humbly, the brand found itself swept into a movement that would leave a lasting impact on the way we view both style and hair.
AN AUSPICIOUS START
Renato Brunas and his brother Gino hailed from the world of beauty. They were born to perfumers in Naples, Italy, and as young adults worked for the
family business before moving to Paris to study hair. Renato immigrated to England in the early 1960s, where he opened a salon in London’s posh Mayfair neighborhood. It soon became a styling mecca, frequented by diplomats and members of the royal family. But Renato was a curious perfectionist, never content to rest when there was more to learn. “Despite the soaring success of his shop, he decided to take a two-year sabbatical to study chemical dyes and earn the title master colorist,” says Emma Daly, brand manager for PBS. “He wanted to know everything that went into the process of coloring hair and how new products might better protect clients’ health.” Gino joined his brother in 1965, and together they launched Renbow International, the name a combination of Renato and Bow, the street on which his salon was located. While Renato handled all aspects related to creativity and product development, Gino managed business affairs.
Renbow gave Renato a platform to experiment with the production of unconventional shades. “The semi-permanent color market was already in existence, but pigments ranged mainly from blonde to soft auburn to natural brown tones,” Daly recounts. Inspired by individuality, Renato had a mind to break beyond the basics and Crazy Color was birthed from that dream. It debuted in 1977, smack in the middle of the punk rock explosion overtaking Britain. The line’s original 20 dyes were instantly in fierce demand, beloved by both radical street kids and professional stylists who appreciated the advanced formulations that would soon become salon staples–even in the U.S.
As the hype surrounding Crazy Color grew, so too did Renato’s popularity. The master stylist went on to found Oro Vision of Beauty magazine, a trade publication where hair artists could share skills and swap techniques. “He helped mentor many of the greats, including Trevor Sorbie, Tony and Guy Mascolo, and Vidal Sassoon, because Renato had already been established for a decade by the time these future legends were emerging in the 1960s,” says Daly.
Although Crazy Color is renowned in the U.K., stateside the brand slipped into some obscurity after its bright debut. However, parent company PBS is on a quest to change that. Formed in 1984 as a small, family-founded beauty group, today PBS employs more than 250 people working from two laboratory, manufacturing and production sites that together total roughly 45,000 square feet. Like Renato Brunas, PBS managing director Stephen Macdonough grew up in the beauty industry. “My grandfather and all my uncles worked as barbers and my mother was a stylist, so I was brought up in the back of a salon,” he says. He remembers rows of ladies sitting under banks of dryers, getting their shampoos and sets. The smells of perfume and hair lacquer defined his early childhood. Macdonough has been with PBS for more than 30 years, and he was hugely instrumental in the Crazy Color acquisition.
The opportunity arose when the Brunas brothers decided to retire and sell their brand. Colette Macdonough, Stephen’s wife, had grown up vacationing with Gino and Renato, and the purchase happened by way of a casual conversation. In 2009, the two groups simply sat down and agreed to a transfer of custodianship. “To this day, I view us as guardians of this wonderful brand,” says Macdonough. “Renato and Gino will forever be its original, rightful keepers.” (Renato passed away in 2014, followed by Gino in 2017.)
One of the first–and arguably most consequential–decisions PBS made was to keep the hot pink bottle in which Crazy Color semi-permanent products have been packaged since the start. Macdonough and his team did initially consider a more modern makeover. But a few months into revamp talks, Macdonough had an “aha” moment at Cosmoprof Hong Kong. “From across the room, I saw an Italian woman point at a pink bottle I had on the table and excitedly exclaim, ‘That’s Crazy Color!’” he recalls. “She couldn’t see the label, yet she still knew the product.” He flew home and told his group to stick with the iconic design.
COMING TO AMERICA
PBS launched Crazy Color in the U.S. market at Cosmoprof Las Vegas in 2018, followed by a presentation at Premiere Philadelphia a few months later. The line now totals 41 kaleidoscopic offerings–but the American color market is already somewhat saturated. To break through, company pros are deploying a specific set of branding goals. “The size of the bottle has grown slightly taller and larger, expanding to 150 ml while remarkably maintaining the same price point,” says Daly. “That makes ours a high- performance dye that’s also very affordable.”
The base formula has remained sacrosanct for more than 40 years, but three additional ingredients have been added to appeal especially to U.S.-based stylists. “Sunflower seed oil penetrates deeply into hair shafts for increased hydration, raspberry seed oil absorbs UV rays to fight color fade and avocado oil helps seal cuticles and prevent breakage,” Daly explains. Social media is likewise playing a prominent role in Crazy Color’s Get-Noticed campaign. “I’m a high-level online stalker,” jokes Daly. “I first research and identify those influencers currently making the most impact, then work closely with experts and distributors who are willing to help us push industry boundaries.”
This is a brand that honors diversity and celebrates eccentricity–that’s been true from the jump. “We’re massive supporters of subcultures, including drag queens, club kids, avant-garde makeup artists, members of the trans community and more,” continues Daly. That said, neo-punk styles do look slightly different on this side of the pond. “In Britain, it’s more about bright pops of color on angular cuts with sharp fringes or razor edges,” says Daly. “Here in the States, current top looks tend toward beachy waves and pastel colors.” What’s old always becomes what’s new again. It seems the time may just be right for Crazy Color’s brighter hues matched with edgier cuts here in the U.S. In the end, it comes down to celebrating differences and continuously innovating for future success. “Because America is substantially bigger than the United Kingdom both in terms of land mass and the size of the beauty market, our main challenge centers around finding new strategies to reach this larger audience,” says Daly. “By working with those social media influencers currently making the most impact and distributors who are willing to push boundaries, I believe Crazy Color can reach the same No. 1 status it holds in the U.K.”