The Eye of the Beholder
Do you like French Impressionism? Are you a fan of Claude Monet? Do you ever go to the beauty salon? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, then you have something in common with Moscow salon magnate Alexander Glushkov...
Text Annet Kulyagina
Photos courtesy Mone
The name Monet evokes beautiful images of water lilies and bridges at Giverny, artistic experimentation with light and color. Muscovites can see examples of the master’s work hanging on the walls of the Pushkin Museum, not to mention in countless reproductions on everything from posters to tote bags to umbrellas.
But in today’s Moscow, the name Mone (transliterated into English from the Russian spelling of the great artist’s name) is quickly becoming synonymous with aestheticism of a different sort — namely, a chain of beauty salons. With over 40 locations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Rostov, Mone is at the forefront of the contemporary Russian beauty industry (and not just the Russian — Mone has plans to expand to Kiev in the near feature).
Alexander Glushkov, the chain’s founder and general director, sees the name he selected for his business ten years ago as a tribute to the artist who inspired him. “Honestly speaking, for me it was a simple, obvious choice. I love his paintings, his use of color. I am most drawn to the Impressionists because they had a different way of looking at the transfer of color; their green was different, something never seen before. Along those same lines, they created a completely different direction in art, uncommercial, soulful, able to express personality to a greater extent than before. And among these artists, it was Claude Monet who captivated me most. His work, his relationship to life, amazed me. You have to surround yourself with the beautiful, contemplate beauty to live longer.”
And most of Mone’s clients agree that the name has appeal, which is augmented by the salons’ presentation and design. The simple signs that mark the salons’ storefronts are a warm, soothing green, with a real sense of naturalism and candor, much like the paintings of the Impressionists who were inspired by the natural world around them. Like them, Glushkov sees the potential for beauty everywhere without resorting to artifice.
Of course, creating your own style in a crowded, dog-eatdog industry is no easy task. In fact, it requires going into the lion’s den — every day. Customer satisfaction is the key to success, and pleasing the client is difficult and can be riskier than in other businesses: A customer who doesn’t like the haircut you gave her doesn’t quickly forget her dissatisfaction — she sees it everyday in the mirror for weeks.
But Alexander says that he likes the challenge. “Yes,” he admits, “this is a tough business. The most important thing is to see things more clearly than the other guy — to predict trends, to be able to recognize what will have the greatest appeal. You have to be more persistent, more determined, and know how to take risks in everything as well as know how to pay attention to the little things. What’s important is to try and try, work and work, because eventually your efforts pay off the way you’d hoped. Success isn’t a question of one triumph, a single great idea. It’s an ongoing, enduring process of working on yourself, of working in a group, of enthusiasm, of innovation. All of that together is what makes you a market leader.”
When you are dealing with creative people, the managerial challenges are even greater than the norm, Glushkov notes. They can be undisciplined and unwilling to stick to a routine, used to working alone instead of as a team and to following their own set of rules rather than sticking to a group standard. How do you make creativity fit into the framework of business without losing the creativity and individuality of each talent?
Glushkov has at least 600 stylists, and that number is constantly growing as new clients flock to salons, bringing with them new demands for what they want. Like Monet, who lived to 82 and worked until the end of his days, producing hundreds of canvases, Glushkov has found a way to combine quality and innovation with productivity and volume without relying on a formula. In 2006, he opened the biggest salon in the world, located on Moscow’s Ulitsa Tverskaya. In 2001, Mone started producing their line of hair products, which have overtaken imported brands in domestic sales.
“Before we opened Mone, big chains of beauty salons didn’t really exist in Moscow. I don’t consider fi ve salons to be a chain because that size supposes you can know everyone from the employees to the clients. In my case, you can’t know all the employees. In that situation, you really have to know how to convey your ideas and project your philosophy to a large number of people, to inspire them to maintain the same high bar that you set in the beginning, to instill in your staff a desire for excellence and make the drive for quality as foremost in their minds as it is in yours. This extends to everything: from the design of the salons to service to internal relations among your employees. It’s an intriguing and complex game. The result of this work is that people come to the salons not for a particular hairdresser but for the style and quality that’s associated with the Mone name.”
Given the length and intensity of his career, Alexander Glushkov, doesn’t look the part of the tired or wizened businessman seasoned by experience who is now sitting back and resting on his laurels. He conveys a lust for life and a desire to keep meeting whatever challenge comes his way. “It is important to find meaning and fulfillment in your work, to keep finding it interesting and enjoying it so much that you’re really proud of what you do,” he says. “I come to work and derive pleasure. I have to laugh, joke, talk to people. I can’t sit at my desk and live in a virtual community.”
He acknowledges that there is “a conscious, pragmatic selfishness” in his approach. In business there are rules that you have to follow, without which you won’t get anywhere. But, he says, along with that there is something else completely different, like the harmony and perfection of a geometric shape. Sometimes it is impossible to achieve that harmony without bending the rules a bit.
Glushkov sees the figure of a triangle as a symbol of that perfection and harmony, a shape that combines individuality and conformity (a triangle can have three unique angles, but the three will always add up to the constant sum of 180 degrees). There is a beauty, he says, in that combination of the uniform and the singular. In fact, he remembers with fondness a dream he had with his friend, the late artist Alexander David. They wanted to open a club that would be a refuge, where amateur artists could simply come and create. They selected a triangle as the club’s symbol.
If you look closely at the commonplace image of a triangle, you can find a life lesson that is applicable not only to creative endeavors but more generally to everything that a person does. In Glushkov’s understanding, each of the following occupies one corner of the triangle: the person him- or herself, others, and creativity. These three forces cannot exist in isolation but must inform one another. In this way, if a person creates for the sake of only one of these components, nothing will come of it. “If you create for yourself, people simply don’t accept you, they think that you’re crazy. When you create only from the desire to sell, you get a substandard product. I’ve observed this many times, and when it’s only to leave your mark on history, then they don’t notice you at all. So it follows that harmony is the only chance for success. There is a magic in the combination of your own self-love and pragmatism with the desire to create and give your creation to people.”
Summing up his philosophy of triangulation, Glushkov has coined a slogan for Mone: The magic between us. For him, these aren’t mere words. “Many times in the salon I’ve seen how women change their look, their walk after our stylists have worked with them. In the final analysis, this amounts to a change in the way they see themselves and how they relate to the world around them. We don’t try to change everything about a woman; we just suggest what to accentuate. For us, external beauty is not a goal in itself. We try to do more: We try to help women look inside themselves and discover who they are.”
What is Alexander Glushkov’s answer to the eternal question, “What do women want?”
“I could say that I know, but then the magic would disappear.”