Vincent De Lorenzo – A household name: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8
A household name

“If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.”
Johann Sebastian Bach

In 1964, before his mother died, Vincent began to wonder about other ways to reach his audience.

“When you have a product or service you want to sell, it’s not enough just to say, ’I have this and it works’. People need to be told about it! What other way to do this than through television!”

Vincent had come up with an idea that would see his name and brand reach a level of celebrity not yet achieved in the industry. He conceived the first ever ‘information commercial’, one that would educate women on the latest looks and hairstyles from overseas, how to look after their hair and find styles to best suit them, and which products they could use to achieve those styles at home. It was a brilliant idea, and it lifted the brand to new levels of fame, eventually capturing the attention of major multi-national companies overseas.

Firstly, Vincent had to translate this concept from an idea into reality. He made an appointment with the Channel 9 chief of staff in Sydney to discuss his idea, armed with just the concept and steely determination.

The chief of staff liked the idea, but thought immediately about production details that would need to be considered. “Who will produce it?” he asked Vincent.

“I will.”

“Who will direct it?”

“I will.”

Growing increasingly bothered, he asked, “And who will star in it?”

“I will.”

Finally he asked, “Well, who is going to light it?”

Vincent shrugged his shoulders, looked up, and said, “Well, you’ve got the lights up there. Just turn ’em on!”

Flabbergasted by Vincent’s lack of knowledge in television production matters, the chief of staff was speechless, but there was something in the simplicity of Vincent’s ideas that urged him to think ‘Why not?’ To Vincent these were just unimportant details. He had this idea, he had the determination, and he knew it would work. Once again that De Lorenzo tool of persuasion managed to sell the idea and Channel 9, along with Vincent, began to produce the envisaged short programs.

Vincent was right. The programs were a huge success. They were listed in television guides and even got a rating, and they catapulted Vincent to the level of an Australian icon. His name, his brand, was as Australian as vegemite! They were aired on prime time television nationwide, and each week Vincent used his mother, or Pat, or other staff members, as models on the show. For a total of ten years these television spots ensured that both the De Lorenzo name and the Delva brand remained at the top of the industry.

By now the Delva factory had become Vincent’s number one priority. He and Anton now had many staff members. There was someone to take care of each component of the manufacturing process, from the receptionist, to the chemists in the research and development department, to the packaging and freighting of the finished products. The hiccups they had experienced at the beginning of the Delva journey, were, through trial and error, becoming fewer and fewer. Production was well and truly on the go, and demand for the product on the market was increasing all the time.

“I went into Delva without any experience in factory working. It was a different ball game, and to keep costs down I had to learn how to do everything myself – how to manage a budget and run a factory – and I did it reasonably well. I loved to work. It was a challenge. Eventually, the business grew, and I just couldn’t keep doing everything myself. We ended up with a staff of 50.”

Testing and developing products was a full time job for their small team of researchers and developers, and Vincent and Anton were both still a very vocal part of that. But there were other challenges ahead. Delva was the first professional hair care range in Australia. This was a totally new idea, and asking a hairdresser to understand the concept of prescribing products for their clients’ hair types wasn’t easy. They also had to grasp the concept of learning to retail. Vincent needed to teach them.

He created workshops and learning sessions so hairdressers could come along and learn a little about the science involved in hair product consultation. As a qualified trichologist, Vincent had much knowledge to share with the industry and so he set about converting the mindset of hairdressers, a few at a time, until eventually the concept took hold nationally and the average hairdresser understood the benefits this afforded their salons. It was a long, slow, and steady process, but it worked.

Now lecturing and producing television programs, Vincent, together with Anton, was somehow juggling the salon with its staff of 40, their own growing families, a manufacturing company, and the distribution of the Delva product range to the Australian market. Vincent was also busy with the presidency of the M.L.H.A and, with that, all of its responsibilities. However, he always made time for Sunday lunch with his family. It was a long held tradition that Sundays were spent with the family, and he kept that tradition very much alive after his parents passed.

After lunch, Vincent and his sons would hop into the car and drive to Sydney’s scenic and wealthy harbourside suburbs. Point Piper was always their first destination, and as Vincent drove the tree lined streets, boasting magnificent, luxurious homes with imposing harbourside views, he began to stir and dream of the day when he too would be able to afford such an opulent address. It would, one day, be his reward for a lifetime of sacrifice, dedication and hard work. But for the moment, he had to be content with the dream. He had to take life one-step at a time.

As president of the M.L.H.A it was part of Vincent’s role to organise annual functions and conferences. His functions were always an opportunity for the members of the organisation and industry peers to let their hair down and have fun while they networked and mingled.

“At the end of 1965, we [the M.L.H.A] decided to hold a conference for the industry and our members. We hired space on a ship, The British Monarch, which was to have its last voyage, and we held a floating convention on board. Everyone attended, from the secretary to the P.H.A, the committee, and other manufacturers. I remember the captain on board the ship kept saying to the P.H.A secretary that he was having trouble with his hair, he needed it cut. What better time to raise it than when on board a ship full of hairdressers, I guess! The secretary told him to come and see me about it. So anyway, the captain came down to my room to ask me to fix his hair. I looked at him and said, ‘You have very soft hair. You need a light foundation wave to give it some volume and help with the texture. The captain was a sea man, you know, a burly masculine type. He felt very uneasy about all this hair business, so he agreed but asked me not to tell anyone. So we set it up with a guard outside the door of the room to stop anyone walking in. It was a pretty hot day, so there I was in the cabin wearing only a pair of shorts, no shirt, working with the captain’s hair. Anyway, that night we were having a fancy dress party on the ship and one of the hairdressers, Norman, who was dressed and ready for the party, came downstairs to show me his outfit. He was dressed as the most colourful drag queen you have ever seen – what a sight! Anyway, he made it past the guard at the door and came into the room in drag, bursting in on me, half naked, pinning the captain’s hair. We couldn’t stop laughing. The poor captain! I thought he was going to pass out from the shock! We had a great night that night. Pat went dressed as a showgirl and I was an Arabian prince.”

Around 1967, the De Lorenzo family started to socialise increasingly with friends outside hairdressing circles, perhaps because Vincent felt the need to focus more of his attention on his growing family.

On their first trip, the De Lorenzos, together with the Lo Blanco and Pannucci families, gathered their children, packed their cars, and embarked on the long journey north to Sahara Court on the esplanade of Surfers Paradise.

Surfers Paradise in the late 60s and early 70s was considered an upscale and very swish holiday destination for Sydney’s wealthier classes. For the De Lorenzo children, Vinnie, Chris, and Joanne, it was an incredibly exciting time. They were able to spend time with their parents in the company of the LoBlanco and Panucci children who were all around the same age.

During this particular trip, Vincent was driving across the harbour bridge when his patience was already beginning to wear thin. Vincent was a man with a need to control every aspect of his surroundings, but children weren’t staff members, and they weren’t predictable or even obedient. Vincent’s son, Vinnie, recalls the trip with humour:
“Chris, Joanne and I were in the back seat of dad’s Holden, his pride and joy, and Jo started to feel carsick. Then, before anyone could do anything, she spewed all over the back seat. Dad was furious! It was the kind of stuff movies are made of. My dad was cross with the kids, my mum was cross with my dad, and Jo was upset because she spewed. We pulled over and cleaned up the mess, but dad kept on threatening to turn the car around and go home if we didn’t all settle down. He got so angry with us all that, somewhere along the way, he was distracted and turned off the highway where he shouldn’t have. We ended up getting lost 30 miles out of Taree. As we continued to drive, the landscape became more and more desolate, and the road veered into the bush, until there was virtually no road left! Eventually we ended up in a tiny little unknown place called Taylor’s Arm. It took us hours to get back on track, and by the time we made it back to the Pacific Highway we were running out of petrol. We thought we were going to die on some lonely outback road! Finally we caught up with the Pannuccis and the LoBlancos – a day later!”

During these years, as the children grew, the De Lorenzo family began to spend more and more time together, and the children began to spend more time at the factory on weekends and school holidays, helping their parents with the family business, as Joanne recalled:

“Growing up, our parents, especially dad, always strived to teach us to appreciate the value of money. If we wanted something, it wasn’t handed to us. We had to work for it. It was an important lesson that eventually we learned to appreciate.”

Vincent’s younger son, Chris, agreed. According to Chris, Vincent always strived to set an example to his children. “He had a well-rounded, ethical approach to business, and always taught us the value of working hard and striving for your goals.”

Vincent was as authoritarian in his approach to his family as he was to his business, and his relationship with each of his children differed in many ways.

His daughter was the apple of his eye. Joanne exhibits her father’s cheeky humour and positive outlook on life, and always adhered to her father’s strict rules, mostly without question. Vincent administered many Italian traditions in rearing his daughter, and was stricter with her freedom than he was with the boys, but throughout her teens they shared a close and mutually supportive father-daughter relationship.

His oldest son, Vinnie, exhibits many of his father’s strong-minded and extroverted attributes – charm, warmth, and a down to earth demeanour. Vinnie calls it like it is, and, like his father, demonstrates a predilection for testing the waters and pushing the boundaries.

Chris is perhaps more like his mother, Patricia. Thoughtful, and slightly more reserved, every word he speaks carries the careful consideration of a great diplomat.

Growing up, Chris preferred to tow the line and keep the peace rather than ignite his father’s fury. This was much too tempting an invitation for his older brother, Vinnie, to step in and rock the boat ever so slightly, and on many occasions the two found themselves in hot water with their father. But there was always respect for their parents, who had instilled in their three children strong values and appreciation for life, art, music and religion.

Overall, growing up in the De Lorenzo household was a cultural blend of traditional Italian values meshed with unpretentious Australian ideals. There were family squabbles as well as lots of laughs, and always love and support for one another through thick and thin.

– Ends chapter 8 –

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