Vincent De Lorenzo – This is your life: Chapter 9

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Chapter 9
This is your Life
“Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” Alexander Pope

*Include story about Hugh Gresham, Delva courthouse
*Frank Boffa & Lou Cordoni
*Stories about Vincent in seminars/ more emphasis on his way of telling it like it was. But somehow making it seem affectionate.

Vincent’s close religious ties led to him taking on sister Elisabeth of our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent Kincoppal as an unofficial apprentice in his salon. Mother superior went to see Vincent and said she would like him to teach Sister Elisabeth. She wanted to learn how to style cut hair so that she could do this for her fellow sisters at the convent and also the retired nuns at the convent. Sister Elizabeth was with the salon for two years. She would come in and watch Vincent and the other stylists cut and style hair, taking notes and learning the trade, practicing on models from time to time.

“We had 35 women and 5 men talking about all sorts of things in the staff room what they got up to on the weekend, cheeky jokes, you name it and she was a great sport about it and got on well with everyone. She was wonderful.
Mother superior came in and said thank you very much now how much was Can you imagine her with all those girls saying all those things that must have made her hair go curly – all that – and she wanted to pay me – I said I should be paying you. That was a good experience cause I don’t know of anyone who had a nun as an apprentice.

The 1970’s sparked the first family world trip when Vincent and Pat took Vinnie, Chris and Jo-anne to Europe for the first time for a family holiday that combed business with pleasure.

The family travelled all over Italy, France, Germany and England as well as stopping in Hong Kong briefly on the way over. Vincent proudly introduced his Italian heritage to his children, taking them to Rome to see the Sisteen Chapel and to be part of an audience with Pope John Paul II. Naples, Florence, Pompei and Capri were also some of the fantastic Italian destinations the De Lorenzo family visited. Vincent wanted to introduce them to the world of culture, music and art and open their horizons giving them the opportunity to mature through the experience.

Hi daughter Jo-anne remembers well the end of the journey when Vincent gave her a ‘coconut haircut’: “He gave me short back and sides, like a long crew cut. I was so upset! It was so short the stewardess thought I was a boy!”
Sometimes the children were annoyed with dad, sometimes it was the other way around but when the time came for the children to be sent home and the business leg of the trip was to take priority, there was a strong sense of sadness for Vincent in saying goodbye. His diary entry recounts, “I feel very unhappy and there is a sense of sadness with us all. But I feel we have achieved and objective. The boys and Jo-anne now know what Europe is like and I have a feeling they want to come back someday”

Vincent and Pat went on to attend to the business side of the trip but they also managed to arrange to meet up with Joe LoBlanco and his wife Sari.

All the while, keeping in close contact with the family and business back home through regular phone calls and letters.

By the mid 70’s times the industry was changing quickly and with each decade, a new challenge presented itself with the Delva business. It had to be progressive and ever evolving. Vincent’s friend Peter Beeby, owner of Beeby Advertising in Sydney, was pivotal in ushering on the innovations for the brand. The television beauty spots were still going and were now being watched on Channel 10. The brand perception around Delva was that it was a big multi – national company, not a family owned and run business. Vincent had successfully achieved this through a range of marketing techniques, constant evolving advertising of the brand, constantly updating and progressing the range with new innovations. Vincent always remained true to the brand’s core values. Despite extensive market research and the advice from colleagues and friends, Delva remained a salon only brand. He marketed this aggressively and succeeded.

Despite the success of Delva to date, Peter and Vincent knew they had to come up with something new to lift the brand to a new level of a success. As part of this marketing Vincent and Peter agreed that a new series of television commercials should be developed. Peter came up with the idea that a well-known Australian face should be aligned with the brand. The face should be someone who Australians knew and loved and who had the right brand fit at the time to help advocate the brand. This was celebrity endorsement at its best. After some market research, they decided the best person for the job would be Australian singer Julie Andrews.

They arranged for Julie to come onboard with this project and the concept was simple, Julie would be inside a salon discussing the importance of healthy hair and scalp with Delva. She sang the jingle “when you’re using Delva, you’re beautiful”. She was a face that Australian women trusted and this immediately established trust between consumers and the Delva brand. Once again this lifted the companies turn over – almost immediately and started to attract a renewed overseas interest in the brand and it became the top selling haircare brand in Australia.

“With Delva we developed a new concept for ‘salon only’ and you have to image while today that is quite common, back then it was unusual, we created a stir around the world. Competitors from overseas came down to Australia to see what the fuss was about.”

Eventually this interest paid its dividend and Vincent and Anton had four overseas offers to buy them out.

Selling Delva was something the brothers were thinking about for some time now. Their sons, Vinnie, Chris and Anthony were young adults and were to begin studying architecture and engineering at university. Vincent and Anton encouraged this and felt that perhaps a developing country like Australia held more promise for successful architects and structural engineers than hairdressing manufacturers. They didn’t want their sons to follow in their footsteps. It was hard work.

After many painstaking family discussions, and offers made by companies wanting to buy the business, Vincent and Anton decided that they would sell Delva and pave the way for a new direction for the de Lorenzo family – in construction. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. They were saying goodbye to decades of blood, sweat and tears but Vincent understood that to achieve success on an international scale, the company had to go beyond being a family owned business. It needed more financial resources to grow. Their dedication, sacrifices and hard work had brought them to this point but they felt it was best for their future.

“I remember the day my father announced that he had sold Delva, he cried like a baby. This was his greatest passion, his life’s work. But he felt that the future held more promise in other endeavours”. Says Vinnie.

And it was a good business decision – Vincent and Anton struck while the iron was hot. They sold the company when it was in a fantastic financial position and so they were able to negotiate a profitable sum for their business.

Vincent and Anton chose a company that would continue the tradition of Delva. This was very important. That the efficacy of the brand would not be diluted and that it would be sold to someone who was not going to erode the decades of hard work that went into making it the success that it was. Eventually, for this reason they decided to sell to Recket and Coleman. Ian Powell, Managing Director of Recket and Coleman says “ We were interested in Delva for a long time because we saw Delva going gangbusters, and it still is. There weren’t any other brands around that were hairdresser only and also, Delva had Vincent.”

When Vincent and Anton started to market Delva as a brand, ‘hairdresser only’ was a half percent of the haircare market, by the time they sold Delva, Vincent and Anton were able to help grow this share to approximately 11 percent and of this market share, Delva owned around 65 percent. Something Vincent was very proud of.

In 1979 the sale was finalised and as part of the contract, Vincent agreed to remain as a consultant to the brand for six years. He worked only part time in this role while he came to terms with his new life. He and Pat now had more time to relax together but while most people would have filled up their spare time with hobbies and life interests, Vincent struggled with this concept…His work was his hobby. His whole identity was wrapped up in his career and his achievements and now that this was to be no longer. He had to endure a process of finding himself once again and grieve the loss of everything he has ever known.

In his role as a consultant, things weren’t going as smoothly as he had hoped. Recket and Coleman didn’t always agree with Vincent’s views and Vincent was helpless when he could see decisions being made that affected the quality of his brand. This frustrated Vincent but he was powerless to prevent it. The final decision lay with someone else. Someone disconnected from the brand’s core values and without a genuine passion for this ‘craft’ as Vincent saw it. Vincent believed and lived by the old adage that only when you combined skill and dedication with passion could you create a masterpiece.

Never the less Vincent had earned and won the respect of Australians everywhere. He himself had become and Australian identity through his beauty spot segments and also through a new series of commercials which appeared showing Vincent walking his dog along the beach talking about the importance of a healthy life as well as the importance of healthy hair and scalp. He was widely recognised for his contributions to the industry.

In 1981, something incredible happened. The producers of the show This is your Life discussed the idea of dedicating an episode to Vincent with Vincent’s well connected Advertising friend Peter Beeby. They contacted Pat and began to make arrangements to round up the many friends and colleagues of Vincent’s throughout his long career. This took some months to arrange and all the while everyone who knew Vincent had to keep this a secret from him.

To get Vincent to the recording, an evening to honour Mr Vincent was arranged and held at the Sebel in Sydney. All of the industry elite were invited, friends, colleagues, business associates and family.

Just as Vincent was introduced and walked onto the stage to greet the audience, This is your Life Host, Roger Climpson approached a confused looking Vincent and presented him with the famous This is your Life greeting.(Go back to dvd & include quote from Peter Beeby)

Moved and genuinely surprised by this great honour, Vincent begins to cry and takes a seat, ready to enjoy the presentation ahead. Friends and colleagues whom had all played a role in his long and wonderful career, from his wife and children and other immediate family members including his brother Anton and sister Marie to members of the Australian Coiffures, Theo Raymond, Sam Raficci, Graham Roberts, Frederick Muller and Herbert Fry, greeted him. There were video messages from world famous journalist Andrea and his very first employer Jack Di Mazzo to the man who bought the De Lorenzo salon in Sydney, Robert Whitton who said “there is no one as willing to share his knowledge with hairdressers as Vincent is”. Even Sister Elizabeth from kincoppal convent was able to appear and thank Vincent for his training.

Of all the guests who appeared on the show, Vincent was most moved by the appearance of his family. His wife Pat, his brother Anton and his wife Yvonne, his children Vincent Jnr, Chris and Joanne all honoured Vincent with humorous and affectionate anecdotes about him.

Little to his knowledge his son Chris was nursing a dislocated shoulder from a martial arts injury he incurred that day.
His wife Pat reveals that it was quite a task to keep the organisation from Vincent successfully. (Go back and Include quote from Pat about the oil spill and the accident.)

Genuinely astonished by the clandestine mission of his wife Pat to keep this from him so successfully Vincent recalls, “she could have had a boyfriend all that time and I would never have known, that’s how good she is at keeping secrets!”.

When the show aired it was a top rater and a culminating point in Vincent’s long and rewarding career and one of the highest honours an Australian could receive – A thank you from his beloved industry.

The sale of Delva afforded Vincent the fulfilment of another long time goal, to purchase a home in Point Piper. Vincent purchased land on a block, which enjoyed sweeping harbour views. His sons had the task of designing the home which would be built on the land and construction began.

Eventually, the family moved from their house in Randwick which had become a tourist attraction at the time with tour buses coming along to point it out and moved to this beautiful new home in Wollesly Avenue, one of Sydney’s most prestigious addresses. His neighbours included the Lowry (Westfield) family and the Murdoch’s.

Meanwhile, his daughter Jo-anne was chasing her own dreams of a career in the fashion industry and with all of the work ethics which she had inadvertently adopted from her family’s hard working example she eventually grabbed her prize. With the support of Vincent she set up her own fashion design label called …(Check notes on the spelling of this)

Vincent created a design studio and office space in the carpark of the De Lorenzo building in Leichardt. He also provided some financial backing in the form of guarantor for her business loan and helped guide her in business decisions and accounting matters. Jo-anne recalls “I remember dad taking me to the bank for the loan and signing all the papers for it. I was so excited that this was all happening. On the way out of the bank dad looked at me and in his cheeky humour said “this better bloody work or I’ll kill you” From here Jo-Ann ran her successful business and her designs were highly sought after. And of course it did work. I worked really hard with the design studio. Eventually I was juggling all the roles of being a wife, mum to be and a business owner and it wasn’t easy – the hours were long and it became stressful at times but I had to do it or who else would? I was working right up until the birth of my first child Dominic. I remember being in contractions and taking phone calls for orders in between!” In these times, women weren’t pressured by societal expectations to ‘have it all’. Most households were still single income and traditional roles still held true. Eventually, Jo-Anne retired her business to look after her family full time.

After Delva was sold Vincent became a bit of a recluse, where once his days were filled with appointments, chemistry experiments, manufacturing meetings and brainstorming, now his days were virtually barren.

While his daughter Joanne was enjoying carving her career path as a fashion designer, the boys, especially his eldest son Vinnie were openly disappointed with the sale of Delva. What Vincent didn’t realise was that his sons enjoyed working in the factory and being part of the family business. They had inadvertently been groomed for this industry and knew nothing other than working with family. When Vinnie and Chris graduated from University with architecture and engineering degrees, they felt as though they were living someone else’s dream. They both worked in government positions but as Vinnie put it “it was like trying to put a round peg into a square hole”.

Vincent too was beginning to miss the industry and miss giving to his passion. “One day I found myself walking through the supermarket in the middle of the day pushing a grocery trolley, fighting for a space in the que along with all these housewives and I just thought ‘ what the hell am I doing”.

Anton was also beginning to suffer the boredom of early retirement. He tried to take up various hobbies including pottery and joining a lawn bowls team, which he soon gave up because he found it too depressing. Instead of cheering him up and taking his mind off his boredom, he complained that the flag above the club was always flying at half-mast due to another member passing because of old age! His son Anthony said that his father thought it was ironic that retirement was supposed to be something to look forward to and instead he was being constantly reminded of his old age and mortality. In the end, the brothers couldn’t ignore it any longer. They both missed working in the industry.

It seemed with everyone missing the old life, an unspoken calling was being felt by each of the De Lorenzo men. A calling that would draw them to a new and exiting venture drawing Vincent and Anton from early retirement and conceiving a new generation and a new expressway for reviving his vision.

– ends chapter 9-

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