When Max Eli Thompson graduated from Lovell High School in 1983, few in his hometown knew that his name would become known around the world in the cosmetology business and that his company would have clients like Julia Roberts and Miley Cyrus.
When Max hit it big, he really hit it big.
Thompson was in Lovell for the Thanksgiving holiday after paying a surprise visit to his parents, Calvin and Parthena Thompson, at his sister Lynette Frost’s home in Cowley for Thanksgiving dinner.
He talked about his varied and successful career during an interview Tuesday.
Thompson earned scholarships to the University of Wyoming in art and music as he graduated, but he didn’t enroll in Laramie. Instead, he moved to California to pursue a career in architecture, but after studying commercial architecture for six months in Sacramento, he changed course.
“I decided I didn’t want to work from behind a desk, so I started in cosmetology school at Federico’s College of Hair Styling in Sacramento,” he said. “I’d been around hair all of my life. Mom said, ‘Boys don’t do hair,’ but I said, ‘Vidal Sassoon does, and so can I.’”
Graduating and obtaining his license, Thompson moved to Los Angeles to study further with the Vidal Sassoon Academy, then worked for several years in Beverly Hills at the Aida Grey Institute de Beauté, later moving to Grey’s LaJolla salon near San Diego.
During this time, Thompson interviewed with one of the top hair color companies – the Goldwell Hair Color Line – and was one of only three interviewees selected out of more than 300 applicants to be hired by the company to teach hair color seminars.
“I was always fascinated with hair color,” Thompson said. “And that’s where I got my foundation in hair color chemistry.”
Looking for something bigger and better, Thompson moved into developing hair color and was one of four people hired to create and develop a new color line for Primary Syn. He also opened Max Eli Salon and Spa businesses in Seattle and Honolulu, moving to Hawaii.
Thompson became the national color director for Primary Syn, training all of the company’s educators who worked with distributors throughout the United States, but he realized he would be more successful as a distributor himself, so he opened Color Wave in Honolulu in 2000, distributing not only Primary Syn products but also other high end hair care products that are exclusive to salons – not sold in retail stores.
“But color was still the heartbeat of my company, and I was still in salons teaching color,” he said.
Thompson expanded his company to California in 2005 and moved back to L.A., then in 2008 opened a huge salon on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City – the Max Eli Style Lounge – a 4,200-square-foot enterprise with 43 employees that, he said, became a famous hot spot for Hollywood’s “hot list.”
As he opened the style lounge, he closed his Honolulu salon and sold his Seattle branch, and he was still running Color Wave. But he was looking for new challenges.
Thompson had become familiar with Beverly Hills hair stylist Juan Juan while working “three doors down” from Juan’s salon when he was with Aida Grey, and over the years, he said, he had his eye on the Juan’s J Beverly Hills line of products.
“Juan believed in carrying only one high end brand at his salon,” Thompson said. “For instance, he carried only Aveda products until, when Aveda sold, he dumped it because it wasn’t exclusive anymore. He decided to start his own line, his own brand, in 2000 – J Beverly Hills.”
J Beverly Hills is Juan Juan’s hair treatment line of products for exclusive salons around the world, and in late 2008 he hired Thompson to create and develop the J Beverly Hills hair color line.
Thompson eventually closed Color Wave and sold the Max Eli Style Lounge.
He is now the full-time international “colour” director, creator and developer of the J Beverly Hills color line.
“It took me a year and a half to create and develop the formulas of the J Beverly Hills line,” he said, adding that the line went on the market in April of this year. He toured color factories around the world and eventually settled on a factory near Milan, Italy.
“I spent most of 2009 in Italy,” he said.
Thompson noted that it takes many colors to create one shade, and he fine tuned the line with a hair care swatch book company and the color factory, then took a bold approach – telling the factory that he wanted to develop a totally new line rather than simply working with what the factory had.
“I had started writing my own formulas eight years ago to meet the needs of hair salons, and when I went to the factory I said, ‘Here’s what I want you to make, a totally new line with nothing like it in the world.”
With the new and exclusive color line in place, Thompson and Juan Juan decided to take the exclusivity one step further.
“We decided you can’t touch a tube of our color without going through a one-day seminar,” he said. That step allows a person to become certified and able to take more advanced courses in color.
“My color line is a lot different than anybody else’s,” he said. “The factory was excited. We’ve created the most amazing color line, and it’s gone global.”
So now Thompson travels the world training exclusive salons, distributors and stylists about the J Beverly Hills line of color, with product launches in many American states and countries like Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Croatia and Cyprus.
During the first quarter of 2012, there will be product launches in British Columbia, Ontario, Upstate New York, Arizona, Nebraska, Monterrey and Chihuahua, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Russia, Turkey, Germany, Poland, the Bahamas, Taiwan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Thompson said there are 75 J Beverly Hills exclusive salons around the world that carry only Juan Juan’s products.
“I live on the road again,” he said. “I probably make 15 trips a year to Europe. My life is on Facebook.”
It’s an exciting career, Thompson said, noting that Juan Juan Salon in Beverly Hills has clients like Jessica Alba, Sandra Bullock, Kim Basinger, Robert DeNiro, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Silverstone, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Steve Martin, Brad Pitt, Sting, Kevin Bacon and John Travolta.
But on Thanksgiving and in the days that followed, Max Eli Thompson was back on home turf in Cowley and Lovell. Sometimes, even when your career is soaring, it’s good to return to ground base once in a while.
By David Peck