He brought eco-friendly awareness to the fashion world, selling haircare that would benefit both the consumer and the environment. Simply put, Horst Rechelbacher was a visionary. In 1978, the Austrian-born aesthete entrepreneur revolutionized the beauty industry when he founded Aveda, creating natural hair products while fighting the global destruction of plant life. A precocious talent, Rechelbacher was internationally known as a top stylist by the time he was 19. But a trip to India after a devastating car accident led him to study with Swami Rama, whose Ayurvedic healing practices not only influenced his work, but also changed his life.
Rechelbacher quickly transformed into a champion of alternative medicines based on centuries-old holistic wellness beliefs, received an honorary doctorate in Ayurvedic medicine, wrote several books on sustainability and beauty, and forged relationships with the Yawanawá tribe of Brazil that helped cultivate new pigments for his cosmetics while replanting seeds in deforested areas. He even chose the name Aveda from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “all knowledge.” Knowledge, he believed, would change lives.
A strong appetite for learning extended into Rechelbacher’s passion for art. One or two pieces from a bazaar or estate couldn’t fulfill his lavish creative itch, so the guru bought the entire contents of temples and palaces, and shipped them to his home in the woods of the Wisconsin, a former Aveda spa situated an hour outside the Twin Cities.
His 600-acre Osceola hideaway on the St. Croix River was like a luxurious ashram, hosting an eclectic mix of antiquity and modernism. You could easily expect to find carved silver Buddhist devas complementing a bronze cubist-influenced angel by Salvador Dalí. Elegant Syrian furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl flowers and leaves sat beside a 1920s Carlo Bugatti table and an armchair by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata. Walls in both the main and guest houses were filled with hundreds of 19th and 20th century oil paintings by both masters and journeymen, some with fascinating backstories, like the Hermann Grom-Rottmayer nude — a moody work by a fellow Austrian originally owned by late fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Rechelbacher began the evolution from collector to art dealer once Estée Lauder bought Aveda for $300 million in 1997, allowing the stylist the freedom to feed his guilty pleasures of traveling and finding beautiful objects like 19th century Chinese cloisonné incense burners or a set of Charles and Ray Eames armchairs.
His new company, Intelligent Nutrients, was already underway with wife Kiran Stordalen and daughter Nicole maintaining the same rigorous standards for cleaner, earth-conscious personal care products. Rechelbacher directed his home like an empresario, creating a solar- and wind-powered organic farm with greenhouses, an apothecary and an herbal distillery. He planned dinner parties with meticulous pairings of globetrotting guests that produced heady evenings of art, food and fascinating conversation. For Rechelbacher, life was a constant thrill of the senses.
But for all his emphasis on love for the body and planet, he couldn’t stop the ravages of cancer on his own health. In February 2014, Rechelbacher died at his home on the river that reminded him of his days in India and meditating by the Ganges.
Faced with the overwhelming decision of settling his estate, his family developed a thoughtful plan with Revere Auctions’ Robert Snell and Sean Blanchet to place more than 1,000 works from Rechelbacher’s collection up for sale, which could fetch half a million dollars. It’s a hugely important opportunity for an Upper Midwest auction house that doesn’t always see the same quality of collections that New York City or Los Angeles auctioneers do. Style & Splendor: Selections from the Estate of Horst Rechelbacher takes place August 24.
“We built a relationship on trust that we developed over a few years with one or two objects from the collection at a time,” says Snell, who also handled the estate of Bruce Dayton and Ruth Stricker Dayton.
A collection as eclectic and multidimensional as its owner, the sale will include more than 300 lots of elaborate fine art pieces that Rechelbacher cherished. Another 400 lots will be dedicated to decorative items such as beaded Ndebele baskets from South Africa and silver chalices from the reign of Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria. It’s no wonder Revere chose to title the auction Style & Splendor to capture the exuberance of man who saw beauty in everything.