Rommy Hunt Revson, who popularized scrunchie, dies at 78

Rommy Hunt Revson, a struggling New York singer who made a fortune creating the scrunchie, one of the most ubiquitous hair accessories ever invented, died September 7 in Rochester, Minn. She was 78 years old.

The cause was a ruptured aorta, said Alan Rothfeld, Ms Revson’s estate attorney. He said Ms Revson, who had been in poor health for years, died while being treated at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic for Cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal disorder, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, genetic disorders linked to the connective tissue of the body, has been tested and treated.

Ms. Revson, who initially tried to make a career in singing in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, created the fabric scrunchie in 1986 out of necessity to tie back her frayed hair in a gentle way.

Recently divorced from Revlon Cosmetics heir John Revson, she was unemployed and suffering from hair breakage caused by a particularly damaging bleach job.

“I was so stressed my hair was thinning,” Ms. Revson told The Washington Post in 1995.

Inspired by the fabric and elastic waistband of her pajama bottoms, she decided to replicate the design for her hair. She would cover an elastic band with fabric and use it to hold her hair in place, either in a bun or in a ponytail without damaging her hair.

“I don’t know why, but I was determined to create an invention that would use cloth instead of plastic for the hair,” Ms. Revson told Arkansas website Talk Business & Politics in 2016. “My friends were trying to get me to put that down and go to the beach with them as summer was about to end, but something told me to keep working on this hair accessory.”

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Using a used $50 sewing machine, she made the first prototype — an “ugly” black and gold hair tie with navy blue thread, she said.

In 1987, Ms. Revson patented her design and the hair accessory caught on after a marketing campaign that saw fashion retailers such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s place large orders for the product. Female consumers seemed to admire it for both fashion and function. Copycat dealers were soon selling their own versions of the product. (Some accounts point to a man named Philip Meyers as the inventor of the hair tie in 1963, but it never found a market.)

Thanks to Ms. Revson, the ruffled hair tie has graced the heads of millions of women, including Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Madonna and Britney Spears. It’s been the topic of discussion on episodes of “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “Sex and the City” — and even traveled to space after American astronaut Pamela Melroy wore a navy blue one to the International Space Station in 2000 and 2002.

“The scrunchie was the most successful hair accessory in the world,” said Lewis Hendler, whose company L&N Sales and Marketing was the exclusive licensee of the product from 1989 until 2001, when Ms. Revson’s patent expired. During this time, Mr. Hendler’s company paid Ms. Revson approximately $1 million in royalties annually.

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Originally sold as a single hair accessory for $1, the scrunchie is now sold in multi-packs and in every imaginable colour, pattern and fabric – velvet, leather, silk, lace, fur, beaded. (High-end retailers like Balenciaga market their versions for $250.)

Ms. Revson predicted the accessory’s ubiquity early on, and spent much of her life filing a claim—mostly in court—on the ruffled hair tie.

“I thought 10 years from now I’d be a bag lady and be like, ‘Hey, I invented these,'” Ms. Revson told The Post in 1995.

Rommy Kolb was born on February 15, 1944 in White Plains, NY. As a young woman, she was a singer, songwriter, and piano teacher, and also performed in Manhattan nightclubs under the name Rommy Hunt.

John S. Wilson, music critic for The New York Times, praised her 1979 performance at the Reno Sweeney, a Greenwich Village cabaret club, praising her “delicate sense of shading,” adding that as a performer she was “strong and projected on different levels.” . She once opened for Frank Sinatra, but the artists’ lifestyle soon thinned, a family member told the Palm Beach Post, and Ms Revson quit singing.

According to businessman and designer Leathem Stearn, Ms. Revson sought out Stearn at a Manhattan party in 1986 to enlist his help to turn the scrunchie idea into a profitable business. Stearn said he helped her refine the hairpiece’s design.

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Smuggling was rampant because Ms Revson’s patent was difficult to enforce, said Hendler of L&N Sales and Marketing. First, because it is poorly illustrated, he said, and second, because designs protect only the appearance of products and not their function, which is the work of utility models.

To fight bootlegging, his team chose to persuade major retailers to buy hair ties from them rather than seek damages through litigation. It worked. Before long, most major retailers were buying hair ties from Hendler’s company, and Ms. Revson was reaping millions of dollars in royalties.

But Hendler said Ms Revson was unhappy with that strategy and was persuaded by other advisers to seek damages from retailers – so she took her own licensee to court. She became involved in litigation and arbitration with Hendler’s company until her patent expired in 2001, after which anyone could legally make a scrunchie.

Her four marriages ended in divorce. Survivors include a son, Nathaniel Hunt of New York City.

In 1997, Ms. Revson moved to Wellington, Florida. She rode horses, cooked and entertained for a large circle of friends – often wearing a scrunchie in her hair or on her wrist and making sure her guests went with one too.

“She always gave them away as party favors when she had lunch or dinner,” Kathleen Stallone, a friend of Ms. Revson, told the Palm Beach Post. “You always knew you’d get a hair tie.”

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