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Tribute to Johan Kempen by Gary Rom of Gary Rom Hairdressing

My first memory of Johan Kempen was when as a young aspiring stylist I had the pleasure of watching him perform on stage for L’Oréal. He was working then with his brother Dave, the famous Dave and Johan brothers in action. Dave would cut the one side of the model, and Johan the other. Needless to say, this had never been done before. The audience was captivated, and not one person left the session uninspired.

The Dave and Johan brand were the very first salon brand that employed a full time Public relations team, and that was in the Nineteen Eighties! Widely recognized across the length and breadth of South Africa as market leaders in our profession. Johan had a special gift, a talent that very few ever reach in their careers. When Johan touched hair there was harmony, a symphony of hair actually, as the perfect blend of shape, colour and texture came to life.

Not only did Johan have a special way with hair, his true quality was with people. And by this I mean not only his people, the teams that worked for the famous Dave and Johan brand, but each and every person that Johan came into contact with.

Johan had a great memory, and would remember every name of your family, and would always enquire when he saw you as to their well- being. Johan was a gentle person, but in his business life he was far from gentle. Johan strove to build his brand, and worked tirelessly and in fact far harder than most, to establish an iconic hair brand that became the benchmark in South Africa.

I had the honour of launching many new product lines for L’Oréal together with Johan. We would start with a model call early in the morning, prepare the models for the designated look and feel of the product line we were helping to launch, then Johan would take over, and choreograph the entire show, culminating in his famous ‘make a picture” instruction to the models at the end of the presentation. After the show, we would mingle with salon professionals and owners, often getting to sleep after midnight. Early wake up the next morning and an early flight on to the next city, and repeat the process. Johan’s energy and dedication to perfection were astounding to behold, he was a true ambassador for his brand, and the profession.

Johan was a dedicated salon owner. He took care of his staff, and welcomed every client that entered his salons by their names. Johan helped launch many successful careers in the industry, many of his team have gone on to become salon owners with amazing careers and teams of their own, and would agree with me that one of the reasons for their success was Johan’s mentorship and guidance.

My own career has been enriched by Johan, I respected him, revered him, and wanted to emulate him on stage.

Many dinners were spent with Johan and Brenda, his wife and rock, and great times remembered. I can only hope that his family, his children and grandchildren have peace in their hearts, and remember a dedicated husband, a proud father and grandfather that worshipped his family, because they all knew without doubt that they were the people that mattered most in his illustrious life.

When a life is lost, it is sad that only then do memories flood back, and time stands still as we remember greatness.

I salute you Johan Kempen. The way that you lived your life is an example to us all.

Rest in peace legend.

Gary Rom.


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