American Crew Founder David Raccuglia Shares His Favorite Celebrity Portraits

Every Picture Tells a Story

American Crew founder David Raccuglia went from photographing men for brand campaigns to taking portraits of some of the most famous celebrities in the world.

As a teenager, David Raccuglia had a dark room at home. “Photography was always a love of mine,” he says. “I’ve never been a very good writer, but I felt like with the right photography, well, you know what they say: A picture is worth a thousand words.” Still, photography remained a hobby, not a career path. “You know, I actually thought I was going to be a professional baseball player at that point in my life,” he says. Then, inspired by the barber who cut his hair and his father’s hair, Raccuglia decided to enroll in barber school. Later, he took courses at Pivot Point Academy in Chicago so he could learn to cut women’s hair. After a stint at Sassoon, Raccuglia moved to London to work for Jingles Hair Academy. While there, he met Robert Lobetta and Anthony Mascolo, both hairdressers who like him, would become fascinated with photography. By 1985 he was back in the United States, eventually opening a salon in Chicago with Laurence Hegarty called Art + Science.

During this time, he got the chance to work with some really amazing photographers. One in particular was Mark Havriliak, who he worked with on a cover shoot for American Salon in Russia. It was at that moment, he says, that his interest in photography skyrocketed, going on to collaborate with Havriliak on a book of men’s hairstyles called Groom. “I did all the hair for the book,” he says, “and I watched Mark closely as a photographer. He had a very organic style and an artistic/technical side.” Though he initially hired Havriliak to shoot for American Crew, Raccuglia eventually decided that he wanted to do his own photography. Because creative is so important to him, he says it was natural for him to begin photographing for the company. “When you’re a hairdresser first and a photographer second, you’re really shooting hair—I’m looking at the hair first, and then I see the rest of the picture. Then I look corner to corner through the frame of the camera.”

Whether it’s a male model or an A-list celebrity, there is an authenticity to each of his photos. “You can look at the photo and believe that it’s a real situation, whether it’s somebody driving a car or walking down the street or just getting his picture taken,” he says. Most of the photographers who inspire Raccuglia, including Robert Frank, who specialized in political portraits, were working in the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s. “William Claxton is probably my most treasured photographer,” he says. “He shot all the great jazz photographs. His work with Chet Baker was so amazing.”

The first famous male portrait Raccuglia shot was Adrien Brody (a mutual friend set everything up). It was shot at the Chateau Marmont, and shows Brody sitting in a lobby chair in natural light, “in a very 1950s way,” Raccuglia says. “It wasn’t very stylized—it was just a nice portrait.” From there, he says, he got a reputation for photographing celebrity men. “So I just kept my hat in the ring, as they say in the photo world.”

Though he has an impressive personal portfolio, he says his first job has always been American Crew and it always will be. “Anything else is more on the hobby end, even though I’ve shot a lot of celebrities,” he says. A humble remark, indeed, considering that some of Raccuglia’s most recent projects include the cover for Iggy Pop’s latest album and the cover for Rob Lowe’s 2014 memoir, Love Life. While his client list runs long with notable names, Raccuglia says shooting a celebrity is not that exciting. “Shooting a 100-year-old man is just as fun as shooting Adrien Brody,” says Raccuglia, who allows that his celebrity work has opened a lot of doors for him as a photographer. “There are so many photographers out there that are so good—they’re phenomenally good—but because they haven’t shot a celebrity, no one takes them seriously.”

Long ago, someone told Raccuglia that he made celebrities look like real people and real people look like celebrities. He took it as a compliment.

photography by David Raccuglia; by Kristen Heinzinger