KEEP YOUR HAIR HIGH, GIRLS!
Born Rommy Kolb in White Plains, New York State, she grew up to be a talented pianist with an exquisite voice and model looks.
She loved horses and was very good at equestrian sports – and played polo to a high level.
Initially she worked in shops in Manhattan before becoming a vocal coach.
She then became a singer in night clubs, predominantly in city of New York, especially Greenwich village. Her stage name was Rommy Hunt. She travelled the length of the country and once opened for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. He asked her for one of her CDs.
In a New York Times review of one of her concerts, it was said, “As a singer, she has range, control and a fine sense of shading.”
She was also a song writer. Her best-known song was ‘Pretty Girls’, a tribute to her recently deceased close friend Denise Fugazy.
She twice married men who were in her audience, one of whom gave her a son called Nathaniel. Both marriages ended in divorce.
But she never really enjoyed the stage (and longed to be outside, riding her horses). “She just didn’t like being up all night long – or the whole scene that went along with that.”
She then dated John Revson for 6 years. He was heir to the Revlon cosmetics company. After a lengthy courtship they were married – but it only lasted a year.
Rommy had long hair which she was proud of. But she found it difficult to control whilst performing on stage. She felt existing hair accessories damaged her hair.
In 1986 she was house sitting in Southampton, New York, when she bought herself a sewing machine and taught herself to sew.
She designed a device made from fabric and elastic, which held her hair back. The elastic came from the waistband of her pyjamas. She called it the ‘Scunci’ – named after her elderly poodle.
The very first prototype was black and gold and was sewed with navy blue stitching – “because that’s all I had lying around.”
Her friends kept trying to persuade her to join them at the beach that summer, but she was fully engrossed in her new project.
She patented the image of the Scunci, but not the process of making it.
She took it round all the clothes shops in New York and initially, nobody was interested.
But from 1987 it suddenly took off and became very popular. It was helped when Madonna wore one in the film ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. By now, Rommy had changed the name to a ‘Scrunchie’ and used the advertising slogan “Keep your hair high, girls.”
In one month she had made $20 million. But she was unable to keep up with production demands.
Additionally, other companies were copying the design and giving it a slightly different name. She spent million suing people for breaching the patent – and even sued her own lawyers for charging fees which were too high. She later claimed she was paying $100 million a year in court cases and legal fees.
And she went bankrupt – but she still held the patent.
Very cleverly, Rommy kept hold of the patent but licensed out manufacture to other companies (such as Walmart), who agreed to pay her $1 million a year between 1989 and 2001, when the patent ran out.
It was marketed as “a better way to hold a bun or ponytail.”
She bought a 6-bedroom mansion in Florida, with stables for 16 horses, but soon realised it was too much for just her and her son (by now she had married and divorced for a fourth time) – and she missed the north of the USA. She downsized and moved back to New York.
Scrunchies largely fell out of fashion in 2003, when the character Carrie Bradshaw in the popular TV series ‘Sex and the City’ said, “No fashion – conscious woman in New York would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant, wearing one”.
However, astronaut Pamela Melroy did wear one on both her Space Shuttle trips in 2000 and 2002. The navy blue scrunchie she wore is now in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
They came back into fashion in the 2010s, with teenagers often wearing them on their wrists.
Another patent, for a cap with a zip pocket, proved to be a failure.
Rommy was noted for being kind and generous and kept an open house for many friends. She would hold scrunchie parties where they were given as presents.
But she was a superb cook and had lessons in different types of cuisine around the world. “She made you feel immediately like a friend. She had a big smile, a big heart and just welcomed everybody” – said a friend.
She would also travel to Europe each summer, usually in search of new food experiences.
She hardly ever wore a scrunchie herself, having had her hair cut short years ago. It was only in 2020 she began to wear one again.
However, famous people kept wearing them such as Julia Roberts and Serena Williams during her tennis games. The famous judge, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a big collection. The working title for Hillary Clinton’s 2014 autobiography ‘Hard Choices’ was, ‘The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair’. The publishers turned the title down.
Her Mercedes had a personalised number plate, reading ‘Scunci’.
Even then she was not without controversy. There was a claim that a man called Philips Meyers had invented the scrunchie in 1963, and then let his patent expire. Rommy dismissed this claim.
She was not without ill-health in her last few years. She suffered from Cushing’s disease (a production of too much of the hormone Cortisol) and Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome (a genetic tissue disorder). She had heart and lung problems and had successful brain surgery in June 2022.
Nevertheless, her death was unexpected. She died of a ruptured aorta in Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Her lawyer, Lewis Hendler, said, “Rommy was a smart woman who managed to take a hair accessory item that in any other person’s hands would have been a flea market item.”
Her cousin said, “Her woman’s fashion sense saw the potential in going from a utilitarian hair holder to a fashion item.”
When she died, there were over 4 million adverts for scrunchies on Amazon. She would also have been astounded to learn that the fashion store Balenciaga (in New York), were selling a silk scrunchie for $275.
Rommy’s son Nathaniel is now an actor (known as Nathan Hunt).
The prototype scrunchie and her sewing machine are now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.
RIP – Rommy’s Inventive Poodle