The first thing you see upon walking into the new Dyson store on Fifth Avenue in New York City is a huge replica of the motor that’s inside the brand’s $400 hair dryer. At the back of the store, there are sinks and styling stations where you can try the dryer — a regular-sized one — with the help of stylists.
The one beauty question I’m probably asked the most is whether or not the futuristic-looking dryer, which features a long handle and a stumpy head with a hole in the middle, is worth the price. And the brand is well aware that everyone asks this, too.
“One of the reasons for having a shop is so that people can come and try it out and see if it is worth it. We, of course, hope they think it will be,” says company founder James Dyson at the opening night party for the store. The new space is set up like a showroom: You can dump out dirt that’s stocked inside little glass jars to try out the brand’s famous vacuum cleaners and play with the other colorful and high-end Jetsons-like gadgets. It’s flanked by a Victoria’s Secret on one side and a soon-to-open Nike on the other.
Dyson is probably best known for its vacuum cleaners, which cost anywhere from $199 for a basic upright to $599 for a cord-free version. It was surprising when the company moved into the beauty business and launched the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer in September 2016. I wondered if retailers balked at it; Dyson admits some were “skeptical” about the price, but not about the design. It honestly doesn’t look like anything else on the market.
The company was pretty savvy about marketing the dryer, hiring hair stylist Jen Atkin as a consultant and spokesperson. Her Ouai haircare brand is one of the big beauty success stories of the year, and her social media reach is impressive thanks in part to her history of working with the Kardashians. (She was at the Dyson party as well, fresh off a press event earlier in the day where she introduced Ouai’s new anti-frizz hair sheets.)
I asked Dyson point-blank how he justifies the price. A lot of the expense has to do with the electronics, he says, which make up three-quarters of the manufacturing cost. The tiny motor, which is in the handle rather than the head of the dryer like in classic models, also contributes to the cost.
“Other hair dryers don’t have electronics. Any time you put electronics in, it’s expensive,” he claims. “I don’t design down to a price. I design what I think is a good product that will last. Of course, that’s not a very commercial attitude because it costs rather a lot to make.”
Dyson isn’t worried that, unlike a cheap $20 drugstore dryer, people won’t need to repurchase one in two years. “I’ve never taken the idea that a Dyson vacuum cleaner will wear out and people will just go buy another one. My view is that if the Dyson lasts for 20 years, you’ll buy other Dyson products,” he says. “It’s not planned obsolescence.”
As for whether I think it’s worth it: Yes. I got one for free from the company when it launched, but as a person who dries my hair with it every day and who has burned through (literally) at least a dozen dryers in the last 20 years, I would pony up the cash for it in a heartbeat. (I’ve spent a lot more money on dumb things I use a lot less frequently.) But to be clear, despite all of Dyson’s talk about expensive electronics, there’s still likely a lot of markup — it’s definitely a luxury item.
The company would not provide any sales statistics except to say that it’s the “fastest-growing premium hair dryer,” but presumably sales are brisk. Dyson confirms that he’s working on more hair tools. “Vacuum cleaners are more modest, more utilitarian, different,” he says. “The beauty industry is very complex and very difficult to do well in, but very rewarding if you do. We’re probably better suited to it than we are to vacuum cleaners, to be honest!”
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