Manufacturing: Roll Your Own

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Night after night, two planes packed with 20 tons of hair curlers took off from Copenhagen. In seven weeks last spring, 350,000 heat-retaining Carmen Curler sets were airlifted to New York on rush order from the U.S. beauty firm, Clairol. Labeled "Carmen" or "Kindness" and marketed by Clairol, nearly a million of the Danish-made curlers have already been snatched up by American women, for prices ranging from $13 to $40 a set. An additional 500,000 were sold in more than a score of other countries.

The owner of the new curler set plugs it into an electrical outlet and, in less time than it takes to fry ham and eggs, the plastic rollers (each containing a secret slow-cooling liquid) warm up. When the red dots on top of the curlers turn black, they are ready to be lifted off their individual rods and deployed. Without water, lotions or gels, dry hair can be curled around the hot rollers for five to ten minutes to achieve anything from a soft flip to Shirley Temple curls.

Grooming a Winner. The idea for the Carmen Curler started rolling when a strapping 34-year-old Dane named Arne Bybjerg Pedersen answered a newspaper ad in 1962: a hairdresser was looking for a partner to help develop a new-style curler. Bybjerg, a former plantation manager in Malaysia, invested $5,500 and lost it all. But he kept his faith and teamed up with a Copenhagen engineer who offered his know-how and a basement workshop for experiments. The pair ran up $200,000 in debts before the Carmen Curler was perfected. A first order from Britain for 500 sets in 1964 put them in business, but not until the Clairol order last year did Bybjerg hit the big time.

Though other companies have joined the race for the ladies' hot-curler rod, Bybjerg's enterprise is far ahead of the pack. Today Carmen Curler has a daily capacity of 20,000 sets and employs 850, including 20 vice presidents—all over six feet tall, since Bybjerg believes "a manager must fill the door."

The owner himself looks like a winner, driving a yellow Rolls-Royce or piloting one of his five planes, his blonde second wife often at his side. Lise-Lotte Bybjerg, 22, never has a hair out of place: she uses her Carmen Curler set two or three times a day.