Sometimes an extraordinary person comes along who recognizes the ‘signs of the times’ and changes an industry forever. Such was Vidal Sassoon, hairdresser extraordinaire, whose name became a household word and an international brand. Born on the 17th of January 1928, he became one of the movers-and-shakers of the 20th century. He left us on the 9th of May 2012 but his heritage will live on…
Beauty, for centuries, has been a matter of a lot of work. Cleopatra had her maids to dress her hair; in every period, women have worried their hair into current fashions. To achieve the romantic, flowing hairstyles of early ages or the back-combed and lacquered ‘beehive’ of the 1950’s, women slept in tightly rolled hair curlers and spent hours under hair dryers. Sassoon swept all that away in the mid-1960’s with his simple but dramatic geometric cuts that required no extra fuss.
“My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous…Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore,” Sassoon said in a 1993 Los Angeles Times interview.
He has been likened to Christopher Columbus discovering a new world, and called “the most innovative person ever to enter the industry.” He opened his first hair salon in London in 1954, but his breakthrough came in 1960 when he cut actress Nancy Kwan’s hair into a short bob for the movie, “The World of Suzie Wong.” He went on to create short geometric hairstyles – like the famous “pixie cut” for film star Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby.” Not since the “Roaring 20’s” had hair been so short.
His hairstyles were the perfect pairing to the fashions of the iconic 1960’s “London’s Carnaby Street” style epitomized by the model Twiggy. They were the perfect marriage to the rising miniskirts and hot pants designed by the leading fashion designers of the day including Mary Quant who wore his famous geometric “five-point bob.” He is credited with being a real force for the women’s liberation movement.
In the years following his initial success, his company grew steadily to become one of the most important manufacturers of haircare products. In keeping with his ideas for empowering women, his 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner ‘Wash-and-Go’ became the biggest selling hair product of the 1980’s. A brilliant entrepreneur, he was among the pioneers of ‘name branding’ – appearing in his own advertisements so that his name became identified globally with quality hair products.
By the mid-1980’s, he shifted his focus to philanthropy through the Vidal Sassoon Foundation including support for the Boys Clubs of America, the Music Center of Los Angeles and relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He established the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), a research centre devoted to the non-political, interdisciplinary gathering of information about antisemitism. He also funded numerous educational projects around the world.
Said Madison Avenue stylist to the stars, Oscar Blandi, “He truly changed the world of hair and beauty. He was definitely the most innovative person ever to enter the industry.”
He was an inspiration. He will be missed… Says Paul Penders, “He was my idol.”
Paul Penders says: “Back when I was starting the company, Vidal Sassoon was one of my idols. I was inspired by his thinking and visited his salon in London. He was an innovator and a risk-taker. In addition to his brilliance with hair styling, he also made great shampoos. It is saddening to me that nowadays an innovator like Vidal Sassoon might not be allowed to be so creative or to make his mark. Inventive small businesses are being suppressed by the big corporations and unreasonable government regulations. I salute the memory of his creative spirit. May his soul rest in peace.”
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By Teviot Fairservis.