BOSTON — Elan Sassoon, who has rarely handled scissors in his 38 years, is grooming a hair empire.
This story first appeared in the August 22, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Since moving to Boston in 2006, Sassoon (the son of hairdressing great Vidal) assembled a team of investors to back three enterprises: a high-end salon concept called Mizu, which will open in Boston and New York this fall; a $22 million hair academy located near Boston University, and a chain of upscale suburban spa/salons called Green Tangerine. Three locations, each producing annual sales of about $2 million, have already opened in Greater Boston and Connecticut.
His laid-back California drawl is at odds with the scope of his ambition — which is to create a business model like that of Regis Corp., which has 13,400 salons globally.
“I see a higher-end version of what Regis has done, with our own salons, schools and a professional product line,” said Sassoon, who grew up one of four children in Beverly Hills, living next door to Jacob Dylan and tagging along to Sammy Davis Jr.’s house with his father as a kid. His résumé runs from producing movies to running Georgette Klinger medi-spas in Miami. What it doesn’t include is stylist credentials. “Well, I can say I have cut hair,” laughed Sassoon. “I can’t say I’ve done it well.”
Sassoon’s co-partner and main investor is Michael Barsamian, a Boston stylist who built his own chain, Lord’s & Lady’s Hair Salons, over three decades. The two were introduced by one of the elder Sassoon’s best friends.
“He said, ‘Mike I want you to meet Vidal’s son’ and I said ‘For what?’” Barsamian recalled. “Then I met him and realized he’s got the charisma and the contacts. It’s been a great marriage. I do more of the business and he brings people to the table.”
Barsamian secured the Mizu location in the new Mandarin Oriental Boston; Sassoon netted the New York space and lured the creative talent that will be leaving a major Manhattan salon in the fall.
“I think we’ll be profitable in about eight to 10 months on both stores,” Sassoon said. “I think we’ll be doing $100,000 a week in Boston and about $150,000 a week in New York.”
When asked what his scissor-wiz father thinks about everything in the works, Sassoon replied, “He thought it was wonderful. He kept asking me about the dorms at the hair school and saying ‘Where did you come up with that idea?’”
Unlike many U.S. hair schools, which operate without resident students, The Academy for Hair and Skin by Elan Sassoon will have sleek, fully furnished dorm rooms on the upper floors of a five-story building. Below will be a 200-seat auditorium, dining hall and practical labs. Construction is set to start in September. Students won’t arrive until spring 2009, but a team from the Bravo network caught wind of the project and pitched Sassoon on a show called “Hair Apparent” to chronicle the school dramas of aspiring stylists. Will he do it?
“I don’t know,” Sassoon said. “I think [reality shows] can be cheesy.”
Sassoon has also developed a keratin-based shampoo line, which he unveiled this summer at Cosmoprof and which will retail through specialty salons and be used in his school. A shampoo will retail for $24; the name is under wraps until the trademark is finalized. (Because of a settlement between his father and Procter & Gamble, which owns the rights to “Vidal Sassoon,” use of the family surname gets tricky.)
For skin products used at the school, he said he’s negotiating with two vendors for an exclusive placement.
Sassoon has also commissioned a textbook. Hair curriculum in most schools is outmoded, he says, paying little attention to the revolutionary changes in fashion and culture of the last century.
“Architecture students learn who Le Corbusier is,” he points out. “Students will graduate from our school knowing about fashion and knowing who the greats are — my father, [British stylist] Trevor Sorbie, [Bumble and bumble founder] Michael Gordon.”
Sassoon envisions seven schools in the U.S. opening over the next decade. In late July, he traveled to Los Angeles to scout locations.
Before the school opens, Sassoon will christen two Mizu (Japanese for “water”) salons. The first will open next month in the new $260 million Mandarin Oriental Boston, a luxury hotel and residence complex.
Sassoon describes the salon’s all-white interior, designed by British architect Niall McLaughlin, with angled buttresses soaring to the ceiling, as a “hair cathedral.” Haircuts start at $125. Upon arrival, clients are given a basket of products, which will be used on them and which they take home after service.
“Hairdressers are not always good about talking product with clients,” says Barsamian, noting the gift basket naturally opens the conversation.
There are also “butler” services offered at Mizu — iPods customized with preferred music, for example, and Myvu laptop screens so a client can watch whatever TV or movie she wants while her color processes.
The New York Mizu opens in Manhattan in October, at 505 Park Avenue.
And then — if the Mizu salons, the product line, textbook and school weren’t enough — Sassoon and Barsamian’s contemporary spa/salon chain Green Tangerine is growing nicely. The fourth location, a 4,000-square-foot space with Philippe Starke mirrors and other contemporary touches, will open in September at the new lifestyle center Patriot Place in Foxborough, Mass.
“We’ve done really well staffing those salons because we found a lot of great stylists working on Newbury Street, but living in the suburbs,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of great people who are happy not to commute anymore.”