NEW YORK — Vidal Sassoon is out to prove to Procter & Gamble that not everything is for sale.
This story first appeared in the April 2, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Sassoon, 74, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles against Cincinnati-based P&G on Tuesday, alleging neglect, sabotage and the destruction of his brand and name. At the heart of the lawsuit, Sassoon alleges breach of contract and fraud over his line of Vidal Sassoon hair care products, which P&G discontinued in the U.S. and Europe late last year. The hair care brand, which Sassoon said still generates upward of $200 million in sales in Asia, has suffered mostly due to a lack of ad support and a product relaunch two years ago that drastically changed the brand’s image.
“It was sabotage,” Sassoon said in an interview. “People who are now in control of P&G wanted to strip me of my persona and take it for themselves.”
Sassoon named John Pepper, P&G’s chairman, and A.G. Lafley, P&G’s chief executive, as two executives that most destroyed the brand and his trust.
Sassoon said Pepper argued with him over selling the brand back to Sassoon or to another company. Sassoon recalled Pepper saying that P&G would not allow the brand “getting into the hands of L’Oréal or Unilever,” P&G’s biggest hair care rivals.
Sassoon said Lafley betrayed his trust when he was not consulted in the recent sale of the 25 internationally based Vidal Sassoon salons from P&G to Regis Corp.
“A.G. did not have the decency to pick up the phone,” Sassoon said of the sale.
In a statement, P&G said: “We are disappointed that Mr. Sassoon has chosen to bring a lawsuit against the company. We have consistently supported this business and we don’t believe his case has merit.”
Although Sassoon now is criticizing P&G, he wasn’t always so angry. In an interview with WWD’s Beauty Biz in mid-2001, Sassoon was quoted saying that he was pleased with P&G’s handling of the brand. When asked if he had second thoughts about doing business with P&G, Sassoon said, “I would do it exactly the same way! We would never have had the adventure without Procter & Gamble, and I have to give them all due credit of being able to go into all different types of markets.” His wife, Ronnie, was also quoted in the article, citing that Vidal “has been extremely involved in the development of the black line.” She was referring to the 2000 relaunch of Sassoon.
The suit included four claims: breach of fiduciary duty, actual and constructive fraud and breach of implied covenant.
The suit asked for trial by a jury and asked for compensatory damages of more than $75,000, termination and/or cancelation of Sassoon’s contract with P&G and punitive damages.
A spokesperson for attorneys Pierce O’Donnell and Ann Marie Mortimer of the Los Angeles law firm of O’Donnell & Shaeffer LLP, said the suit is a multimillion-dollar case.
The slump of the Vidal Sassoon brand didn’t happen overnight.
P&G acquired the Vidal Sassoon line of products and the trademark from Richardson-Vicks 17 years ago. A series of overhauls throughout the Nineties kept the brand popular, with sales exceeding $400 million, Sassoon said Tuesday. But in 2000, P&G relaunched Vidal Sassoon with a strong fashion positioning, and increased prices to $5 from $3 and to $12 from $5. Sales of Vidal Sassoon hair care dropped nearly 40 percent to $25.4 million in mass stores, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ended Dec. 1, 2002, against the prior-year period, according to Information Resources Inc.