Vidal Sassoon, the legendary London-born hairdresser who revolutionized hairstyling by creating the geometric bob, died Wednesday in Los Angeles of leukemia. He was 84.
This story first appeared in the May 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Sassoon is best known for the sharp, asymmetric five-point haircut he introduced in 1963. At a time when Women’s Lib was in full swing, the wash-n-go haircut embraced by Mary Quant, Grace Coddington and Mia Farrow became a symbol of women’s rejection of restrictive beauty regimens.
“My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous,” Sassoon said 11 years ago in the Los Angeles Times. “Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore.”
Sassoon was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. Bumble and bumble founder Michael Gordon, who produced the documentary “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie,” spoke with him Tuesday morning shortly before Sassoon was scheduled for a chemotherapy session. “He said, ‘I’ve lived with dignity, and I’d like to die with dignity,’ and he did,” said Gordon.
Gordon said that Sassoon made hairdressing cool, but he stressed Sassoon’s legacy extends beyond the hair industry. “Anybody can become hugely important if they really have the drive, and he had the drive. He’s an inspiration in general. It doesn’t have much to do with hairdressing, that’s just what he ended up doing,” he said.
John Paul DeJoria, chief executive officer and co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems, was supposed to have dinner with Sassoon Monday night, but Sassoon canceled because he was too tired. “Vidal Sassoon was the most famous hairstylist in the history of the world,” said DeJoria. Angus Mitchell, co-owner of John Paul Mitchell Systems and the late Paul Mitchell’s son, added, “Vidal was a lifelong inspiration, mentor and friend. Vidal was not only instrumental in revolutionizing and commercializing hair in the West, but he kept hair as an art form intact.”
Sassoon was born in London in 1928 to Jewish parents Betty and Jack Sassoon. Sassoon began in hairdressing at age 14 by apprenticing for Adolph Cohen. Later, he jumped London salons to work for Raymond Bessone. He didn’t set out to be a hairdresser — his dream was to be a soccer player — but his mother sensed the profession suited him.
Sassoon opened his first salon in London in 1954, but it wasn’t until the Sixties that his full impact was realized. That’s when his angular bob became a sensation. In his book, “Vidal: The Autobiography,” Sassoon recounted, “There were times in the Sixties and Seventies when the press were literally camped outside my Bond Street salon, snapping the new haircuts as they walked out of the door, even photographing the staff themselves wearing the latest looks. In our heyday we were chased down the street, followed by a pack of screaming girls.”
In 1967, Sassoon was notoriously paid $5,000 by Roman Polanski to cut Farrow’s hair for “Rosemary’s Baby,” giving her a cropped look that her then husband Frank Sinatra didn’t like. By then, he had built a string of salons in his native country and decided to open in New York. His Beverly Hills salon came in the Seventies, when Sassoon also settled in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, he was growing a hair care line that, in the Eighties, became known for the television tag line, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”
Sassoon sold his brand, which was reported to have generated $110 million annually, to Richardson Vicks Inc. in 1983. Procter & Gamble Co. snagged it two years later. The marriage with P&G would turn ugly. P&G discontinued the line in the U.S. and Europe late in 2002, and Sassoon sued the company in 2003. “People who are now in control of P&G wanted to strip me of my persona and take it for themselves,” he said, when he launched the lawsuit.
Today, there are 14 Sassoon Academy locations and 32 Sassoon salon locations. Regis Corp. acquired the units in 2002, but Sassoon remains a registered trademark of P&G. Regis entered into a licensing agreement with P&G to use the name.
Mark Hayes, creative director of Sassoon International, said. “Our industry has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. The world rarely encounters someone who had the profound impact that Vidal has had, and everyone in the industry is indebted to Vidal’s courage and single-minded vision, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.”