This week marks the death of legendary hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, one of the most revolutionary and influential stylists of our time...
Who? This week marks the death of legendary hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, aged 84. Entering the world of hairdressing on the request of his mother (he had dreams of becoming a football player), Sassoon claimed he never intended to become a “crimper”. Nevertheless, he went on to become one of the most revolutionary and influential stylists of our time, pioneering the concept of “wash-and-wear” haircuts and thus liberating women from a lifetime of curlers and driers. One of his earliest and most renowned clients, Mary Quant, expressed, "He freed us as much as the Pill and mini-skirts".
What? Sassoon was as business savvy as he was talented – he was one of the first hairdressers to brand himself, opening up a global chain of salons and marketing a popular range of hair products, both under his name. Indeed, the haircut which shot him to worldwide fame was itself a clever publicity stunt on behalf of Sassoon and director Roman Polanski. In August 1967, at vast expense, the coiffeur was flown out to Los Angeles by Polanski to style the hair of Mia Farrow for her role in Rosemary’s Baby – with a view to verifying her character’s line, "It's a Vidal Sassoon, it's terribly in.” There, on a Paramount soundstage and in front of the world press, Sassoon “created” the fair-haired beauty's iconic (and for the time, shocking) pixie crop, thereby sealing his fate as the most sought after hairdresser of the age. Later, however, it emerged that Farrow had cut her own hair short, long before the event, and, although the cut was indeed one of Sassoon’s signature styles, in this case he had merely trimmed it.
"Hairdressers are a wonderful breed. You work one-on-one with another human being and the object is to make them feel so much better and to look at themselves with a twinkle in their eye."
Why? Despite his initial hesitance, Sassoon was passionate about his chosen craft, viewing it as nothing short of art: “To sculpt a head of hair with scissors is an art form. It's in pursuit of art.” And it was this innovative outlook, and his particular method of creating cuts to compliment different face types, that brought the rich and famous flocking – from The Beatles (with their early "blunt cut" fringes) to a young Grace Coddington, as well as silverscreen sirens Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor.
Happily, Sassoon appeared to benefit as much from his clients as they did from him, memorably reflecting in a 2004 interview, "Hairdressers are a wonderful breed. You work one-on-one with another human being and the object is to make them feel so much better and to look at themselves with a twinkle in their eye. Work on their bone structure, the colour, the cut, whatever, but when you've finished, you have an enormous sense of satisfaction."
Vidal Sassoon was born in Hammersmith on January 17 1928 and passed away in LA on May 9 2012.
Text by Daisy Woodward