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Vidal Sassoon: 1928-2012

Vidal Sassoon 1928 - 2012

Vidal Sassoon 1928 - 2012

In May 2012, the Beauty Industry lost a visionary pioneer. Vidal Sassoon was not just a brilliant hairdresser and savvy businessman; his vision of women and their hair helped establish the beauty industry as an integral part of the social revolution of the 1960s.

Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon was born in Hammersmith, London in January 1928 to Nathan and Betty Sassoon. Nathan abandoned the family when Vidal was three, forcing his mother to place both him and his younger brother in an orphanage until his mother re-married and the family was re-united. It was Vidal’s mother that guided him into the world of women’s beauty. With a belief that her son would be very successful behind the chair, she encouraged Vidal to take his first job at a salon at the tender age of 14. In his later years, Vidal would give credit to his mother for his success - “I’ve cut hair and listened to the secrets of the most beautiful women in the world - and all because of one great lady’s belief in me.”

His career began as an apprentice at Adolph Cohen’s salon, polishing mirrors and sweeping the floor, followed by various gigs at several local salons until he landed a permanent job with famed celebrity hairstylist Raymond (Mr. Teasy-Weasy) Bessone at his Mayfair Salon. It was here that Vidal became truly inspired by women’s hair and haircutting. Raymond taught Vidal his cutting techniques, sharing with him the endless possibilities that could come from using a small pair of shears with clever wrist movements. Vidal continued to work at Raymond’s Mayfair Salon, perfecting what would become his signature technique.

The First Vidal Sassoon Salon

Finally, deciding to branch out on his own, the first Vidal Sassoon salon opened on Bond Street, Mayfair in 1954. He knew from the beginning that he was going to do something completely different than what was being done in the salons. He did not want to be a part of the industry; he wanted to change the industry by eliminating the superfluous and get right to the basic angle of cut and shape. He stepped away from the traditional bouffant-type hairstyles and instead gave the hair shape and movement making hairstyling quick and effortless. Although this new approach to cutting hair did not catch on right away, it was only a matter of time before his ideas became a standard in women’s hair styling with his precision cutting technique adopted and employed by hairstylists around the world.

Nancy Kwan

Nancy Kwan modeling her Vidal Sassoon cut for a 1968 issue of Vogue.
Photo by Terry Donovan.

1960s -The Vidal Sassoon way

While Vidal worked on his approach of working with the hair rather than against it, major changes in the social scene were happening right outside the salon. Women began searching for a voice of equality in the home, at school and in the workplace. Before the 1950s, women gathered in beauty parlors to have their hair curled, electrocuted and teased into stiff unmovable hairstyles requiring long weekly salon visits as the popular hairstyles of the day were not possible to create at home.

Vidal’s five-point cut and his revolutionary approach to “the bob” became the look of the 1960s, freeing women from endless hours in salons and forever changing the relationship between women and their hair. His “wash and go” approach to haircutting worked with hair, instead of against it, as had been done traditionally. No more hours spent with hot rollers, lacquers and stiff hairstyles, the “haircut” was now the “hairstyle” and women could skip the daunting task of styling and finishing their hair, providing new found time to actively engage in interests outside of the home, such as secondary education and joining the work-force full time.

Another significant turning point occurred when rising ’60s superstar Nancy Kwan graced the cover of Vogue Magazine in 1963 sporting a Vidal Sassoon created hairstyle that would become known as the “Nancy Kwan”, signaling Sassoon’s arrival as the most sought-after hairstylists in London, and the world. From the mod haircut of fashion designer Mary Quant to the iconic pixie Mia Farrow wore for her role in Rosemary’s Baby, Vidal not only created haircuts, but fashion industry cornerstones.

Branding a Movement

Vidal Sassoon’s influence and career continued to grow throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. He began franchising his salon name to colleagues and expanded his business and brand throughout the United States as well as the United Kingdom. Along with the effortless and customized styles women could get in any chair at any one of his salons, he branded a successful line of hair care product dedicated to keeping it simple. Sassoon’s shampoos and conditioners were developed to keep hair healthy and shiny while his finishing products gave invisible hold with visible movement. He also established The Vidal Sassoon Academy, one of the most respected academies in the industry. With academy locations across North America, the United Kingdom and Europe, his vision and precision cutting techniques continue to influence and inspire hairstylists, new and old.

Life After Hair

In 1983, Vidal sold his $113 Million dollar a year company to the Richardson-Vicks Corporation. By 2004, Vidal had moved on from the industry that defined him to serve the world philanthropically. He dedicated much of his time to his own non-profit organization The Vidal Sassoon International Center of the Study of Anti-Semitism (SICSA). Originally established in 1982, the organization is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to an independent, non-political approach to sharing the knowledge necessary for understanding the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Located at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the organization funds conferences and provides research grants to scholars with the goal of better understanding the roots of anti-Semitism throughout history. Vidal also lent his support to such notable organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center of Los Angeles and was also an active supporter of many relief efforts in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. It has been more than 50 years since Vidal Sassoon’s re-invention of the bob haircut changed the course of the hair industry. It continues to be the world’s most popular haircut year after year, season after season and is a true testament that his legacy has left an indelible mark on the lives of women.

Posted in: CelebrityFeaturedSummer 2012
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