Today is the 90th Birthday of Vidal Sassoon. He is an incredible example of a self-made man who found inspiration around him and adapted it to his own creations. He took the service trade of hairdresser/beautician and transformed it into a internationally recognized and respected artistry. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Vidal Sassoon revolutionized women’s hairstyles in the post-war years and created an international hair-products empire which proclaimed “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”
Born in London’s East End, Vidal Sassoon’s beginnings lacked the glamour that he would enjoy later in life. At age five, his carpet-salesman father abandoned the family, leaving his mother, Betty, to support him and his brother, Ivor, on her sweatshop wages. Unable to afford care for her children, she placed her sons in an orphanage, where he would spend the next six years. At 14, his mother put him to work as a shampoo attendant at Cohen’s Beauty and Barber shop. But his introduction to the hairstyling business was interrupted when anti-Semitic fascists, led by Oswald Mosley rioted in the streets of London. Sassoon, whose parents were Sephardic Jews, joined a Jewish organization to battle the fascists and later volunteered to fight in Israel’s War of Independence.
In 1954, the 34-year-old opened his Bond Street salon, having apprenticed under the flamboyant Raymond Besson. Sassoon rejected Bresson’s orthodox style and instead experimented in angular and geometric haircuts that drew inspiration from the modern European architecture springing up across the English Channel. He was particularly influenced by the works of Bauhaus architect Mies Van de Rohe. “Architects have always been my heroes,” he said in an Architectural Digest article published in 2011. “I could not have been more honored than when I met Marcel Breuer and he told me he knew my work. And Rem Koolhaas said he had one of my original cutting books in his library.”
Sassoon’s hairstyles soon became their own kinds of landmarks. During the 1960s, his cuts became an icon of Swinging London just like the miniskirts designed by Mary Quant (who was also a client). His work was featured on covers of Vogue magazine and one of his pixie cuts even appeared atop Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski‘s 1968 film, Rosemary’s Baby. When asked about the short crop in the film, Farrow’s character responds, “It’s Vidal Sassoon. It’s very in.”
In the mid-1960s, he opened his first New York salon and soon expanded to Toronto and Beverly Hills. By the mid-1970s, he oversaw over a dozen salons, a handful of beauty schools, and a hair products business that made more than $100 million in sales. In 1983, he made a decision he would regret later in life: He sold the company to Proctor & Gamble.
In 1956, Sassoon married his first wife, Elaine Wood, whom he divorced in 1963. Four years later, he married actress Beverly Adams, and they had a son and two daughters before breaking up in 1980. (His daughter, Catya, would later die of a drug overdose in 2002.) In 1983, he had a brief marriage to dressage champion and former model Janette Hartford-Davis. In 1992, he married Ronnie Holbook. Sassoon was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 and died in Los Angeles in 2012.