Modern Salon — July 2012 | Sasoon Legacy
On May 9, 2012, the professional salon world lost the most famous and industry changing hairdresser in modern history to leukemia. At age 84, Vidal Sassoon died in his Los Angeles home. Here, some of the people closest to him—those who worked with and learned from him throughout the Sassoon era—share with MODERN SALON personal memories and perceptions of how one man’s innovation and influence literally shaped how generations see and create beauty
The house was filled with people— many California locals, quite a few from the East Coast, some who’d traveled from Europe to pay their respects. Awestruck hairdressers of all ages. White-haired protégés long ago trained by the man himself. Family members accustomed to sharing their beloved dad and husband with the world. Statuesque women in their 70s whose cool, timeless beauty hinted at the young fashion models they used to be. For seven days in May they gathered, exchanging memories of the icon who had sprinkled magic over an industry, in the process changing forever the way everyday women thought about hair. They spoke about the legacy of Vidal Sassoon but even more about the man— how he had moved them emotionally, inspired them professionally and, in more than a few cases, reached into his pocket to personally finance their studies.
“He would have loved it,” muses his son Elan Sassoon.
As the honoree at what became, by his own direction, a Jewish shiva/Irish wake hybrid, Vidal Sassoon had done it again: made a statement, perhaps established a trend and certainly created an entirely new experience for everyone fortunate enough to be swept into his orbit.
A Life Path Takes Shape
Born on January 17, 1928, in London’s tawdry East End, Vidal Sassoon had a toughness established during his hardscrabble, wartime childhood years, some spent in a Jewish orphanage until his mother remarried and could bring Vidal and his brother home. Sassoon’s unparalleled career had unassuming beginnings as well, nourished in a salon where, as a 14-year-old apprentice to owner Adolph Cohen, Vidal would prove his talents true to his mother’s intuition that her son might do well with a pair of scissors. The boy’s interests in fashion and architecture informed his newfound trade, while Cohen instilled in him the discipline and professionalism that would come to define the Sassoon approach. Young Vidal liked cutting and styling, but his heart wasn’t into the stiff bouffants he was sending out the door. He began to consider what else might be possible with hair, a medium he felt had been sorely unexplored. He had the idea to customize design according to the hair’s root movement and the client’s bone structure.
Vidal’s creative spark was fueled by an eye for what might be next, a fearlessness to try anything and the patience to let trial-and-error consume months at a time. He had a voracious appetite to learn and never let himself off the hook about anything. When his cockney accent held him back in his career, he studied elocution to drop it.
“When he was in the orphanage, Vidal had to prove that he was perfect,” speculates Charles Booth, one of Sassoon’s original band of teenaged assistants before going on to found La Coupe with fellow Sassooner Peter Green. “Eventually, that translated to perfect hairdressing. Vidal jumped from salon to salon, learning what he could from everybody and absorbing all different types of work.”
Sassoon picked up barbering techniques from barbers, getting involved in competitions helped him master precision and artistry and he observed the power of visibility and showmanship by working in the fashionable Mayfair district under Britain’s most celebrated hairdresser at the time, Raymond, nicknamed “TeasyWeasy.” At 20, Sassoon joined the Israel military to fight in the Arab-Israeli War, and army life only for- tified his bent toward a regimented way of doing things. By 1954, back to doing hair in England, he was ready to open his first salon, Sassoon’s, on Bond Street.
“Feathery, frothy, French!” announced an early ’60s headline in MODERN SALON. That could describe not only the softly curled, back-combed and lacquered women’s coiffures of the day but also the salons themselves, all chandeliers and flowered wallpaper. Sassoon wanted no part of it. Heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement in architecture and design, Vidal favored clean, straight lines on well-conditioned hair. He dressed in a black suit with black shoes and kept his own hair short and close to the head. Whether describing hair, fashion or decor, “frothy” was not in the Sassoon dictionary.
To evolve away from the frilly tradition, Vidal repurposed the landscape by following Raymond’s lead in removing all of the cubicles and partitions that had been entrenched in salon design to give clients privacy. He replaced the typical pastel decor with a brown-and-metal palette. He fronted the salon in a sheet of clear glass to permit passersby to peek into the immaculate space. With lots of light and open area and no ornate distractions, clients of all backgrounds were equal and, most important, the hairdressers could learn from each other.
“We created the atmosphere of hairdressers watching hairdressers,” Sassoon told reporter and industry educator Mary Beth Janssen in an extensive interview published in MODERN SALON in 2004. “‘Oh, that’s a new angle,’ or, ‘Look at that shape.’”
With what Peter Green calls “a talent for spotting talent,” Sassoon gathered a coterie of highly skilled apprentices to work at his salon. Names that became synonymous with hair design—Trevor Sorbie, Maurice Tidy, Joshua Galvin, even Paul Mitchell—came of age at the Bond Street salon. Many of Sassoon’s assistants were not yet 20 and very impressionable; without exception they idolized their leader.
“We wanted to do everything like him—dress like him, look like him, talk like him,” remembers Tony Beckerm who joined the salon as a junior appren tice at just 15 years old. “For all of us juniors, it was like a cult.”
Robert Edele, on the older end of the narrow age range, echoes that. “I used to follow him around like a little puppy,” says Edele, now retired.
“Whatever he did, I did. Every single one of the hairdressers who worked wi us was literally hand-trained. We show them how to cut, how to do everything. In other salons, they all did their own thing. We would never allow that; everyone did it Vidal’s way, but it was a tremendous amount of fun.”
To this day, ask those who were part of the inner circle, and you hear markedly similar accounts of the culture at the Bond Street salon. The longtime cronies talk about the dress code, down to the fingernails and shoes. They mention the genius of the salon’s creative directors, Christopher Brooker and the late Roger Thompson. They marvel at how hard everyone worked and reflect on the nonstop artistry that was nourished within those walls. Now a half-century old, their stories roll out as if the heyday were yesterday, the reminiscences punctuated with laughter and accompanied by only the highest accolades for Sassoon: he was brilliant but humble, strict but fatherly, driven but kind, inspiring beyond words; he valued everyone’s contribution, always maintaining that “no one person can do it all” and, according to Charles Booth, when pleased “he would lavish you with praise—he always made you feel as if you were the important one.”
Sassoon didn’t just strive for perfection; he was perfection, and he demanded nothing less from each staffer than he expected from himself—to perform a perfect cut for every client every time. Thrice a week the stylists were required to stay late, often past midnight, for intense training sessions. The junior assistants attended the training, too, but not as hands-on participants. They were “varderers,” a sort of made-up word for “watchers,” according to Christopher Pluck, a junior at the time.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Beckerman says. “We’d talk about the hair and also the culture change happening in music and sports and fashion—the Beatles, Muhammed Ali and Mary Quant. We felt that we were part of that change.” Those who lasted rose to Sassoon’s skyhigh expectations.
Elan recalls his father telling him, “Son, if there’s anything in life I can teach you, it’s to surround yourself with the very best people and take your ego out of the equation, and you’ll always be successful.”
Sassoon publicly acknowledged the importance of the team. “I was very fortunate to be surrounded by some wonderful young people,” he said in the 2004 MODERN interview, which corresponded with Sassoon’s appearance as keynote speaker at the Chicago Midwest Beauty Show (now America’s Beauty Show) in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of his first salon.
Indeed, one of the things repeated by protégé after protégé is that the harsh taskmaster enforced staff fellowship and cooperation decades before “teamwork” became the corporate flavor of the month. Sure, there was an unforgiving dress code, but it was all part of Sassoon’s goal to elevate all members of the profession. He put staff names on salon signage, credited d d them for their ideas and kept their books full even if it meant handing over his own clients, who would easily agree to the switch, understanding that Sassoon would review the finished cut from top to bottom.
“To the customers, the sun rose and set on Vidal’s head,” notes Harvy Kaye, yet another industry success story whose career began on Bond Street at age 15 emulating Sassoon. “Whatever he said, they did.”
Like the staff, the clientele were expected to maintain an appropriate decorum. Booth recalls Sassoon scolding a client, “Keep your voice down. This is not a fishmarket!” He took the work seriously, and everyone around him fell in line to do the same.
“It was a great camaraderie,” says Beckerman. “We supported each other. That teamwork was what created the talents and the energy to come forth and develop the hair cuts.”
Ah, yes, the hair cuts. Along with Sassoon and under the visionary direction of Thompson and Brooker, the team developed a collection of 10 geometric cuts that dramatically contrasted with the styles of the time—the sudsy curls giving way to stark lines, sharp points and artistic asymmetry. The little rock star among them was the Five-Point Cut.
“The natural hairline we all have generally is in a soft W in the back,” explains Pluck, who still cuts hair every day at either his New York studio or his salon in New Jersey. “That’s where the three points came from.” The remaining two points were on the sides. Pluck says it took Sassoon nine years of practicing and a “process of elimination” to accomplish what would become his most famous technique. And it was striking. It became the salon’s walking billboard.
“I’ll never forget the sheen on the hair,” says Edele. “People would turn around and see it and ask, ‘Where did you get that hair?’”
That hair, and only that hair, came out of Sassoon. To quote a mantra of the time, “What you see is what you get.” Clients didn’t have a vote.
“You couldn’t choose how you wanted your hair cut,” says Pluck. “We would tell the client, ‘This is your bone structure, and this is the look we see for you.’ It was a juggernaut of geometric style.” Even clients who would be aiming for long hair would initially need a shorter cut to create the correct geometric lines that would grow out into the proper, free-swinging shape.
“If the client came in and didn’t want to get a cut the Sassoon way,” recalls American educator Teri Donnelly, who studied Sassoon’s methods in the 1970s, “Sassoon was famous for picking up the phone and making her an appointment at another salon.”
Ironically, born from this somewhat one-way discussion was the modern consultation. The cutter had to take the time to study the client’s bone structure, hair quality and layering in order to determine how to cut the hair, and then explain what was going to take place.
“The consultation was important in order to find out what the client wanted,” says Pluck, “but also to be honest about what the hair will and will not do.”
Knowing that cutting was his first love and his focus, Sassoon had the staff divided into cutters and colorists, with perming yet a third area of expertise. This departmentalization, which he was able to accomplish by relying on his staff ’s gifted colorist Annie Humphreys to lead that section for decades to come, was just one more Sassoonian innovation. Fashionistas as well as ordinary women bought into the culture, all of it. But while the cuts were drawing local fame to the salon with clientele that included Britain’s top models—Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton—it wasn’t until Sassoon called upon his showmanship instinct that they became internationally recognized. And once they did, practically overnight London replaced Paris as the center of hair fashion.
First, realizing that he’d created the most beautiful layered bob imaginable for internationally appreciated actress Nancy Kwan, Sassoon dialed up a top photographer to capture the masterpiece. Published first in British Vogue, the Kwan bob made a splash on both sides of the pond. When not long afterward the trendy fashion designer who popularized white boots with miniskirts, Mary Quant, turned up on Britain’s fashion pages wearing the Five-Point Cut, the dawning of the new era was becoming evident in the U.S. The timing was right. This was 1963-64, the beginning of the Baby Boomer generation’s decades-long reign over pop culture. With Twiggy representing fashion and Liverpool bands spearheading the music invasion, British style had acquired an instant pedigree. Still, France hadn’t been knocked off the throne altogether, but Sassoon set out to shake that up.
“You know what?” Edele recalls Sassoon saying to him. “I’m going to take this over to Paris.” On their trip to the City of Lights, Sassoon and Edele brought along a favorite model—Grace Coddington, who today is creative director at American Vogue—and demonstrated the five-point cut for a French magazine editor who was impressed enough to give it prominent play in the next issue.
“The French hairdressers were livid that some Brit came over and showed them up,” Edele grins.
“Vidal was the right man in the right place at the right time doing the right thing,” adds a second-generation Sassoon disciple, Stephen Moody, recently named dean of P&G Salon Professional Global Education Academy. “Suddenly London was on fire.”
But the super-chic geometric look was only part of what made the cuts overwhelmingly in-demand among teen girls, high society and, particularly, working women.
“A great hair cut sets women free,” explains Kaye. “All you have to do is get up, wash it and blow it dry, get it shaped every four or five weeks and you’re done.”
For an entire generation of women accustomed to making time for a weekly salon wash-and-set, the concept of what became known as “wash-and-wear hair” signaled a staggering sea change. The hair didn’t need setting; it didn’t really even need drying or product. The blow dryer was still a few years from mass distribution; in the meantime, the lines of the cut were so precisely planned and achieved that you could just toss the head and the style fell into place.
“We did perfect hair cuts,” says Green. “It sounds arrogant, but it was the truth. As a team, we reinvented the wheel.”
On to America
By the end of 1964, the timing was right to take Manhattan, but a six-month delay in construction pushed the grand opening of the new Madison Avenue salon to May 1965. Sassoon used the gap to pack in more rigorous training than ever for his hand-chosen team of nine, many of whom were still so young that “I have to ask my mum” was a typical reaction to the news they’d been tapped for the Big Apple.
“One technique Vidal used in training was to have one of us cut the left side of the head and a team member cut the right side,” recalls Pluck. “Even though we were doing the same haircut, each person’s execution would be remarkably different. Seeing what the other did would allow both of us to learn from each other and work the other’s system into our own.”
As a teacher, Vidal was not above using drama to play to the crowd. “During one session, he demonstrated a flip on a model with flaming red hair,” Pluck continues. “The hair was 12 or 14 inches in length. He put it in rollers and pincurls and sat her under the dryer. Then he removed all of the rollers and the pins—there must have been 1,000 pins—and put them back in very softly. After another 10 minutes under the dryer, he brushed it through. When you do that, the hair is very soft.”
When they finally arrived in New York, it was hard to tell who was more enthralled—the hair cutters or the city.
“For kids from London, coming to America was so exciting,” Green remarks. “The British culture is stratified, class-conscious. We got here and it was a whole different world. Conceptually, America was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Before Sassoon, Kenneth was the hairdressing darling, achieving top billing on the coattails of his ubercelebrity client Jackie Kennedy. The country’s hairdressers were comfortable with that role model and style and wary of anything that threatened the status quo. While the weekly wash-and-set may have seemed burdensome for clients, the routine ensured bread-and-butter income for the salon. Staffers could juggle appointments every 15 minutes; who would want to stretch a hair cut to 30 minutes or more as the Sassoon bunch did? And what’s this about not seeing clients for four or five weeks? Furthermore, with no apprentice system in the States, anyone with a license could immediately go out and become a fullfledged hair stylist, and plenty chose that route over what could be years as a lowpaid assistant (required in the Sassoon culture) before being deemed worthy of going on the floor.
Even in the 1970s, when Teri Donnelly came out of Sassoon’s San Francisco Academy she met with resistance to the five-point graduated bob. “At the salon where I worked, I was told that I couldn’t do a cut like that,” Donnelly remembers. “I said, ‘Why not? The client loves it!’”
Outside the industry, too, Middle America wasn’t eager to morph into Sassoon Nation. When Sassoon presented the Five-Point Cut on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, recalls Booth, “people laughed. They didn’t understand; they weren’t used it.”
But little by little, times were changing, and the first sighting of change occurred on Madison Avenue.
“We had women lining up outside the door to get their hair done,” Harvy Kaye recollects. “We couldn’t get them in fast enough.” It was the place to see and be seen, and the young lads who cut geometric hair were recognized at every white-glove restaurant, welcome in every exclusive club. They partied with celebrities and, creatively, Sassoon had them working with the city’s finest photographers.
“It was just thrilling,” Green adds. “These hairstyles were a revolution— straight hair, clean architectural lines—and nobody else could do what we could do. We brought the concept to the country. For us kids growing up and learning a new society, it was the pinnacle of creativity, because everything feeds off one another.”
From Revelation to Revolution
The second half of the 1960s, which Sassoon would look back on as “a wonderful period of one good idea after the next,” saw a burst of developments and the maturing of a brand. At each turn, Sassoon’s private revelation would cause the next mass-market revolution.
“Everybody waited for the next Sassoon thing to happen,” Kaye says. A new salon would be launching—eventually there would be more than 20—or a new style would be revealed. The 1967 Greek Goddess cut marked another milestone, embracing natural or permed texture and eliminating the need to set in order to achieve curl. As was his habit, Vidal wouldn’t rest until he’d perfected this wavy, head-hugging look.
“It’s the simplest thing in the world, but none of us dreamt it could be done until we actually, physically worked a whole weekend on the idea,” Sassoon told Janssen. “Cut, perm, condition and, wham, you get a great look! That came out of one crazy weekend in 1967. It was magical.”
Edele recalls the reception the team received as they traveled around England to promote the look.
“One day we set up tables at the Grosvenor Hotel, precut the hair and then finished the cuts in the dining area,” he says. “There were a lot of people around watching us perm and recut the hair into the Greek Goddess, and everyone went crazy! It was so unusual, so different; they’d never seen anything like it before. Vidal knew we’d have a lot of fun demonstrating it.”
The year also produced the oft-told story of how actress Mia Farrow, wanting to lop off her long, blonde locks for her bad-mama turn in Rosemary’s Baby, flew Sassoon from London to L.A. for a $5,000 hair cut.
Less capricious but arguably more critical to the Sassoon name’s longevity, in 1967 Sassoon opened his first school. Edele recalls that a school seemed the next logical step just to handle all of the requests from professionals wanting to come to Bond Street and observe. Still, the team didn’t know whether there would be enough interest among the public to supply the client heads needed to support a school so at first they did not charge for the students’ hair cuts. They underestimated the appeal of the Sassoon brand.
“When we opened the school in Knightsbridge, it took off like a rocket,” says Edele, who at one point headed the school division. Managed by John Santilli, the Knightsbridge school, like the salons, implemented a lot of rules.
“The methods were difficult to learn,” says Pluck. “What was great about Vidal’s schools was that they taught everything from beginning to end. He didn’t want to keep anything a secret; he wanted everybody to be able to learn the creative form to move to the next level. Always having a next level is what keeps clients coming back to you.”
Just as the salon organization continued to grow, the Knightsbridge school’s success led to a growing roster of Sassoon schools on both continents and, in 2002, in Shanghai. As the training spread and the newly schooled taught the next group of hungry creative minds, Sassoon’s fundamentals became the foundation for a fresh generation of hair designers.
New Respect for Hairdressers
Hair shows provided another avenue for Sassoon to expand his reach within the industry.
“Vidal would make sure he was the last one on the stage and the first one off,” says Donnelly, who this year is partnering with Beckerman to launch Atar Gold, a company establishing a new product category of natural fragrance serums. “He made an entrance after all the others had done their teasing. Always a showman, he would run his fingers through the set, the pins would go flying and he’d shake the hair into place just with his fingers—and then walk off. People would say, ‘Who is that guy?’”
That “guy” was soon so sought-after that he was able to name his own price. Redken founder Paula Kent Meehan recalls negotiating with Sassoon’s New York manager Laurance Taylor, a respected colorist or, at the time, “tinter,” in his own right, to have Sassoon appear at beauty shows.
I never thought Id pay anyone what I paid Vidal,” Meehan says. “In the ’60s I was giving artists a couple of hundred dollars to do our shows, and now I was paying Sassoon thousands for a show. And I thought he’d take a bus from a show in Chicago to a show in Minneapolis, but Vidal didn’t take buses; I had to hire a limousine! So I was shocked at the expense, but I also was shocked at the numbers of people who turned up to see him. We used to have 25 or 30 in the audience, and at the very first show Vidal did for us—it was in Colorado—225 people attended. In Chicago, we had more than 800. It blew me away. He was always wonderful—a really honest, direct guy. So I got used to him, and he got used to me. At some point we finished our professional relationship, but our friendship never ended.”
Although Sassoon had complimentary things to say, he didn’t directly pitch the products. In fact, endorsing a product line on any level was a bit of a departure for the master craftsman. In the early days, he and his staff set hair not with curling lotion, but with beer. As his cuts and perms grew increasingly maintenance-free, he became known for discouraging the use of styling products altogether. But his cuts relied on having the hair in top condition, and the right cleaner and conditioner were key to that. Foreseeing the potential of owning a product line, Sassoon went into manufacturing.
He was the first hairdresser to put his name on a product label, and when he starred in TV commercials to declare in his velvety British accent the catchy slogan, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good,” Sassoon became a household name wherever he hadn’t already been one. As he gained recognition and set the pay-scale bar higher for himself, he raised up an entire industry. This hasn’t been lost on the people who benefited.
“Never has any one hairdresser done so much for the others as Vidal did,” says Booth. “Vidal dressed like the most fashionable clients we had, so all of a sudden hairdressing became glamorous. And I think he garnered more respect because he was a decent person; he lived a very good life and treated his staff very well. He taught us how to promote a business. The success of my salon La Coupe rested on PR work. That whole revolution that ‘the brand was everything’—he created that.”
Sassoon laid the foundation for many developments, even recent ones. Notes Booth, “You could say the recent boom in the smoothing category exists because of the Sassoon concept of beautiful, shiny, smooth, swinging hair.”
Adds Kaye, “We all owe Vidal a debt of gratitude. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Vidal; it’s as simple as that. He brought hairdressing out of the Dark Ages and made it a profession to be proud of.”
In classes even now, Donnelly calls upon a classic Sassoon story to inspire students: “Sassoon would literally stop himself ten feet before he came to a door and say, ‘I’m going to park it here, leave my baggage here.’ He’d take a deep breath and go through the door, and you’d never see him down, never hear him tell you that you can’t achieve something.”
Meehan agrees. “I don’t remember hearing Vidal ever say a negative thing,” she comments. “He’d never say, ‘I had a bad day.’ He was just a very positive person. And as famous as he was, he was always nice and friendly to everyone.”
Although Green left La Coupe years ago and now writes mysteries, he says he’s increasingly grateful to have been a cog in the initial Sassoon machine.
“To come into contact with somebody who’s the very best at what he does—as you grow older you realize how rare that is, how fortunate you are,” Green says. “You’ve been able to observe, touch and learn from the drive of somebody who didn’t stop until he reached the very top.”
Sassoon’s generosity with his staff is what Booth values most. “He gave us the golden key,” Booth says. “All those hairdressers who worked with him—if they had the brains to pick it up, he gave them the golden key, and then those of us who went on to have salons tried to do the same thing with the people who worked for us.”
Good Deeds and High Honors
While the beauty industry was his passion and life’s work, Sassoon’s talents and interests went far beyond crimper extraordinaire. He was a “health nut” before it was fashionable, always careful about his diet and swimming to stay fit. In 1980, he had his own talk show airing on U.S. television. He was a man of faith and an ardent Zionist, with a bit less regard for organized religion. He was, as Beckerman describes him, “a man of words”; not only was he well-read, but he wrote three books with a fourth due to come out posthumously in the fall. And everyone who knew Vidal understood that his incessantly positive attitude and upbeat mood would crack whenever his cherished Chelsea team took a loss in Britain’s football league.
Whether it was behind the scenes to pay the tuition of a cosmetology student who’d run out of funding or out in front to be the face of a major campaign, throughout his life Vidal Sassoon was known for his wide-ranging altruism. Long after he’d let go of his scissors in his 50s and after he’d sold his product business, the salons and the schools, he remained active in various causes, most prominently the International Center for the Study of Antisemitism that he founded at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Smaller moments were common. Tony Beckerman tells a story of being stuck in a snowstorm at a NYC hotel after Sassoon had received an industry award.
“About 50 or 60 people were still at the hotel and could not get home,” Beckerman recalls. “Vidal opened up his own suite. He ordered blankets, he ordered breakfast for everybody and it was one big sleepover! He put it together so that people would not have to sleep out on the streets. He was very benevolent that way.”
At age 79, Vidal interrupted retirement to become instrumental in the beauty industry’s “Hairdressers Unlocking Hope” partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for people of New Orleans left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
“Dad helped to raise about $3 million for Katrina victims, and he refused to take out any administrative costs,” says Elan Sassoon, who has followed in his father’s footsteps with his own hair care line, Sojourn. “That’s just the kind of guy that he was. When I was young, he once told me, ‘Don’t ever say the word charity around me. The word is generosity.’ He believed people should be as generous as they possibly can, but ‘charity’ indicated superiority.”
According to product developer and hairdresser Jim Markham who, with his wife Cheryl, was among those to follow Sassoon in committing to the Katrina effort, “Hairdressers Unlocking Hope” built 22 homes.
“The devastation of Hurricane Katrina touched Vidal’s heart,” says Markham, who is currently CEO of ColorProof Evolved Color Care. “Having lost his own home as a child during World War II, he understood what it was like to be homeless. He believed that the beauty industry was full of people with his same passion and would step up to help. Vidal was the leader and the king of this project, and seeing the industry come together to build homes for the Katrina victims was absolutely remarkable.”
Elan and his sister Eden Sassoon plan to honor the memory of their father by launching the Sassoon Family Foundation for the study of leukemia and other cancers. “We’ll really go to the scientists to find a cure for these diseases,” Elan pledges.
Two highlights of Sassoon’s career came late in life. In 2010, Bumble and bumble founder Michael Gordon brought Sassoon’s story to the big screen with a well-received documentary, Vidal Sassoon The Movie, which for many people served as a vehicle for expressions of gratitude to a mentor. Harold Leighton, one of those close enough to call Sassoon simply “Vid” or Vidy,” says that appearing in the film permitted him to “put a stamp on our long-lasting relationship.”
A year earlier, in 2009, Sassoon reached the summit of success in his homeland when Queen Elizabeth presented him with the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) Award. According to his friends, this level of laurels truly humbled the already humble man.
“Despite living a lot of his life in the United States, Vidal was British to the core,” notes Moody, who had a long tenure as international executive director of Sassoon Academies. “London was his hometown.”
Perhaps the greatest testament to Sassoon’s stellar life is how many of his devotees stayed in touch with their earliest teacher, communicating by phone in recent years or visiting him at his home in California where he lived with Ronnie, his wife of 20 years. Booth and Pluck went to breakfast with Sassoon the day after his 80th birthday, which brought in many friends. Also around that time, Donnelly sat next to him at a party in Paula Kent Meehan’s tea garden. Meehan herself saw her friend Vidal frequently; she not only had him as a guest at a party in 2011, but he also would frequently pull into her parking lot to say hello on his way to a nearby Sassoon salon. Beckerman spoke with Sassoon the day before he died, Edele saw him the previous week and Stephen Moody still had lunch plans on the calendar when Vidal Sassoon passed away on May 9 at age 84 after a battle with leukemia.
In return, Sassoon not only appreciated his inner circle of colleagues but credited the global community of hairdressers for his own achievements. Sassoon’s esteemed CBE award paves the way for a memorial to be held October 12 at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and, despite that “he wasn’t into all that fancy stuff,” Elan says, the large venue will serve his father’s wishes to include those he respected most.
Elan reveals, “In some of his last words, my dad said, ‘Make sure any memorial is open to the hairdressers of the world, because that’s whom I owe my success to.’”
From the beginning, Sassoon shared his knowledge with his peers and the generations that followed because he thought it was the right thing to do. As he reached the twilight of his career, he realized it was that openness, his unending dedication to education, that would provide his own immortality.
“If you keep your knowledge a secret, it’s gone when you’re gone,” Vidal Sassoon told MODERN SALON in 2004. “You leave no legacy.”
No worries about that, Vidal. You’ve left a void, but your legacy is intact. “Sassoon was a great man,” says Stephen Moody. “He’ll still be with us in every room, in every salon, every academy. He’ll be looking over our shoulder.”
Stephen Moody saw Sassoon’s Midas touch spread the wealth.
Stephen Moody, who eventually rose to oversee all Vidal Sassoon academies, was just a baby in rural northern England when Sassoon was starting out on Bond Street.
“My mother was a hairdresser in the true sense,” says Moody, who recently joined P&G Professional as Global Education Academy Dean. “She dressed hair. We were not even in a town, but in a village, and she put together a salon in the front room of the house w match. Doing women’s roller sets every day, she quickly realized that th creatively, and financially she was against the wall. She wrote a letter t teach her the newer styles he was doing. He offered to have her as an child she needed to stay with her salon. She proposed instead that she months. She’d make coffee and sandwiches, she’d shampoo and swee with his other apprentices. She left me for three months, and then she England, threw away her razors and rollers and converted all of her roll hair cuts. She told Vidal, ‘I’m sure other hairdressers would like to learn open a school.’ After that, my mom went back to Sassoon once a year t
His mother may not have been a proper apprentice, but Stephen joined the Sassoon organization in 1980. His career soared quickly; named Principal of the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica, CA he became International Executive Director of Vidal Sassoon Academ later, of Vidal Sassoon Education. But it was his mother’s switch to ting that paved the way for all of the opportunities that followed.
“As a child growing up, I was absolutely fascinated with how my fortunes, and that of many of my friends, went from being desperat comfortable,” he explains. “They improved on the back of Vidal’s me Aside from all of the creative aspects and the fashion-changing dyn that Vidal brought, there was that new aspect of hairdressing—som that people aspired to do because it became respectable and finance viable as a career. As a kid I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to, w they call now, ‘pay it forward’? So I’ve tried to do that.”
>January 17: Vidal Sassoon is born
>Begins six years in orphanage with brother Ivor
>Hired as an apprentice at Adolph Cohen’s Salon in Whitechapel
>July: Begins a year with the Israeli Army
>Wins his first hair styling competition
>Opens the first salon on Bond Street in London
>Marries Elaine Wood; they divorce in 1963
>Moves salon to larger quarters on Bond Street *
>Creates the “Classic Bob” on Nancy Kwan
>Opens salon in Grosvenor House Hotel, London
>Creates the “Five- Point Cut”
>May 19: Opens the first U.S. salon on Madison Avenue, NYC
>Team creates the “Asymmetric Bob” and “Acute Angle” cut
>Team creates the “Layered Geometric,” “Asymmetric” and “Oblique Angle” cuts
>Marries Beverly Adams; they have four children— Catya, Elan, Eden and David—and divorce in 1980
>Salon opens on Sloane Street, London
>Team creates the “Greek Goddess” cut
>Cuts Mia Farrow’s $5,000 pixie
>First school opens in London’s Knightsbridge section
>Writes Sorry I Kept You Waiting, Madam
>Salon opens in Toronto
>Salon opens in Beverly Hills
> Team creates the “Isadora” and the “Mouche”
>Ground-breaking Davies Mews school and Queen St. Academy open in London
>R&D begins on the first Vidal Sassoon products, the “brown line”
> Barber shop opens in Bonwit Teller, NYC
> Salons open in Chicago and San Francisco
>Dwight Miller joins the Bond Street salon
>Salon opens in Manchester, England
> Brand markets professional hair styling tools in Europe and the U.S.
>Team creates the “Firefly” cut
> Salon opens on South Moulton Street, London
>Salon opens in Leeds, England
> Salon opens in Munich, Germany
> Brand markets original 3-Step Hair Care products to salons
> Opens corporate offices L.A.
> Brand markets original Salon Formula products to salons
>Second salon opens on Sloane Street, London
>Tom Yeardye appointed director of U.S. salons and schools
>Laurance Taylor appointed president of advertising and creative services
>Salon opens in Hamburg, Germany
>Barber shop opens on Brook Street, London
>Brand markets non-aerosol hair spray
>Academy opens in Westwood section of L.A.
>With wife Beverly, writes A Year of Beauty and Health
>Brand markets products in the U.S.
> Sells European salons and schools to Annie Humphreys, Philip Rogers and Christopher Brooker
> Christopher Brooker appointed salons and schools international creative director
>Hosts an American talk show, Your New Day
> Robert Edele appointed president of North American salons and schools
>Establishes the International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
>Sells international salons and schools to same group holding European division
> Moves Westwood Academy to Santa Monica
>Sells product division to Richardson-Vicks
>Caroline Hayes appointed vice president of U.S. schools
>Brand adds men’s styling products
>P&G acquires Sassoon product line through purchase of Richardson-Vicks
>Educational center opens in Toronto
>Salon opens in Frankfort, Germany
> Brand markets Advanced Long Formula shampoos and conditioners to salons
>Salon opens in Glasgow, Scotland
>Tim Hartley appointed int’l creative director, joining Annie Humphreys to lead education
>Salon opens in Boston
> Inducted into the Hairdressing Hall of Fame Great Britain
>Salon opens in Cardiff, Wales
>Salon opens in NYC’s Flat Iron District
>Salon opens in Scottsdale, AZ
>Receives NAHA Lifetime Achievement Award
>Marries Ronnie Holbrook
> Introduces Stylist’s Choice shampoos and conditioners
> 50th Anniversary Exhibition premieres in London on Sassoon’s career
>50th Anniversary Exhibition shown at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology
>Receives American Beauty Association Award for Outstanding Achievement
>Shown as a wax figure at L.A.’s Movieland Wax Museum
> Tours China to support P&G’s Far East product launch of the Sassoon brand
> Salon and academy open in Shanghai, China
> Regis Corp. purchases salons and academies
> Daughter Catya dies at age 33
> Academy opens in Santa Monica, CA
> Sassoon Studio debuts in suburban Chicago
> CMBS (today’s ABS) holds Sassoon Reunion, with 1,800 on hand to hear Sassoon deliver the keynote address, “Who we are. Where we are.”
> Receives Commander of the British Empire (CBE) Award from Queen Elizabeth
> Vidal Sassoon The Movie premieres at NYC’s Tribeca Film Festival
> Writes Vidal: The Autobiography
> Architectural Digest features the home of Vidal and Ronnie Sassoon
> Speaks at ABS for salon industry premiere of Vidal Sassoon The Movie
> May 9: Dies in L.A. of complications from leukemia
> October 2 (expected publication date): Vidal Sassoon: How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors by Vidal Sassoon, Michael Gordon and Grace Coddington