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A Cut Above: Success story of legendary hairstylist Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon is more than just a man, he is a legend. His name and styles are consistantly on the cutting edge of hairdressing – they defy age. As it seems so does he.

In 1954, as a still newly established hairdresser he announced that he ‘wouldn’t do any more bouffant, it’s out!” And after opening his first salon in Bond Street in the late 1950s his name became synonymous with the changing face of hairdressing.

Lopsided asymmetric cut

In 1957 he set up in partnership with Mary Quant who dubbed him the ‘Chanel of hair’ and from then onwards he set a precedent for grooming models, actresses and socialites that endures to this day. By replacing fussy old-fashioned styles with liberated geometric cuts such as his trademark five-point bob, created for Grace Coddington he lured in high-profile clients that propelled him into the world of the glitterati and established his reputation for good.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Shown from left: Vidal Sassoon, Mia Farrow

A gifted self-publicist, Sassoon’s status was sealed with cuts such as the famous Mia Farrow £500 crop, commissioned by Roman Polanski for the film Rosemary’s Baby, and performed by Sassoon in front of a hundred photographers. He speaks almost reverently about hair cutting calling it ‘an extraordinary art – no one else has the privilege of working on human beings in the way we do’.
“You put many years of time into trying to be creative and when I felt I had given all I had to give I wasn’t going to stand on the floor and copy myself. It didn’t make any sense,” he explains.

It is now over twenty years since he last put scissor to hair but the 72-year-old Sassoon still plays a very active part in the empire and confesses to be more excited about the company’s new ventures than he has been for a long time. “And for me to get excited at this stage of my career it’s got to be pretty good!” he says.

All this excitement is generated by two young avant-garde hair stylists, Peter Gray and Eugene Souleiman, both creative free spirits that Sassoon is convinced will establish the Vidal Sassoon name firmly in the new millennium. Sassoon himself hasn’t cut hair in over twenty years and believes that ‘only youth has the true sense of today.’ “You’ve got to look at the youth and try and understand the way they are feeling and thinking,” he says, “If you don’t you’re old fashioned. It’s as simple as that.”

 

It is thanks to Gray and Souleiman, part of the group Sassoon calls ‘the best team that we’ve put together since the sixties’ that the Sassoon name is about to enjoy a regeneration, this time with a more overt fashion focus. Despite all his work on models in the sixties, Sassoon maintains he always thought of hair cutting “architecturally, not from the point of view of fashion, because that wasn’t really my thing.”

Today fashion is very much Sassoon’s thing. The company has sponsored London Fashion Week for the past eight years and Gray and Souleiman work slavishly hard backstage at the shows creating hairstyles that sometime verge on installation art. Next year Vidal Sassoon is planning an entire fashion show devoted to his, literally, cutting edge styles.

With the help of the long-awaited range of VS products (Sassoon’s previous attempts at product launches have never quite matched the success of his salons) which Sassoon enthuses is “ the most exciting line we could ever have developed,” hairstyle as the ultimate fashion accessory might be just around the corner. Success seems inevitable if the fashion pack is anything to go by. “We’ve been testing backstage and on shoots” says Gray “and the models pocketed everything!’

No one could accuse Sassoon of not being a hands-on businessman. He and his wife of seven years, Ronnie are a familiar presence backstage at the shows themselves, and see themselves as ambassadors for the new products. Ronnie becomes excited at what she calls ‘the first hair-care brand that really has a fashion focus.’

The couple are obviously very happy together and epitomise the success story that is part of the Sassoon legend. From his poor East End roots, Vidal Sassoon has come unimaginably far, now living in Beverley Hills luxury and looking remarkably well considering he underwent a quadruple bypass operation just six months ago.

Living in LA, immersed in the culture of the forever young and beautiful and not averse to a spot of rejuvenating cosmetic surgery himself, undergoing his recent bypass operation must have shaken him. But he is philosophical. “It was a metamorphosis,” he says.

Ronnie, herself a perfect Rodeo drive specimen, has a twinkle in her eye when she smiles at her husband and says ‘darling, it’s a resurrection!’ Whatever you call it, Vidal Sassoon the man and Vidal Sassoon the product are both in better shape now than they have been for some time.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2000 issue of  Wonder Magazine.

 

Karen Homer
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Karen Homer

Freelance Journalist at The Guardian
Karen Homer is a freelance journalist who writes on food and fashion.Karen has written for Vogue, The Times and The Guardian. She has authored three books, including Things a Woman Should Know About Shoes.
Karen Homer
Follow me

Written by Karen Homer

Karen Homer

Karen Homer is a freelance journalist who writes on food and fashion.Karen has written for Vogue, The Times and The Guardian. She has authored three books, including Things a Woman Should Know About Shoes.

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