Vidal Sassoon, 1928-2012
May 9, 2012 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Vidal Sassoon has died at the age of 84. Sassoon, perhaps best known as a hairdresser who opened a chain of salons that spread worldwide and who created Mia Farrow's pixie cut for Rosemary's Baby, was also an anti-fascist in post-World War II London and fought as part of the Haganah in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1982, he founded an organization devoted to the study of anti-Semitism, which is based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sassoon was named a CBE in 2004 "for services to the British hairdressing industry." He had been in treatment for leukemia for the past two years.
posted by catlet (53 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not worthy.

posted by Melismata at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by Lynsey at 2:48 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the highlights of my life was saving my babysitting money so I could go to the salon on Rodeo Drive and get my hair cut.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:57 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:58 PM on May 9, 2012

Ooh la la Sasoon! You were a cool cat.

posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:59 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by cribcage at 3:00 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didn't realize Vidal Sassoon was an actual person until I was a grown adult. When I was a kid, I saw the labels on his product and just sort of assumed that his name was some European-language spelling of a brand name that meant "Vital Salon." One of those misconceptions you form early and carry for years.

posted by compartment at 3:02 PM on May 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

I had no idea he was a person, rather than a shampoo brand name, until just now.

Also see: Max Factor, Armand Hammer.
posted by miyabo at 3:04 PM on May 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

A real iconoclast.

Thank you, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2012

Also see: Max Factor

Whoa whoa whoa
posted by theodolite at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2012

That's a hell of a life.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:17 PM on May 9, 2012

So he was a real life Zohan?
posted by shothotbot at 3:18 PM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

And his hair was perfect.

posted by Splunge at 3:22 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should check out the documentary; it's pretty good.

posted by Madamina at 3:23 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I didn't know he was still around til I read his obituary, which is sadly too often how it goes. What a life he had!
posted by Jehan at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2012

I wish I could find the quote I once read from a woman describing how incredibly liberating it was back in the 1960s to have her haircut be both stylish and practical.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you haven't seen "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie" you should, right away.

Vidal was one of the key figures in creating the Swinging Sixties, in my view more important in many ways than the famous pop stars: Sassoon, Mary Quant, John Stephen for men's clothes, gallery owners Robert Fraser and Barry Miles, plus of course the hundreds or thousands of anonymous perfect mods who made it happen in the background. But Vidal got there first: he opened his salon in 1954, more than a decade before the sixties swung at full amplitude. It's difficult to express just how important fashion and hair were in smashing (metaphorically) the bland shop windows of postwar rationing Britain. Vidal Sassoon was a giant; there will never be another like him. Even his CATEGORY is impossible today; an important hairdresser? But there once was one.
posted by Fnarf at 3:35 PM on May 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

posted by bz at 3:36 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by snsranch at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2012

One of the highlights of my life was saving my babysitting money so I could go to the salon on Rodeo Drive and get my hair cut.

I see what you did there.

posted by chavenet at 3:49 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Glad this was posted. My dad was a hairstylist while I was growing up, and was born in London -- Vidal Sassoon was a Big Deal.
posted by feckless at 3:57 PM on May 9, 2012


Today I learned that the man whom I thought was Vidal Sassoon is actually John Paul DeJoria, whom I thought was Paul Mitchell.
posted by glhaynes at 4:01 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in London during my first grade year in 1973/74. I will never forget my mom taking me to a Vidal Sassoon salon where the stylist had me hang upside down (!!!) to cut my hair. I ended up with a Dorothy Hamill wedge type hairstyle. It blew my 6 year old mind. After we got back to our flat my mom asked if I remembered my small town USA hairdresser and I said "yes" to which she replied, "well, when we get back home "Tom" will be known as "Susan" and explained what sex reassignment surgery was. Big day for me.
posted by futz at 4:04 PM on May 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Wonder if he left any heirs.
posted by hal9k at 4:07 PM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


His shampoo smelled like cherries.

Armand Hammer owned stock in Arm & Hammer's parent company, but was not the source of the name.
posted by purpleclover at 4:10 PM on May 9, 2012

I can remember a lot of my childhood woes of having too much curly, big hair had to do with the angular Vidal Sassoon bobs. I'd remember being obsessed with the ads for his products because they'd always include that iconic shot of a model with the perfect angular bob laughing as she shook her hair or a hair dresser running running their fingers through it, and the stick straight yet thick and luscious dark locks would fall back into place absolutely perfect and bouncy while maintaining their rigid chunks of demarcation. Even flipping through magazines in salons and seeing a Vidal Sassoon ad or spread in a hair magazine would make me sigh.

My dad, being black and proud of my "good" mixed hair, also didn't approve of short hair when I was younger, and I remember he almost had a stroke throwing a conniption fit the one time my mom brought me home with a new short 'do. I'd gone in to get my hair relaxed but also gotten it cut to a right below the chin-length bob. The cut didn't last and wasn't Vidal Sasson angular, but it was good enough for me while it lasted because I could shake my hair like those models and have it all fall back into place...kind of.
posted by kkokkodalk at 4:12 PM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Who will teach us to feather our hair now?
posted by humanfont at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2012

The inverted bob is the coolest hair style ever.
posted by quazichimp at 4:18 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

here today, gone tomorrow
posted by growabrain at 4:21 PM on May 9, 2012

Aww, sad news. He did have a full, long life. Thethere will be beautiful tresses in heaven.

My condolences to his friends and family.

And yes, his style changes were meaningful back then in the early/mid-60's when women ruined their hair, spending hours breathing toxic hairspray back-combing into beehives.

I knew two of his old friends, Paul Mitchell, the hair stylist/ products guy, who died young and unisex stylist Paul McGregor, once a truck driver, who was famous for the Jane Fonda shag that then became the David Bowie, Rod Stewart shag. Paul Mitchell worked with Sassoon as well (amusing groupie story about her shag cut).

Check out this great gallery of old photographs of the early Vidal Sassoon years. Lots of goodies.

There are some good pics in that gallery of renowned Vidal Sassoon Salon hair cuts:

The wedge | 5-point and Greek Goddess | the Isadora | the Beret | the Mouche.

Thanks Vidal for making it okay to have swingy, natural hair in the 60's. Life then was more fun - and I thought much more beautiful - because of you. Rest in peace.
posted by nickyskye at 4:30 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

That documentary is up on NetFlix Instant if anyone is interested.
posted by smackfu at 4:42 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you, Vidal.
posted by corey flood at 4:57 PM on May 9, 2012

"for services to the British hairdressing industry."

We should all aspire do do even this much.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:13 PM on May 9, 2012

He was pretty much the first celebrity hairdresser (along with this guy who came to a far more grisly end).
posted by jonmc at 5:18 PM on May 9, 2012

Even his CATEGORY is impossible today; an important hairdresser? But there once was one.

Yes! And even better, that there are haircuts he's credited with inventing.

By the time I was born, everyone was jaded and cynical and it had all been done before. And so when I first read about him it was like he was living back in the Dreamtime, when the earth was still young, and the animals could talk and the mountains hadn't been formed, and fire and stylish-yet-low-maintenance hairstyles hadn't been stolen from the gods yet.

I felt the same way when I learned that an actual human being in 1908 or so woke up one morning and invented chicken tetrazzini. Invented it! And before that, there was no chicken tetrazzini! Absolutely mindblowing.

tl;dr: Us damn kids these days take some weird shit for granted.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:04 PM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Never knew Vidal Sassoon was such a badass.

posted by jonp72 at 6:08 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vidal Sassoon first came to my attention as a real human being instead of a bottle of shampoo or a tv commercial when I was studying German history in college. I had a prof named Julie that taught a two part Third Reich class. Julie and I became close and we would have lunch together every day after class. She mentioned that a lot of Holocaust studies were bankrolled by Vidal Sassoon and Ruth Westheimer. I thought that was really cool.

Flash forward a few years. I'd dropped out of college and was in beauty school (I've gotten around... trust). Someone mentioned Sassoon and I was already geeking out beauty school, so I went on a Sassoon research bender. Coolest. Dude. Ever. And the thing about being able to just shake your head and have every hair fall back into place? I became OBSESSED with that. It HAD to be a marketing gimmick.

Flash forward another few years. I'm back in college (told you I got around). I went to school about 1.5 hours north of New York. One year for my birthday I decided to treat the hell out of myself and I booked an appointment at Vidal Sassoon on 5th Ave. It was a teaching salon (I think they all might be), and you could book with a few different levels of stylist. I booked with the top dog. When she was finished, I asked her for styling advice. What do I do with it, what kind of products should I use, etc. She looked at me for a second and replied, "Well, you can leave a tiny, tiny bit of conditioner in it after you shower. As for styling it, just shake your head. It'll fall into place." I just about choked. PUH-LEEEZE!!! I got home and couldn't wait for the next day. I hopped in the shower, got out, toweled my hair, slapped some conditioner in it, and shook my head.


I wish I could remember her name, because even though I'm the gayest thing in shoe leather, that woman gave me the best head of my life. I kid you not: it took about an hour an a half and it cost me the better part of $250 dollars. It was worth every second and every dime.

Fast forward another few years. It's last week. I was just wondering if Vidal had died. Don't remember hearing anything...

Flash forward to today.


I tip my hat to you, Mr. Sassoon. You did an awful lot of good in the world. And damn, did you know your way around a pair of shears.
posted by Vavuzi at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

posted by MissySedai at 9:27 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by drezdn at 9:40 PM on May 9, 2012

I didn’t know anything about him and just watched the movie. Really interesting. I’m so glad things like this get made so we can appreciate people.
posted by bongo_x at 10:06 PM on May 9, 2012

Seconding the recommendation for Vidal Sassoon: The Movie. I watched it a couple of months ago, and was astounded at exactly how much influence he had on culture at the time. Case in point: there's a whole segment in Rosemary's Baby about how Mia Farrow got her hair done by Sassoon, and the scandal it caused.

(It was also a real-life sensation, apparently the haircut was a Media Event, with cast, crew, cameras rolling, and a lot of media coverage. I mean... for an actress getting a haircut. That's how important Sassoon was for the times.)

He was a master of his craft, and his craft went FAR beyond just cutting hair.

posted by hippybear at 10:15 PM on May 9, 2012


Washed and gone.

(How cool is it that in post-war London the fash got beaten up by a Jewish hairdresser? Must not have done wonders for your feeling of aryan superiority.)
posted by MartinWisse at 10:55 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd really recommend listening to his interview on BBC World Service from a couple of yours ago. It's about 30 minutes, and it goes into his time as a teenager fighting fascists in London. He very nearly died.

Also, his episode of Desert Island Discs

& finally - his obituary in today's Daily Telegraph.
posted by DanCall at 1:56 AM on May 10, 2012

I just dug out a recording from 2005 of him talking with fellow Chelsea fan Steve Jones; Its about 1 3/4 hours long including adverts.
Vidal Sassoon on Jonesys Jukebox Feb 11 2005

A fellow show listener Jade Blackmore wrote this about the interview;
"Vidal talked about growing up poor during World War II He worked as a messenger boy til one day his Mum said "You're gonna be a hairdresser." "I'm gonna be a soccer star." said young Vidal. "No, you're a hairdresser," Mum reinterated. Talked about meeting a tearful,16 year old Twiggy when she was hanging from the rafters and coaxing her to stop crying cuz David Bailey couldn't photograph her like that..Told a story about cutting Mia Farrow's hair for $5,000 while a bunch of photographers and cameramen recorded her giving on impassioned speech about the plight of the American Indians. "
posted by stuartmm at 2:29 AM on May 10, 2012

posted by Renoroc at 4:26 AM on May 10, 2012

This is a wonderful post, catlet, and thank you nickyskye and others for the thorough research. I will share it with his widow, Ronnie, and his friends. Vidal was a wonderful man, a gentleman and a scholar. I had the honor of sitting beside him at dinner once, and he was as genuine and warm as a person could ever be - a humble, self-made man.
posted by tizzie at 5:48 AM on May 10, 2012

posted by Mister Bijou at 6:40 AM on May 10, 2012

posted by toerinishuman at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2012

posted by endless_forms at 8:46 AM on May 10, 2012

Here is another BBC interview with him, this time from Radio 3 in May 2011. It's shorter, but slightly more recent than the World Service interview DanCall links above. The story of how he became an apprentice is a quiet tearjerker.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:45 AM on May 11, 2012

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