Saying Goodbye to an Icon
It is with great sadness that Launchpad mourns the loss of industry legend Vidal Sassoon. Sassoon, 84, died from an unspecified illness at his Mulholland home in Los Angeles, CA surrounded by family. Known as a trailblazer and innovator, Sassoon spent his career perfecting cutting and styling techniques that continue to shape the industry today.
The man behind the iconic five-point cut had humble beginnings. Born in Hammersmith, London, January 17, 1928, Sassoon spent his early life in extreme poverty, eventually living in a Jewish orphanage before landing a position as a shampoo boy at a London salon at age 14. Through an apprenticeship with Raymond “Teasy-Weasy” Bessone, Sassoon soon mastered the art of cutting hair and later demonstrated his talent through his signature “Nancy Kwan” bob.
Sassoon’s unique geometric shapes and clean approach to cutting ignited a powerful shift in the industry’s approach to hair care, inspiring stylists to work with and maximize the client’s natural hair shape and movement. After moving to the U.S. in the early 1980s, the Sassoon brand grew quickly, with salons and product lines launching both in the U.S. and U.K. markets. In order to share his techniques and wisdom worldwide, the Sassoon Academy was launched in the 1960s and continues to open locations across the globe.
In 2009, Sassoon was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), a prestigious honor bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2010, Sassoon was the subject of the critically acclaimed feature-length documentary, Vidal Sassoon The Movie: How One Man Changed the World With a Pair of Scissors, detailing his life and tremendous influence on the beauty industry.
Sassoon has four children with his second wife, Beverly Adams, and married current wife, Rhonda Sassoon, in 1992.
In memoriam of this tragic loss for our industry, here is our last interview with the great Vidal Sassoon:
(Launchpad, “VIP ,” September 2011)
Legend Vidal Sassoon reflects on how the industry has changed in his decades of experience—and where it is (and should be) headed.
Known as the “founder of modern hairdressing,” Vidal Sassoon’s career has had a dreamlike quality from the very start: His mother urged him toward the hair industry after she dreamed of him in a salon. In the decades ahead, despite humble roots—including living in an orphanage for several years and coming of age in London’s rough-and-tumble East End—Sassoon thoroughly revolutionized the art of haircutting, inventing the iconic Nancy Kwan bob and five-point cut in the ’60s. Despite his well-catalogued lifelong success and notoriety, however, he still counts those early days among his greatest successes. “The highlight of my career was opening the small third-floor salon on Bond Street in 1954—especially when the postman called me ‘Fiffal Faffoon,’ and I had to have the sign changed immediately,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Sassoon would go on to change plenty more signs in his life, whether sculpting the signs of the times through his innovative cutting techniques, evolving from masterful stylist to product innovator and chain salon owner, or finding himself the subject of a book and movie released in 2010. The industry, he acknowledges, has changed and evolved with him, always working against what he calls his biggest challenge: “trying, with many others, to build an image for a craft that lacks respect.” “If you were in the field 65 years ago when I was an apprentice, you would see the phenomenal way education has changed the industry,” he asserts. “Many product companies, with the help of top hairdressers, have created today’s industry status, which is superb.”
Despite the many advancements he’s witnessed, Sassoon still craves further progress in the haircare world and urges top stylists to continue to raise their voices and lend credence to an oft-discredited industry. (His other go-to advice, in characteristic tongue-and-cheek Sassoon style: “Don’t sleep with the clients.”) He points to lengthy locks as the next frontier for stylists to tackle but doesn’t abandon the scissor-happy styles that made him famous (think Mia Farrow’s much-copied Rosemary’s Baby pixie). “Today, I see so many good cutters, and color that enhances the look, but I also see hanging hair that has no shape; I would like to see the cutting of long hair improved,” he reflects. “But I’d also like to see a competition for the five-point cut; I wonder how many people can still do it!” —Tracy Morin
You Ought to Be in Pictures
Vidal Sassoon’s iconic cuts have churned out inspiration to millions of stylists worldwide, but more recently he inspired filmmakers and photogs to create both a book and movie, released in 2010, that document the story of his life. Vidal Sassoon The Movie, subtitled “How One Man Changed the World With a Pair of Scissors,” follows its subject through his tumultuous childhood, his youth as an anti-fascist fighter, and his career-long experimentation with new hair shapes. Meanwhile, the accompanying book aims to provide a “visual record” of Sassoon’s work behind the chair. For more information, visit vidalsassoonthemovie.com.
[Image courtesy of Vidal Sassoon]