Vidal Sassoon, hair icon, dies

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Vidal Sassoon, celebrity hairstylist, died Wednesday in his Los Angeles home.

Sassoon helped launch the age of the signature hair salon, complete with designer-label prices. He also revolutionized women’s hair cutting with his sleek, geometric cuts and is credited with popularizing the hand-held blow dryer. Sassoon used a blow dryer to create his innovative hairstyles, what had been a novelty item turned into a standard appliance in salons and homes. Hair rollers and helmet-style dryers became all but obsolete as a result. To get the flat, shaped effect he wanted, he dumped the hair curlers and stationary dryers for his blow dryer and a styling brush became his main tool, along with his scissors. “To me hair dressing means shape. It’s very important that the foundations should be right,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Sassoon grew up poor in London, including a six year stint at an orphanage. Trying to break into the beauty business, Sassoon interviewed at Cohen’s Beauty and Barber Shop. Cohen liked his courteous manner and let Sassoon stay without paying tuition. He soon discovered that his cockney accent was a handicap for a young man with higher aspirations. “You couldn’t get a job outside the East End with a Cockney voice like mine,” Sassoon later said. To correct it, he took elocution lessons and went to the theater to listen to the trained diction of actors. To practice cutting hair, he went to London’s skid row once a week and gave free cuts to the homeless.After years of work in London, Sassoon became popular with models and designers in the London fashion world.

With one high-profile haircut, Vidal Sassoon vaulted to fame in Hollywood.

Flown in from London, he cut Mia Farrow’s for her role in the film “Rosemary’s Baby” — a $30 haircut that he calculated cost $5,000, including airfare.

The 1967 event was staged inside a makeshift “salon” in a boxing ring. The film’s director, Roman Polanski, looked on as Sassoon gave the actress a pixie cut that would be copied by women the world over.

Sassoon opened a hair salon in 1970 in Beverly Hills and moved his corporate headquarters to Los Angeles in 1974 and built a beauty business with global reach made up of hair-care products, signature salons and training academies that included one in Westwood. Today there are training centers around the world, including the one in Santa Monica where I trained.

He coined the line in a 1976 commercial: “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good”.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Sassoon expanded his empire with salons in European and U.S. cities. He also launched product lines in England and the U.S
He wrote a book, “A Year of Beauty and Health,” with his then-wife, actress Beverly Adams, in 1975. Combining his passion for health and fitness with his knowledge of the beauty business, he broke new ground. The book remained a No. 1 bestseller for months.

After years of 60-hour workweeks, Sassoon said he was ready for a change. He sold his European salons and teaching academies to several of his colleagues in 1979, and the U.S. salons and schools in 1983.

When he sold his hair-care product line to Richardson-Vicks in 1983, his company’s annual revenues were a reported $110 million.

Procter & Gamble purchased the business in 1985, and Sassoon remained a consultant and spokesman until 2004. He had sued the company for failing to promote the product line to his standards, and the suit was settled out of court.

Vidal Sassoon was a major inspiration for many of us in the hair business, and will be missed. In the 2011 documentary “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie,” the stylist said: When “the doubters tell you it can’t be done, nonsense. If you can get to the root of who you are, and make something happen from it … you are going to surprise yourself.”