Sassoon in Barcelona, Spain, in 2006
17 January 1928|
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
|Died||9 May 2012
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death
|Spouse(s)||Elaine Wood (m. 1956-1958; divorced)
Beverly Adams (m. 1967-1980; divorced)
Jeanette Hartford-Davis (divorced)
Rhonda (m. 1992-2012; his death)
Vidal Sassoon, CBE (17 January 1928 – 9 May 2012) was a British hairdresser, businessman, and philanthropist. He is credited with creating a simple geometric, "Bauhaus-inspired" hair style, also called the wedge bob. Establishing himself in the US in 1965, he opened the first chain of worldwide hairstyling salons, complemented by a line of hair-treatment products that became an international brand. His company's 1980s television commercials featured the popular tag line, "If you don't look good, we don't look good." Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, a documentary film about his life, was released in 2010.
Sassoon was born in Hammersmith, London, and lived in Shepherd's Bush. His parents were Sephardic Jews. His mother, Betty (Bellin), came from a family of immigrants from Spain, and his father, Jack Sassoon, was from Thessaloniki, Greece. Sassoon had a younger brother, Ivor, who died from a heart attack at the age of 46.
His father left his family when Vidal was three years old.
Due to poverty as a single parent, his mother placed Sassoon and his younger brother in a Jewish orphanage, where they stayed for seven years until he was 11 when his mother remarried. His mother was only allowed to visit them once a month and was never allowed to take them out. He attended Essendine Road Primary School, a Christian school, before being evacuated due to WWII to Holt, Wiltshire. After his return to London he left school at the age of 14 and worked as a messenger before starting a hairdressing apprenticeship. In his youth, he was also a football player.
At the age of 17, although having been too young to serve in World War II, he became the youngest member of the 43 Group, a Jewish veterans' underground organisation. It broke up the British Union of Fascists meetings in East London. The Daily Telegraph calls him an "anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser" whose aim was to prevent Sir Oswald Mosley's movement from spreading "messages of hatred" in the period following World War II.
In 1948, at the age of 20, he joined the Haganah (which shortly afterwards became the Israeli Defence Forces) and fought in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, which began after Israel declared statehood. During an interview, he described the year he spent training with the Israelis as "the best year of my life," and recalled how he felt:
When you think of 2,000 years of being put down and suddenly you are a nation rising, it was a wonderful feeling. There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do.
Sassoon trained under Raymond Bessone, in his salon in Mayfair. In 2010, Sassoon stated that "he really taught me how to cut hair...I'd never have achieved what I have without him." Sassoon opened his first salon in 1954 in London; singer-actress Georgia Brown, his friend and neighbor, claimed to be his first customer.
Sassoon stated his intentions in designing new, more efficient, hair styles: "If I was going to be in hairdressing, I wanted to change things. I wanted to eliminate the superfluous and get down to the basic angles of cut and shape." Sassoon's works include the geometric perm and the "Nancy Kwan" hairstyles. They were all modern and low-maintenance. The hairstyles created by Sassoon relied on dark, straight, and shiny hair cut into geometric yet organic shapes. In 1963, Sassoon created a short, angular hairstyle cut on a horizontal plane that was the recreation of the classic "bob cut." His geometric haircuts seemed to be severely cut, but were entirely lacquer-free, relying on the natural shine of the hair for effect. Advertising and cosmetics executive Natalie Donay is credited with discovering Sassoon in London and bringing him to the United States, where in 1965 he opened his first New York City salon, on Madison Avenue. In October 1971, Sassoon promoted his 30-year-old second-in-command, artistic director Roger Thompson, to director of the Sassoon salon, explaining jocularly that, "Twenty-five years of schlepping behind a barber chair are enough!"
Sassoon began his "Vidal Sassoon" line of hair-care products in 1973. The actor Michael Caine, who when young and struggling "was roommates with Terence Stamp and Vidal Sassoon — he used to cut my hair, and he always had a lot of models around," claimed to have inspired this, saying, "I told him that he must have something that is working for him while he slept. I told him he had to make shampoos and other hair-care products." Whatever the inspiration, Sassoon's brand was applied to shampoos and conditioners sold worldwide, with a commercial campaign featuring the iconic slogan "If you don't look good, we don't look good." Former salon colleagues also bought Sassoon's salons and acquired the right to use his name, extending the brand in salons into the United Kingdom and the United States.
The El Paso, Texas-based Helen of Troy Corporation began manufacturing and marketing Sassoon hair-care products in 1980. On 24 April 1983, the firm Richardson-Vicks, which already owned the Pantene hair-care line, announced it had purchased the Los Angeles-based Vidal Sassoon Inc. for an undisclosed amount, as well as Sassoon's Santa Monica, California, hairdressing school; the company had already bought his European businesses. Sassoon's 1982 sales of hair products had topped $110 million, with 80 percent of revenues derived in the US. Its management team at the time was headed by Sassoon, president and CEO Joseph Solomon, and executive vice president Martin Nason.
Two years later the company was bought by Procter & Gamble. Vidal, who remained a consultant through at least the mid-1990s, sued in 2003 for breach of contract and fraud in federal court for allegedly neglecting the marketing of his brand name in favor of the company's other hair product lines, such as Pantene.
In 2002, the chain of Vidal Sassoon salons was sold to Regis Corporation. By 2004, it was reported that Sassoon was no longer associated with the brand that bears his name. He also had a short-lived television series called Your New Day with Vidal Sassoon, which aired in 1980.
Sassoon married his first wife, Elaine Wood, his salon receptionist, in 1956; the marriage ended in 1958 when she left Sassoon for British waterskiing champion David Nations. In 1967, he married his second wife, actress Beverly Adams. They had three biological children and one adopted son: daughter Catya (1968–2002), an actress who died from a drug-induced heart attack; son Elan BenVidal (b. 17 January 1970); son David (b. circa 1972); and daughter Eden Sassoon. Some sources additionally cite Oley Sassone, a music-video director who spells his last name slightly differently, as a son but this appears to be in error. Sassoon and Adams divorced after 13 years of marriage. His third wife was Jeanette Hartford-Davis, a dressage champion and former fashion model; they married in 1983 and divorced soon after. In 1992 he married designer Rhonda "Ronnie" Holbrook.
Sassoon disinherited his son David, with whom he was estranged, stating in his will, "My son David Sassoon and his issue are hereby disinherited and shall take nothing under this will, and for the purposes of the will, shall be deemed to have predeceased me, leaving no surviving issue." He also left nothing in his will to his first three wives, Elaine Nations, Beverly Sassoon and Jeanette Sassoon. Sassoon in his 2010 autobiography described David, adopted in 1975 at age 3, as an "African-American / Asian boy ... with twinkling eyes and an irresistible smile" who nonetheless became troubled and was eventually sent to a reform school.
In 1982, Sassoon started the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, or SICSA, a research centre devoted to the non-political, interdisciplinary gathering of information about antisemitism.
After selling his company, he then worked towards philanthropic causes such as the Boys Clubs of America and the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center of Los Angeles via his Vidal Sassoon Foundation. He was also active in supporting relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. It also funded educational pursuits on a need-basis in Israel and elsewhere. At the time of his death he had academies in England, the United States and Canada, while initiating plans to open new ones in Germany and China.
Illness and death
In June 2011 it was reported that Sassoon had been diagnosed with leukaemia two years earlier, and was receiving treatment in Beverly Hills, California, U.S.A. and London, U.K. He died on 9 May 2012 at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles. His death was originally reported to be a result of natural causes, and later reported to have been a result of his leukemia. He died in the presence of his family. Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Kevin Maiberger said that when the police arrived at his residence at Mulholland Drive he was already dead. A memorial service was planned for a later date.
Reactions to his death included Neil Cornelius, the incumbent owner of Sassoon's first solo venture, who said that his death was the loss of a "hairdressing legend. It is very, very sad because I grew up in the East End like Vidal and from the age of 11 I wanted to be a hairdresser like Vidal. I remember the first time I met him. I have washed the hair of Princess Diana, I have met Nelson Mandela, but meeting Vidal Sassoon topped all of those. I know it sounds crazy but I could not sleep [before] the first time I met him. He was a hairdressing legend." Other celebrity hairstylists also commented on his death. Lee Stafford said that "Sassoon revolutionised the way everybody wears their hair today, he also made British hairdressing the best in the world, he was my hero." While Oscar Blandi credited Sassoon for showing him the "true art of styling. He truly changed the world of hair and beauty. He was definitely the most innovative person ever to enter the industry. He led the way for the celebrity stylists of today" and Tabatha Coffey wrote on Twitter that "my great day turned into a devastating day. RIP Vidal Sassoon thank you for all you have done for our industry and for me."
Grace Coddington, Sassoon's former model and creative director of American Vogue, said that "he changed the way everyone looked at hair. Before Sassoon, it was all back-combing and lacquer; the whole thing was to make it high and artificial. Suddenly you could put your fingers through your hair! He didn’t create [Sassoon's five-point cut] for me; he created it on me. It was an extraordinary cut; no one has bettered it since. And it liberated everyone. You could just sort of drip-dry it and shake it." While John Barrett of the John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman said that Sassoon "was the creator of sensual hair. This was somebody who changed our industry entirely, not just from the point of view of cutting hair but actually turning it into a business. He was one of the first who had a product line bought out by a major corporation".
Books and films
- Sorry I Kept You Waiting, Madam (1968), his autobiography,
- Sassoon, Vidal; Sassoon, Beverly (1975). A Year of Beauty and Health. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-207-95751-7.
- Cutting Hair the Vidal Sassoon Way (1984).
- Sassoon, Vidal (2010). Vidal: The Autobiography. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-74689-3.
- Vidal Sassoon: The Movie - How one man changed the world with a pair of scissors. (2010), a documentary film directed by Craig Teper.
- Martin, Richard. Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (2000) p.313
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- Abbe A. Debolt; James S. Baugess (31 December 2011). Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 582. ISBN 978-1-4408-0102-0. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
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- The Archive Hour, BBC Radio 4, first broadcast 19 April 2008.
- Gross, Terry (10 February 2011). "Fresh Hair on Fresh Air". NPR Fresh Air.
- "Mr Teasy-Weasy". BBC. November 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
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- "Natalie Donay, Advertising Executive, 63". The New York Times. 27 April 1991. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Taylor, Angela (13 November 1976). "New Sassoon Style Is Over the Counter". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Crenshaw, Mary Ann (18 October 1971). "At Sassoon, There's a New No. 1 Hairdresser". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Lewine, Edward (12 April 1998). "New Yorkers & Co.: Name That Goop And Make It Personal". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Hirschberg, Lynn (21 July 2002). "The Way We Live Now: 7-21-02: Questions For Michael Caine; International Man of Mystery". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Fabrikant, Geraldine (7 April 1996). "Talking Money with: Michael Caine: Appraising Caine, the Businessman". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Gilpin, Kenneth N. (27 September 1984). "Business People: Helen of Troy Shifts Top Executive Officers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- "Richardson Seeks Sassoon". The New York Times. 25 April 1983. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Pener, Degen (28 February 1993). "Egos & Ids: A Master Of Modern Hair". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
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- "Sassoon and P&G settle lawsuit". Cosmeticsdesign-europe.com. 3 September 2004. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- 06:00 - 09:00. "Desert Island Discs - Castaway : Vidal Sassoon". BBC. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 13 June 2009.
- Sassoon, Vidal (10 August 2010). "'Nice to meet you,' she said after our wild lovemaking: Vidal Sassoon reveals his hair-raising salon secrets". Daily Mail (London).
- "Slowing Down Not My Style". thisisbath. 4 September 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- "Mary Marshall Engaged to Wed W.E. O'Connell; Son to Mrs. Vidal Sassoon". The New York Times. 19 January 1970. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Bowers, Katherine (October 2008). "Sassoon's Heir Apparent". W. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- Ito, Robert (March 2005). "Fantastic Faux!". Los Angeles. p. 110.
- "Sassone, Oley; List of alternative name: Sassone, Francis G.". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Reed, Christopher (9 May 2012). "Vidal Sassoon Obituary". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Craven, Nick; Young, Andrew (23 March 2013). "The £5m cut: Vidal Sassoon leaves adopted son out of will after failing to heal rift before his death". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- "Celebrity hairstylist Vidal Sassoon dies at home in L.A". Telegraph. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- Boyle, Louise (9 May 2012), Vidal Sassoon death: Legendary hair stylist dies aged 84, Daily Mail (London, UK), retrieved 11 May 2012
- Caroline Graham (12 June 2011). "Vidal Sassoon, crimper of the bob, is fighting leukemia | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- "Vidal Sassoon Found Dead in Bel Air Home - Beverly Hills Courier, Beverly Hills Newspaper". Bhcourier.com. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- Alastair Leithead (12 June 2009). "BBC News - British-born celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon dies". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- "Vidal Sassoon reportedly had long battle with leukemia". Latimesblogs.latimes.com. 25 November 2009. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- "Legendary hairstylist Vidal Sassoon dies - CNN.com". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
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