Vidal Sassoon Put 'Ooh, La, La' Into Hairstyling, Fashion
Vidal Sassoon -– the man and the brand -– is one of those names that immediately evokes images from the lost decades. The first that comes to my mind is Mia Farrow and the haircut he gave her for “Rosemary’s Baby.” The second is of a simple but stylish shampoo bottle (originally brown, no less). The third is of his raffish pitches in television commercials: “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” He was an embodiment of hip Carnaby Street in the era of hippie sensibility, and beyond.
Sassoon died yesterday at 84 in Los Angeles, a long way from his Cockney roots. “The man who remade high-end hair came from a hardscrabble background,” writes Stephen Miller’s in the Wall Street Journal with considerable understatement. The child of Sephardic Jewish immigrants (Greek father; Spanish mother), he lived in orphanages for a while after his dad died, then battled homegrown British fascists in the streets and fought in the Israeli war of independence, according to Miller’s obit.
“He emerged in an era when women's hair fashions involved perms and sets, processing with bleach, curlers, bulbous dryers and hair spray,” Miller observes. “Mr. Sassoon's short, geometric styles --quickly realized and set with hand-held dryers -- were welcomed as liberating to women on both sides of the Atlantic.”
He was also a very savvy businessman. “The name often conjures up a bottle of shampoo,” writes UK magazine journalist and stylist Lynnette “Lovely” Peck Bateman in her “Lovely’s Vintage Emporium” blog. “He did tell me once that he was the first hairdresser to put his name on one. Smart man.”
He sold the eponymous line it to Richardson Vicks in 1983; it went to Procter & Gamble when it acquired RV in 1985. Sassoon remained as the pitchman for the brand but sued P&G in 2003, alleging the company had abandoned his products in favor of such labels as Pantene.
The lawsuit was settled the following year “to the mutual satisfaction of all parties,” according to Cosmeticsdesign.com.
"The Sassoon brand wasn't like toilet paper. We were a thriving brand with a philosophy," he told USA Today’s Bruce Horovitz at the time. But Sassoon’s luster had admittedly faded. “Today's hip set pays Sassoon no mind. He has not touched the celebrity locks of Britney or Beyoncé,” Horovitz wrote. "Nobody wants a 75-year-old crimper," Sassoon told him, “with a wink.”
Sassoon was “the original rock 'n' roll hair god,” Peck Bateman writes. “He was part-hair stylist, part-entrepreneur and he paved the way for hairdressers to be more than just people who cut hair.”
The streamroller metaphor appears more than once, in fact.
“He was truly the most revolutionary person ever to enter into the industry. He paved the way for the celebrity stylists of today,” Oscar Blandi tells USA Today’s Olivia Barker “He had no fear. Vidal is the one who made me fall in love with my business because he showed the true art of styling.”
“He changed the way everyone looked at hair,” American Vogue creative director Grace Coddington –- who was a Sassoon model in the Sixties -- tells the New York Times’ Bruce Weber. “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!”
The Times has a “Remembering Vidal Sassoon” slide show of 11 pictures. A movie about his life, with the subtitle “How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors,” was produced in 2010 and is viewable on iTunes or available on DVD.
“Due to the fact that hairdressing's impact on society has not been very well documented or recorded, much less respected because of the lack of any serious written material, I am hoping that this is something that every hairdresser in the world will want to share with everyone they know,” writes its producer, Michael Gordon.
Sassoon also branched out into threads, so to speak.
“Ooh la la Sassoon,” that verse of a jingle was my intro into the brand Sassoon, most notably the women's jeans back in the ’70s with its iconic commercials,” writes Marvin Fant, one of the 22 appreciative commentators to Barker’s USA Today obit. “….That jingle and those commercials have stuck in my head till this day.”
I guess that’s a good thing, but I really wish I hadn’t found that last YouTube clip — particularly after reading the comments below, correctly pointing out that Vidal had nothing to do with Sasson jeans.