Vidal Sassoon

This article is from 2010.

Vidal Sassoon

The style icon talks to Claire Sawers about his life and book

Cutting edge hairdresser Vidal Sassoon reflects on his career while Claire Sawers wonders where he’s going on his holidays

At the height of his celebrity, in the peak of his playboy yachts-and-champagne years, Vidal Sassoon was aboard a boat in Capri, where he was spending the summer. Bobbing in the bay, surrounded by friends, Sassoon looked over at an English boy who was a guest at their house. ‘Look,’ he told him plainly, ‘if I’ve got to look at you all week, I’ve got to cut your hair.’ Sassoon, now 82, lets out a mischievous little laugh at the memory. ‘Of course he let me. He didn’t have an option, it was an absolute mess!’

As Sassoon explains in his autobiography, Vidal: The Life and Career of a Style Icon, hairdressing has always been about far more than keeping stray locks out the eyes. It was a way of throwing off the shackles of stuffy post-war Britain – and the back-combed, concrete-lacquered quiffs – in favour of brave, modern lines. Sassoon’s signature cuts – the asymmetric bob, the five-point bob, the pixie crop that he gave Mia Farrow for her role in Rosemary’s Baby – all used simple, geometric angles, and were influenced as much by architecture and art, as the 60s fashions that were all over London at the time. Sassoon took pride in being forward thinking, stubbornly refusing to dilute his ideas if a client or a photographer asked him to. ‘Being the first to do something is difficult,’ he confesses, and the book is full of ruffled feathers as he quits apprentice jobs and challenged style conventions.

Raised in an orphanage, the east end Jewish boy was determined to better himself, and carve out a niche in a career that was regarded at the time as a pretty artless craft. He always strived to find new concepts, from the design of his avant-garde salons, to his all-encompassing approach to health, beauty and confidence. In one chapter, he remembers the health authorities nearly closing him down, because he’d been offering clients vitamin C and D shots in the bum, to go along with their new haircuts. ‘Oh, that was hysterical,’ he laughs. ‘It was a real shame, but we were trying to prove it wasn’t just about the hair; that good health was just as important as a good haircut.’

His memoirs took him a year and a half to write, and have led to a film about his life, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. ‘I loved writing the book, he says. ‘It really brought back the fun of the 60s. It was an exciting time, and I enjoyed it immensely, being part of so much change.’
Vidal Sassoon, 27 Aug, 6.30pm, £10 (£8).

Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon’s life has gone from an impoverished childhood in East London to household name status. But those who connect him solely with modernist hair care might be surprised to learn that he battled the fascists in Britain and fought in the army of the fledgling state of Israel. His memoir, Vidal, is set to be an…

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