Five ways Vidal Sassoon changed people's hair
- 10 May 2012
- From the section Magazine
Celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, who has died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 84, is credited with revolutionising hair-styling for women. Here are five ways in which he changed the world of hair.
Hair for work
In the 1950s, hair was about height, curls and hairspray. Women often visited the hairdressers two or three times a week to have their hair elaborately teased and "set". Hats added even more drama on top of dressed styles.
Vidal Sassoon's "wash and wear" cuts of the 1960s changed all that, allowing women to spend less time on their appearance.
According to fashion commentator Caryn Franklin, Sassoon created a "visual aesthetic for modern women wanting to distance themselves from the modern housewife".
As more and more women entered the workforce, they needed cuts that would reflect authority and efficiency in a male-dominated world.
Speaking to the Los Angeles times in 1993, Sassoon explained: "Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn't have time to sit under the dryer anymore."
"Clients came into his salon every day who were at the forefront of the feminist expansion into the workplace," Franklin says. Sassoon cuts were futuristic, illustrating where "women wanted to go" rather than where they currently were.
Hailed as one of the world's first celebrity hairdressers, Sassoon's client list included Twiggy, Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow. Although he opened his first London salon in 1954, his first New York branch opened its doors in 1965 and became one of a string of international salons.
Not only was he stylist to the stars, he became a celebrity himself, moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s. He paved the way for other "name" hairdressers like Trevor Sorbie, Nicky Clarke and John Frieda.
A regular face on television, he appeared in his Sassoon commercials in the 80s alongside famous supermodels. He recently judged the final of reality TV show Shear Genius and a documentary about his life was made in 2010.
For a hairdresser to become a Hollywood sensation in Sassoon's time "was a mega-mega achievement", says celebrity hairdresser Errol Douglas.
Until then, hairdressers were not typically viewed as stylists, but Sassoon brought a designer image to the industry. At the same time he appealed to ordinary people.
For Guardian columnist Sali Hughes, Sassoon's mass popularity stemmed from the fact that he was a "working class boy who started out as a barber and lived and breathed hair from when he was a child".
Short hair for women
Sassoon once explained to the Los Angeles Times that he viewed hair like fabric which needed to be shaped.
"My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous."
Sassoon didn't invent the idea of short hair for women, but he brought a range of short styles into the mainstream.
He is perhaps best remembered for his "Mary Quant" cut, a geometric five-point bob worn by the fashion designer which contrasted sharply with the romantic, curly looks of the 1950s. Sassoon cuts "swept away classic femininity and added design into hair", says Franklin.
Another look, the "Greek Goddess", a short tousled perm, was inspired by the women of Harlem in New York.
And his looks got even shorter, such as the "pixie crop" worn by Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. This was shocking to some in an era where androgynous style was only beginning to take off.
Today Sassoon-esque short hair on women is a standard look. "He made short hair sexy," says hair stylist Lee Stafford.
As the years passed, the hairdresser devoted more and more time to developing the growing Sassoon brand. Although he steered hair styling away from lacquered beehives, he was one of the first stylists to create a popular line of products under his name.
Sassoon products catered for both the mass and high-end market, with luxurious product lines stocking salons while affordable hair-care items lined supermarket shelves.
Fashion historian Laura Kitty says that people ended up having "more of a connection" with the Sasoon brand because his products became so widespread, something other hairstylists didn't have.
"He really managed to tap into the idea of aspiration mass market products for hair. It was like you were buying a haircut in his salon."
Sassoon also branched into a range of hairdryers and styling tools for women to attempt to "create a Sassoon look" at home.
His two-in-one combined shampoo and conditioner Wash and Go "was the biggest selling hair product of the 80s", says Hughes.
Sassoon was the hairdresser's hairdresser, notes Hughes, pointing out that his geometric cuts needed cutting every six weeks, keeping stylists in business.
His training academies taught would-be hairdressers to create haircuts based on a client's bone structure, a practice known as "precision cutting".
And they produced alumni notable in the world of hairdressing, such as Lee Stafford, who says that hairdressers all over the world still come to London to train.
According to Kitty, a large number of up-and-coming stylists in the 80s and 90s had trained at one of his academies.
And although Sassoon began as an apprentice barber and learned the "old methods", he devised new techniques to teach to younger stylists as his career progressed.
"His ideas have been disseminated at a much larger scale than any other stylist in modern memory."
But while his methods may have changed over the years, Stafford says the essence of Sassoon styling remained the same.
"He never ever changed his philosophy, it was all about beautiful hair cutting."