If you can get to the root of who you are and make something happen from it – my sense is you’re going to surprise yourself
- Vidal Sassoon
This week I saw an inspiring documentary about hairstylist and visionary Vidal Sassoon, and it has stayed with me. I knew a bit about Vidal Sassoon, mostly from his shampoo and commercials, but I had no idea how much he changed the world of hair and fashion; most notably by revolutionizing women’s hairstyling in the 1960’s. His story reminds me very much of Coco Chanel’s; it is a story of extreme humble beginnings, of an orphanage, and of visionaries who, combined with determination, drive and hard work, forever changed the fashion world while creating fashion empires and conglomerates. In Vidal Sassoon’s case, he later developed a series of hair care products with his namesake - the first of its kind. I wonder … how does someone born with so little, achieve so much and change the world?
Vidal Sassoon was born in London in 1928. As a child, he and his younger brother were sent to live in an orphanage for several years, after his father left his family and his mother could not afford to take care of her sons. She was allowed to see them only once a month. In addition, he was Jewish, and was soon exposed to the horrors of World War II while living in the heart of London. Even though they were separated he remained close to his mother, and early on, she told him that she had a premonition that he would be a hairstylist. In fact, it was she who helped him find his first apprenticeship working for a well-known local hairstylist, who taught him the art of handling scissors.
After the war, Vidal spent time in Israel fighting as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. Eventually, he returned to England, and sure enough began to seriously consider hairstyling, but only if he could change things as they were. He trained and learned from the masters, and soon found his passion, and says that although at times he didn’t know what he wanted, he always knew what he didn’t want.
In the 1960’s he did change women’s hair by simplifying cuts and liberating women from the over-styling and processing that had been commonplace in the 1950’s. He created geometric-shaped bobs, by letting the hair follow its natural course. His designs were modern, free of fuss, and glowed from a woman’s natural shine and movement. One of his most famous looks became known as the five-point cut and women everywhere wanted it! When he joined creative forces with British designer Mary Quant, whom some say invented the mini skirt, a look and a fashion revolution was born. Women found the freedom to express themselves, and hair and fashion would never be viewed separately again.
Vidal Sassoon’s vision of a modern haircut is still with us today. The bob and angular cuts will forever be part of our make up as is the desire for low-maintenance styling. What is most remarkable to me is his legacy of having a vision and a passion and stopping at nothing until he made it a reality. His drive and hard work elevated hairstyling into an elegant art form and hairstylists as important designers. We as women are indebted to Vidal Sassoon for changing the way we look at hair and fashion and seeing them as one in the same. But perhaps more important, we as human beings must thank him for reminding us how to best live our lives – with creativity and passion and integrity and sense of purpose.
Melissa Kaplan Guarino delights in sharing her love of fashion with you. Fashion questions? Feel free to write to Melissa at MelroseStyle@hotmail.com.