An interview with Vidal Sassoon: His thoughts on an Oscar category for best hair.
Could have anyone have predicted that one “hairdresser” would have the international impact on not only the world of style and design but on society as a whole that Vidal Sassoon has? With a name that is now synonymous with great style and recognizable globally the question comes to mind, how does one man achieve such an accomplishment? Vidal Sassoon was born into very humble beginnings. His father left his family when he was three and he spent seven years of his childhood growing up in an orphanage. At the tender age of fourteen Vidal began an apprenticeship as a hairdresser starting as a shampoo boy. So what helped make him the man he is today?
While out promoting the documentary Vidal Sassoon: The Movie that chronicles his life and answers many of these questions, Vidal met with the press to promote the film. It was easy to see as Vidal entered the room that he brought an instant energy to the air and it becomes easy to understand how this one man has had such an impact globally.
“I would kiss everybody but there isn’t any room”
TATM: We were hoping for haircuts.
Did you have any hesitation all about having your life played out on screen?
Vidal: Loved it.
TATM: You did?
Vidal: Because I wanted to be inspirational to young people coming up, whoever sees it hairdressers are not…– I enjoyed the fact that they wanted to make the film. I enjoyed the fact that they wanted to do a book although I insisted that I write it myself… it will be coming out in May [in the States]. I can go on forever so you better ask me the next question.
TATM: In your childhood you had some difficult times. Do the feelings from that ever go away? Do you “get over it” and does it become easier to deal with?
Vidal: You know as you’re going through it you hardly notice. When you have lived the way we did as kids. …You grew up with the rationale that you knew the situation as you went along. Things didn’t really get better, where people became really happy with themselves, until the late 50s and early 60s. The language changed… England changed. It really did. Obviously for the better because the young in the 60s started to have cash, they were fiscally sound. They had good jobs. The artistic ones and the ones were truly creative came down to London, you know like “The Beatles” and many of the art forms – the progress in London was extraordinary… It was a joy to live there, absolute joy and to be involved to be part of the group that were really doing things.
TATM: When you are in that environment and see the changes happening around you, were you aware of the influence you would have on the rest the world?
Vidal: I don’t think so. [Chuckle] No one is that presumptuous. I remember a lovely saying “ However high you think you sit on the throne, you are still sitting on your own behind.” [Laughter] It is really keeping your feet on the ground and doing it slowly, slowly, slowly and making it happen.
TATM: You went from being a shampoo boy to becoming sort of the “Emperor” of the hair world, what is the secret of your success?
Vidal: I think actually going to Tokyo and doing shows there, Shanghai, Beijing, helped us tremendously… Traveling the world was the only way for other hairdressers to realize there was change. So we did shows in many, many of the big countries with large towns.
TATM: Have you either now or within the past decade or possibly within your lifetime seen anybody on the same level as you to have such impact either with style fashion hair makeup? Is there anybody that you consider your equal?
Vidal: That’s a naughty question. [Laughter] Yves saint Laurent, the great designer had an enormous influence, especially in women’s fashion because he open the Rive Gauche and suddenly you get those great designs so much cheaper…I say Yves St. Laurent because we did the same thing. We made the cut last for five weeks. So [that] the working girl with a few shillings, a few dollars each week at the end of the month could have a super haircut and sit next to a duchess or somebody and that didn’t matter.
TATM: It seems from the documentary the only regret you have is selling off you’re your product line?
Vidal: I was going through a difficult period in my life, which most people do, and I was seduced, truly, by a rather large company. What they were going to do was extraordinary and I wanted to be international as quickly as possible, and they were going to make sure this happened. They had all kinds of ideas – a year and a quarter later they sold off to Procter & Gamble and that was the end of it. I did have the knowledge or the wisdom at the time to say well if you ever sell the name comes back to me. Because they were so enthusiastic that we were going to conquer the world. I have no regrets; you know the ups and downs happen…
TATM: In your opinion what era in American cinema has the best hairstyles?
Vidal: The best hairstyle was done by a man called Leonard for Stanley Kubrick for his movies.. Leonard worked with me for a while and then went on his own in a beautiful salon in Grosvenor Square… You can never take credit for other people’s work and his work was just superb in the movie. He wasn’t even mentioned, he should have got an Oscar. He really should have because he made the scene. They hair helped make that whole scene they were filming and it was used right through the film… no recognition at all.
TATM: Were you aware that Frank Sinatra’s was not so keen about Mia’s is hairstyle?
TATM: That hairstyle set off everybody.
Vidal: That hairstyle for me — We were known on the fringes, you know the fashion world and what have you, but that went over on television, magazines, newspapers, all over Middle America. Suddenly I was known in Middle America. I owe Mia a lot. She was a very special client…As we sat down to cut her hair in front of all these photographers and writers and what have you – She said, “What you doing here photographing a haircut while the indigenous Americans are starving?”. She was talking about obviously Indian folk and she kept on for about 5 min. with pure politics. I think Roman [Polanski] said Mia change the subject. So she got into the hair and from then on we had a great time. I mind you, I did agree with her that the indigenous Americans should have been treated much better, but that is beside the point.
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