Are you ready for some quality time with hair? Get ready for Vidal Sasson: The Movie, a documentary about (you guessed it!) the hairstylist Vidal Sassoon. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how the hell hair can be interesting enough to make a movie out of it… well it helps when you have a true to life rags to riches story of one of the first stylists who actually managed to change society with a pair of scissors.
Before Vidal, women had to have their hair done weekly and therefore ones hair was a sign of their status — you looked good if you could afford to look good. Vidal changed all that with a symmetric hair-do that cost almost nothing and required almost no up keep. Suddenly the class system started to break down, at the same time that fashion started to become more affordable. Who would have thought that a Jewish, orphan from London could have such an effect?
We were lucky enough to have a chance to sit down with Vidal Sassoon and find out a little bit more about his story and how he became an icon.
Did you have any hesitation about having your life shown onscreen, especially your younger years which seem to have been pretty tough?
Sassoon: I loved it because I wanted it to be inspirational to young people coming up, whoever sees it, hairdressers or not. And when you start as a shampoo boy at fourteen and you don’t know what it’s all about and you can’t even speak the language properly, yeah, 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’d write it myself this time. It’ll be coming out in May. It’s out in England, but it’s not out here.
What about going through some of the more difficult parts of your life when you were young, does that stuff ever go away? Does it become easier to watch and consider or is it cathartic to see that kind of thing?
Sassoon: As you’re going through it you hardly notice. When you sort of live the way that we did as kids, and of course things have changed a heck of a lot and they even have a wonderful health service there and education went up. This was after the war, ’45. People left school at eighteen and they built housing for the bombed out and the poor. And they were broke. So I don’t know where they got the money from. They must’ve borrowed it from America.
So, you grew up with the rationale that you knew the situation as you went along and things didn’t really get better. People didn’t get really happy with themselves until the late ’50′s and early ’60′s… the young in the ’60′s started to have cash. They were fiscally sound. The artistic ones and the ones who were truly creative came down to London like The Beatles. And many of the art forms, the progress in London was extraordinary with many of the art forms. It was a joy to live there, an absolute joy and to be involved, to be a part of the group that were really doing those things.
When you were with that group, living that life where were you aware of the influence that you were going to have on the rest of the world as it changed?
Sassoon: I don’t think so. No one is that presumptuous. I remember a lovely saying by [Michel de] Montaigne. ‘However high you think you sit on the throne you’re still sitting on your own behind.’ Keeping your feet on the ground and doing it slowly, slowly, slowly and making it happen.
Have you now seen, or ever in fact in your lifetime seen anyone on the same level as you have the same impact in either style, fashion, hair or makeup? When you think of people who’ve actually taken style and had an impact on society your name is one of those top names. Do you see anyone as your equal or anyone coming up that you admire?
Sassoon: That’s a naughty question [laughs].
It was impressive to watch your story. I’m not at all in that world, and yet, I know your name. I know who you are and I can’t of other people at your level and who represent as well.
Sassoon: I say Yves Saint Laurent because we did the same thing. We made the cut last four or five weeks. So a working girl with just 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 it didn’t matter.
From the documentary it seems that the only regret that you have in your career is that you sold off the products division. Can you talk about that?
Sassoon: Yeah. I was going through a difficult period in my life, which most people do, and I was seduced, truly, by a rather large company and what they were going to do was extraordinary. I wanted to be as international as quickly as possible and they were going to make sure that this was going to happen. They had all kinds of ideas. A year and a quarter later they sold off to Proctor and Gamble and that was the end of it. And I didn’t 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. But I have no regrets. The ups and downs happen. As long as you are making progress as an individual, and in my case I had to become more didactic because one had to learn from scratch with no education.
What era in American history, or in American cinema specifically has seen the best hairstyles?
Sassoon: 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 and had a beautiful salon in Grover’s Square, just close to where the American embassy was. He did hair that was absolutely incredible. 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’ve gotten an Oscar. He really should have because he made the scene. The hair helped make that whole scene that they were filming and it was used right through the film. He changed it and did beautiful things. Actually, it was three films and no recognition at all.
Were you aware at all that Frank Sinatra wasn’t so keen, at least initially, about Mia’s hairstyle? That’s what I’d heard.
Sassoon: Well, I wasn’t too mad about his, actually.
But that hairstyle set off everybody. I remember my mom ended up getting it –
Sassoon: That hairstyle, for me…we were known on the fringes, the fashion world and what have you, but that went over on television, magazines, newspapers, all over middle America and certainly I was known in middle America. I owed Mia a lot. She was a very special client and a humanitarian, big style, with children and the way that she was.
As we sat down to cut her hair in front of all these photographers and writers and what have you she said, ‘What are you doing here photographing a haircut while the indigenous Americans are starving?’ She was talking about, obviously, the Indian folk and she kept on for about five minutes of pure politics. Then I think Roman said, ‘Mia, change the subject.’ So she got in to the hair and from then on we had a great time. Mind you, I did agree with her that the indigenous American should’ve been treated much better, but that’s beside the point.
Thank you very much. Always good hair and good stories –
Sassoon: Thank you so much. I truly enjoyed your company and I love telling stories.
The film is now open in Los Angeles and it’s currently playing at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and at limited locations in New York.