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Remembering Vidal Sassoon, An Iconic Hairdresser

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
May 18, 2012

This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 10, 2011.

The British hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, who created some of the most iconic hairstyles of the 20th century, died on May 9 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Sassoon’s creations included the geometric, the Wash-and-Wear, the short bob Nancy Kwan wore in The World of Suzie Wong and Mia Farrow’s famous pixie cut for Rosemary’s Baby.

In 1957, Sassoon developed one of his most singular looks — the asymmetric five-point, a modified version of the classic bob that came to define 1960s fashion.

“I had an idea that If I work on those angles [of the head] properly, I should get something special,” he told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 2011. “It was geometrically the hardest thing I’d ever done.”

Fashion models regularly flew from Paris to London, where Sassoon had his shop, to get the five-point cut. And a few years later, the director Roman Polanski approached Sassoon and asked him to develop a hairstyle for Mia Farrow, who was set to star in the film Rosemary’s Baby. Sassoon replied that he had recently cut Farrow’s hair — because she was one of his clients.

“[Polanski] said, ‘Well, there will be something to take off.’ I said, ‘Yes, I guess you’re right,’ ” Sassoon said. “Now Mia had cut into her own hair. She came to the salon and said, ‘What can you do for me?’ And I said, ‘Take it very short. It’s the only way. I can’t pull the short hair long, but I can make the long hair short.’ And we did it, and it suited her marvelously because she had a shaped face and bone structure that was just perfect.”

Both Farrow’s haircut and the asymmetric five-point were copied not just in Sassoon’s salon, but in salons all over the world. Sassoon said he was flattered by the imitations.

“You either create something and you keep it a secret and you die with it, [or] you can benefit the craft,” he said. “And in essence … you’re doing something for fashion worldwide. I think that’s so much more important — it’s something that you leave behind that you probably will be remembered for.”

Interview Highlights

On going to a vocal coach for three years to lose his Cockney accent

“I couldn’t get a job in the West End. They would say, ‘Learn the language. And by the way, the language is English.’ It was that kind of thing. Georgia Brown, who played Nancy in Oliver, we grew up together. And she said, ‘Vid, take some elocution lessons. It will be very good for you. Especially if you will be speaking in the future.’ I went to [a voice coach], and she looked at me and said, ‘I don’t take hairdressers. I work with actors. But be at the Old Vic at 2 o’clock on Thursday.’ … For three years, when we weren’t on the road doing shows, I was [taking vocal lessons] twice a week.”

On giving Nancy Kwan her signature look for The World of Suzy Wong

“She had almost 4 feet of hair, and being rather small, she almost sat on it. So you had to be very careful when you put your hands through her hair; otherwise, you’d be feeling parts of her bottom, and that would not have done.

“But [she] was making a new film in London. And [the producer] wanted a whole new look. … I looked at her bone structure, and I thought we could do almost anything with Nancy. And I started to cut at the very back of her head and I said, ‘Great neckline; I’ll go shorter.’ And I went short in the back and graduated into more length at the sides, and I suddenly realized we had a bob that could be international. It was a very professional cut in the sense that it was layered beautifully — and it had to be layered, not just from the back to the front, but when she shook her head, it had to fall back naturally.” [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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