A Man for Change and His Name

by Dennis O'Dell
© All rights reserved.
Vidal Sassoon and Mia Farrow
Dusty Springfield
Nancy Kwan
Classic Vidal Haircut
Dusty Springfield
Sandra Dee "How-to"
Nancy Kwan
Classic Vidal
Mary Quant
Sasson Jean Ad
In May 1988, the company founder of Sasson Jeans appeared in Bankruptcy Court to hear the judge, whose life he had threatened, approve a bankruptcy plan that included the sale of the company's trademark for $8 million.
I recall sweeping hair from the floor at John Fredericks Salon as a youngster, just a kid of fifteen. I loved working in the presence of women and the idea of getting paid for doing so was very appealing, it still is!  It was 1961 and JFs, at that time, was as posh and upscale as any Salon in the northeast and was established in a bedroom community just 10 minutes west of New York City.
Many there, staff and clients alike, had this attitude of indignity.  As if they had been done some great injustice, yet none of them were French, somehow the French have a penchant for that attitude.  I remember so well the reception area, which was more like a bullpen.  The conversations (one-liners) spit with venom between hairdressers and waiting clients used the receptionists as buffers and were filled with high drama and color.  For example, “What nerve!  This is the very last straw, who does he think he is?  Who does she hope to be?  Well I never, have you ever? Who am I, some peasant off the street?”  On and on it went.  At fifteen I found humor in all this.  And it was great entertainment alright, until the day I myself was behind the chair and embroiled in it.  Suddenly, it wasn’t funny; it became hellish to be around and could be summed up in one sentence, “It Sucked!”
Along with these reflections, I’m reminded of a man for change, whose vision and professional stand transformed this attitude, transformed my profession, the art and craft in countless ways.  More than any other, his work took both the hairdressing and fashion world by storm.  Once you saw it and him, it seemed forever burned in your memory along with his name.
Vidal Sassoon will always be the “father of modern hairdressing,” both hairdressers and the clients we serve owe him a great deal. 
Vidal Sassoon cuts Mia Farrow's hair
for the 1968 movie "Rosemary's Baby"
Cost of the cut = $5,000
Prior to Vidal, women spent countless hours getting their hair “washed and set.” 
After Vidal, women left their curlers behind and picked up the blow dryer. 
Vidal touched and changed everything we do today, from the Reception Desk to the Blow Dry and his influence still remains.  And, I dare say, he is “the only hairdresser whose name was ever ripped off by a jean manufacturer.”  Many will come and go from the limelight, yet all follow his lead.  This man’s name will remain in everyone’s mind though they might not have ever felt or seen the winds of change that followed his arrival four decades ago.  We hairdressers followed Vidal Sassoon and so did our clients.  To this we owe him a great deal.  He was both mentor and master, well done Vidal!
Some years later in March of 1978, I stood backstage at the International Beauty Show during a presentation of his work and caught a glimpse of him directing its many details with great precision, a trademark of all his endeavors.  Tony Beckerman, his Artistic Director, introduced me to him after I won the First Place International Venus Award for haircutting.  We shook hands and he congratulated me.  I have always remembered the feeling of standing in the presence of this man’s greatness.
A FEW FACTOIDS:  Vidal was born in London in 1928 and now owns homes in California and Northern NJ. By the early 1980s, Vidal had sold his name to manufacturers of haircare products and the multinational Procter & Gamble was applying his name to shampoos and conditioners sold worldwide. Former salon colleagues had also bought Vidal's salons and acquired the right to use his name and extended the brand in salons in the United Kingdom and United States. In 2003, Vidal sued Procter & Gamble for destroying his brand by skimping on marketing in favor of the company's other hair product lines, notably Pantene. In 2002 the chain of Vidal Sassoon salons was sold to Regis Corporation, thereby dissolving any connection between the brand, its culture and founding father.  Read his autobiography, “Sorry I Kept You Waiting Madame," long out of print and well worth the search. Much of his time is running The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
A FINAL NOTE:  In his court case against Sasson Jeans concerning his name in the late seventies, Vidal did not get complete satisfaction.  In a consent judgment dated April 18, 1980, the parties agreed to certain restrictions on sales and use of their names to differentiate adequately their products and market identifies. Sasson Jeans was restricted from pronouncing or licensing pronunciation of the name "Sasson" so that the last syllable of Sasson is pronounced "soon," from using or licensing use of the "OK hand" logo inside the letter "O" in Sasson, and from using or licensing use of the name "Sasson" for products other than "clothing (including but not limited to men's, women's children's and maternity jeans; [and various other articles of clothing]); handbags, luggage, carrying bags... and jewelry."  Vidal Sassoon was restricted from licensing the name "Sassoon" in connection with products allocated to Sasson Jeans unless immediately preceded by the word "Vidal" as well as other restrictions on the use of the Sassoon name. Shortly after entry of the consent decree, Vidal Sassoon was again in Court and Sasson Jeans was found in contempt for violating of the injunction.
Sometime ago I read an article in Newsweek containing a survey of eight graders who were shown twenty prominent names. Among the names shown, Sassoon ranked in the ten most widely known. The most frequent comment -“That hair guy!”
“As in couture, the cut is the most important element... haircutting simply means design and this feeling for design must come from within." 

Vidal Sassoon
To read other articles from the Running With Scissors Series, click below:
Running With Scissors
one hairdresser's point of view
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