Monday, October 15, 2012

Saying Farewell to Vidal Sassoon

LONDON — Under the architectural splendor of St. Paul’s Cathedral here, family and friends gathered last week to pay homage to Vidal Sassoon, the architect of hair.

David Bailey, via Rizzoli

Vidal Sassoon with the model Grace Coddington, who is now creative director at American Vogue.

“Vidal was always mad about architecture,” said the sculptor Anish Kapoor, who designed Mr. Sassoon’s stone urn and placed it under the dome of the cathedral. 

The memorial service here was a tribute to the stylist whose crops and bobs in the 1960s did more than change women’s hair styles. They marked an era of feminine freedom. 

Mr. Sassoon, who died on May 9 at 84, said his haircuts were inspired by the graphic minimalism of the Bauhaus movement. His friend the architect Zaha Hadid spoke at the service to celebrate his extraordinary life, as did the actor Jeremy Irons, who met the hair emperor late in life and marveled at his energy. 

How did Mr. Sassoon earn this multi-faith memorial on Friday, years after he left his native England for California and turned his Jewish fight against fascism into support of general good causes? 

In his address, David Puttnam, the multiple-Oscar-winning producer of “Chariots of Fire” and “Midnight Express,” described the modesty of his childhood friend and saw his achievements not just in the world of hairdressing, but also by changing “how we think about anti-semitism.” 

Facundo Arrizabalaga/European Pressphoto Agency

The actor Michael Caine and his wife, Shakira, at the memorial service.

Rabbi Julia Neuberger contributed to the service, speaking from the knave of the cathedral where prayers were read later by friends and colleagues, including Mr. Sassoon’s fellow hairdresser John Frieda. 

Although the focus was on Mr. Sassoon’s wife, Ronnie, his extended family and his son, Elan, the gathering also recognized the hairdresser as “a product of the 1960s,” as Mr. Puttnam put it. The producer was referring to the opportunity in that decade to break barriers of class and to embrace opportunity. 

“It was Vidal’s life, his exuberance, his whole spirit. He was such a wonderful man,” said Mary Quant, the fashion architect of the 1960s, whose black and white check jacket and orange bob recalled that era. The designer Zandra Rhodes also showed off her bob — but in shocking pink. 

Leon Neal/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

The sculptor Anish Kapoor at Sassoon's service in London.
Mr. Sassoon’s haircuts were a game changer. In the first round of feminism starting in the 1960s, he relieved women of high maintenance chignons and beehives. The wash-and-wear hair was symbolic of a new freedom. And, as women in the 1920s had found when they lopped off long hair, the freedom was sexual as much as visual. 

The hairdresser found fame with his five-point bob, which he cut with geometric precision on the model Grace Coddington, now creative director at American Vogue. Although she was not present at the memorial, she had already registered her memories in a book, “How One Man Changed the World With a Pair of Scissors,” published by Rizzoli. 

“Before Sassoon,” she said, “it was all back-combing and lacquer. The whole thing was to make it high and artificial. Suddenly you could put your fingers through your hair! It was an extraordinary cut. No one has bettered it since, and it liberated everyone. You could just sort of drip-dry it and shake it.” 

To read the book, or to see the “Outtakes” exhibition of Sassoon-related works at Somerset House, until Oct. 28, is to see the 1960s take shape. The era was marked by the sculpted hair style of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby,” the Roman Polanski movie of 1968, and by the Quant look. By the 1980s, Mr. Sassoon, whose impoverished mother was forced to put her sons in an orphanage for seven years, had built a global hairdressing empire. At the end of his life, his energies went into philanthropy, including a “Hairdressers for Hope” campaign to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina of 2005. According to his son, he refused to allow one cent of the money garnered from the hairdressing community to be spent on administration. 

And despite his years in Los Angeles, the architect of hair remained in one respect forever a Londoner. He would rise at the crack of dawn, downing a healthy breakfast of carrots, celery and apple, just to watch his beloved Chelsea team back in England play a soccer match. 

 


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