Saturday, February 5, 2011

Michael Gordon on the Long and Short of Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon equals hairdressing, or so Michael Gordon believes. Gordon is the creator of “Bumble and Bumble” products and the producer of “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie.” It began as a birthday tribute to the man himself, but turned into a four-year process. Gordon found himself searching for historical footage and creating a 90-minute documentary that spans the iconic hairdressers’ personal and professional life.
Speakeasy caught up with Gordon to talk with him about the legendary hairdresser, the lack of adequate information on the history of hairdressing and if its possible to create a present-day equivalent of Vidal Sassoon.
Your personal relationship with Vidal Sassoon is both as an inspiration and friend. When creating this film, were your intentions to make a film for him or educate the public on him?
At first I just thought it could be a great birthday present. You know, let’s do a 15-minute film. But it grew as we got into it. It was a small idea that grew. Then I realized that we are making a serious film, and all the expectations went up. I never made a film before. I was on ice having just sold my company {Bumble and bumble], so I thought, “it was a great thing to do, someone should do it. I’ll just do it.” But as it became bigger, I came to the realization of this man’s reputation; his legacy is in our hands.”
To weave between parts of his life, you literally push-pinned his accomplishments on a wall. How did you come up with the idea?
I watched lots and lots of documentaries. I though we’d do a book because we like books, then I was watching Avedon’s “Darkness and Light” documentary or the one on Anne Leibovitz; I watched hers and there was a thing with pictures and a wall. So I was watching things and thinking, “that could work for us.” That’s where it came from.
As a first time filmmaker and producer how much research did you put into the medium?
A lot came as editing. I had done little films at Bumble so we had a kind of intuitive way of doing things. Kept meeting and hitting roadblocks and saying “what should we do?” And I started watching lots and lots of documentaries and trying to see what I did and did not like.
How many documentaries did you watch?
I watched five of my favorites five times each and then probably 50 others.
Did Vidal Sassoon personally change the way you did hair or run your company?
I don’t do hair anymore, I’m on the shelf, and I’m old. I sold the company to Estee Lauder, so he doesn’t affect the way I do business, but we are quite different personalities. I like behind the scenes and he’s a fantastic charming front person. I begrudgingly was talked into bits. I was in it because somebody had to make the leaps from one subject or period to the next where Vidal couldn’t do it or say things we needed him to say. I just think he’s a terrific man and in the hairdressing world there is not libraries of reference. There’s nothing to look at or learn from. Then I realized, based on our screening, it was a much wider appeal to people than we realized.
During Sassoon’s heyday, there was the invention of the mini skirt, the Bauhaus was thriving – it is possible to have someone as revolutionary as Sassoon today?
In that field, probably not. I think it was a special time, England was post-war and there were thousands and thousands of teenagers going to art school because there were government programs and they didn’t want the life their parents had had. In America you had a similar type of thing. I think it was very special, based on the way technology is, I don’t know.
Well if it did, where would it be?
In Asia. Their take on fashion and their take on hair and style is, in a strange way, new. It’s fresh. They don’t have a background to look back on, but do much more including embracing fashion, which most people don’t really do. They could really go somewhere else with this while thing. They’re not so afraid of dressing up and they wear it well.
What would the new frontier be in hairdressing?
Well, I went to Shanghai nine months ago for the opening of the new Vidal hair academy. They put on a fashion show and party and this academy was really impressive and the hairstyles, I was looking at them and thinking Westerners would look really bizarre but these people look pretty fantastic. And they weren’t aware that it was a recreation of a 60s look. They just seemed to love it. There is freshness, an emergence there.
So it’s like they are on different timetables?
They had hundreds or thousands of years of a certain culture and now they are having their own revolution and they are fashion slaves, they just love this stuff. And as Vidal says many times, “The bones, the bones,” well Asian faces are fascinating and different. And the hair allows the geometric and strong looks, they can carry it off.
Do you think anyone else will ever reach his status?
No. Because the hairdressers now aren’t really salon hairdressers they are the people who do the top editorial for magazines and the top fashion shows. You would say that Guido and Eugene and Luigi and a half dozen other people are the most important hairdressers in the world but it’s completely different. They live in a world of high fashion but then they contribute to advertising campaign. They do influence but in a very different way then fashion was in the 60s where Sassoon could do a haircut and Vogue would put the haircut in a double page spread. It doesn’t exist today because magazines are so much more influenced by advertisers and celebrities. And celebrities by nature are not usually trendsetters, they’re trend-adopters. Like Emma Watson with that short haircut — it’s not much different from what Vidal did to Mia Farrow 40 years ago, and look at how much press that got.
So what’s next for you?
No, wait. If you are a fashion student, an architecture student or student of nearly anything you can do to the library and or go online and get masses of information and films and 50 books on Yves Saint Laurent. But if you are a hairdresser there’s nothing. I feel like slightly responsible for creating something that can help inspire young people. So you never know, probably unlikely that’ I’ll do another film. It’s more likely that I’ll start another product company. But you never know.

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