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Scissors Revolution: Vidal Sassoon The Movie

Hairdresser extraordinaire Vidal Sassoon talks to Dazed Digital about the film focusing on his life and achievements, recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival

The Sixties brought some amazing revolutions in fashion, from Op Art black and white to synthetic futuristic materials and sculptural silhouettes. In London, pioneering Mary Quant embodied the ethos and mood of the Swinging Sixties; in Paris, André Courréges, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin offered in their designs the perfect synthesis between modernist forms, geometry and architecture, while Rudi Gernreich focused on futuristic designs that emphasised angular body shapes. Inspired by what was going on around him, British-born Israeli hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, set onto revolutionising hair cutting techniques with sculpturally perfect styles. “I wanted to shape heads as the new young fashion designers were shaping bodies. I wanted to cut hair as they cut cloth. I wanted to be in on the revolution that was simmering,” Sassoon recounted in the ‘60s in his biography 'Sorry I Kept You Waiting, Madam'. The perfect complement to the clean-cut lines of those fashion designs arrived in 1964 with the Five-Point Geometric Cut, based on perfect geometries, the Bauhaus and architecture. Its success was followed by further asymmetrical and geometric cuts, from the Greek Goddess to the Isadora, the Firefly, the Brush, the Wedge and the Beret.
A film entitled 'Vidal Sassoon The Movie', recently previewed at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, chronicles the life and achievements of Sassoon. Directed by Craig Teper and featuring interviews with Sassoon himself, friends, family members and former staff, the documentary moves from Sassoon’s childhood and his time in an orphanage, follows his stint in the Israeli Army during 1948 and his time as apprentice and looks at his revolutionary styles and rise to global fame. “Vidal Sassoon The Movie” is conceived as an inspirational journey of discovery through the life of a man who wanted to see not only hair keeping up with fashion, but jumping ahead of it, leading it along a certain line, instead of lagging behind it.   

Dazed Digital: When were you first contacted about the documentary?
Vidal Sassoon: I have a lovely story about it: I’m 82 now and two years ago, Michael Gordon, the founder of the Bumble and Bumble salon, a great style connoisseur and an extraordinarily friend, said to me he wanted to make a documentary about my life. I told him it was going to cost a lot of money and it was going to take a professional crew and he just answered ‘I’ve got the money and I’ve got the crew!’, so I asked him to let me think about it. The next day we made an arrangement and we started working on the film. As producer Michael put it all together and found a young director, Craig Teper, who turned the story into something quite extraordinary. When I first saw the film, I left smiling because there are lovely things in it, though, mind you, they are not all complimentary. Asked ‘How was working with Vidal?’ one of my former employee answers ‘He was crazy!’

Click HERE to see Nowness' exclusive clip of Vidal and his legendary 5 point haricut

DD: Among the people interviewed in the documentary there is also Mary Quant: what’s the most fascinating thing about her interview?
Vidal Sassoon: Yes, the film features an absolutely marvellous interview with her. Mary actually had a hip operation ten days before the interview and we didn’t know if she could have done it. She came for a 10-minute interview that ended up lasting an hour and a half. The most wonderful thing about it was that the interview wasn’t just about reminiscing, but talking about the future, because that’s what we’ve always been, visionaries projected into the future.        

DD: What was the most emotional moment you had while shooting the film?
Vidal Sassoon: There are quite a few emotional moments, but a very powerful memory occurs when I talk about my eldest daughter Catya OD’-ing. We talked about everything in the film, that’s why the final result is just beautiful.

DD: As a young boy, you were sent to work in a glove factory: what do you remember of that experience?
Vidal Sassoon: Those were very exciting times. When I was 14, school-leaving age, I worked for three months in a leather factory in Holt, near Trowbridge, in Wiltshire. I couldn’t cut gloves because that’s a very skilled process, but my job was cutting slipovers for the gloves. I always seemed to have a pair of scissors in my hands since then!

DD: The documentary was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival: what feedback did you receive from New York?
Vidal Sassoon: It has been quite a success: I was supposed to be in New York, but I got pneumonia, so I couldn’t go, but from what I’ve heard it went really well. Tribeca chose it out of a lot of films and I’m very pleased with that since it took two years to make it and an extraordinary team of wonderful people.

DD: You’re also working on your autobiography at the moment, can you tell us more about it?
Vidal Sassoon: Three years ago, Georgina Capel and Anita Land, from UK’s leading literary agency Capel and Land tried to get me to do a book, but at the time I said no. Then I changed my mind and decided I wanted to write my autobiography in my own voice without a ghostwriter. I’m finding this experience truly exciting. I have a marvellous editor in London and I got such a great team around me, in fact I think that any success I’ve had in my life must be credited to being surrounded by a first class team.

DD: You came up with your famous geometric hairstyles inspired by the designers who were giving clothes new and innovative shapes and silhouettes. Why aren’t we witnessing a real revolution in fashion though there are so many talented fashion designers out there?
Vidal Sassoon: Well, there’s no Yves Saint Laurent anymore and Tom Ford has moved into films, but I guess it was different then because while I was inspired by many designers such as Mary Quant, André Courréges, Emanuel Ungaro and Rudi Gernreich, who was absolutely tremendous, we weren’t just looking at fashion, but at other disciplines as well, such as architecture. Architects cut great shapes into cities and I wanted to cut great shapes into the bone structure.

DD: In manuals such as “Cutting Hair the Vidal Sassoon Way” (1978), there is a chapter entitled “The Psychology of Haircutting” with a paragraph on bone structure. How important is anatomy in hairdressing?
Vidal Sassoon: No question: analysing faces, knowing bones, studying the height of the bones before you cut and making sure that the cut will look well from every angle is extremely important. Haircutting is not just about sitting someone in a chair and going ‘chop chop chop’, it’s really about studying the anatomy of the person you are working on.

DD: Throughout the decades you created hairstyles taking inspiration from different sources, such as dancing and Isadora Duncan, Botticelli and Erté. Why is it that there aren’t many hairdressers nowadays taking inspiration from such sources?
Vidal Sassoon: Profit seems to be much more important today. While there are people who are still doing beautiful haircuts and creating shapes, there are also those ones who want to have as many clients as possible to earn more money. When we were working in the 60s we didn’t know if we were going to make a profit or not, but we were incredibly excited about doing something different and revolutionary. I remember one time when I asked the staff to stay in all weekend. They didn’t mind, so I took two rooms in case they wanted to rest and we worked the entire weekend to develop the “Greek Goddess”, a permed geometric cut. All the people involved provided ideas, even young apprentices were encouraged and challenged and thanks to my staff - who often turned into an extraordinary family - I made exciting breakthroughs.

DD: What’s the most rewarding achievement of the Vidal Sassoon Academies?
Vidal Sassoon: That we started in Britain during the 60s with Roger Thompson and Christopher Brooker suggesting we trained other people, and we grew up, training assistants who went worldwide. Believe it or not, we even have an academy in Shanghai now. So many people wanted to learn the system and there is a reason for that: once you learn the system you can add your own artistry to it and take it further. The system is definitely not easy to grasp since you must learn all the angles and shapes and work with the bone structure to make women look quite different. What makes me proud about it is that I’ve always had top people around me who trained other top people and it went on like that. We trained for example one of the finest hairstylists at the moment in the world scenario, Sumio in Tokyo. A few years ago he was doing a show in Barcelona and I went to see it, it was absolutely brilliant. He spotted me in the audience and he called me out and said ‘I couldn’t have done this show without this gentleman’. Things like that are very rewarding.
DD: The Vidal Sassoon Foundation helped raising awareness towards the plight of those people who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina: are you still working on the New Orleans project and which future plans does the Foundation have?
Vidal Sassoon: After the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, my wife Rhonda and I decided to join in an initiative to help building homes for displaced families. We came up with 2 million dollars and we built 23 houses so far. When I look at the poverty some people are living in while so many of us are doing so well, it doesn’t make any sense to me. People who built great companies often feel that the credit is all theirs and they don’t have to do anything for the others. But I do feel there must be changes in heart; we all have to be emotionally and socially involved and we must be aware that so many people are looking for the next meal. We can’t avert your gaze and pretend not to see what’s going on, but must to something to help other people. So, while we’re still working on New Orleans, as far as I’m alive, we will focus on whatever other project that comes along and that I feel important getting involved in. 

DD: Do you hope that “Vidal Sassoon The Movie” will inspire young people?  
Vidal Sassoon: Some people told me ‘You’re 82, just retire!’, but instead we made a film and I’m writing my own autobiography. I hope such projects will not only inspire but also help a lot of young people thinking about their lives and realising when they feel down that the possibility of rising again and doing something truly worthwhile with their life is in their power.