Vidal Sassoon— arguably the world’s first celebrity snipper, whose name became synonymous with cutting-edge cuts and, later, slapped on shampoo bottles, a staple of a suburban woman’s grooming regimen — died Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.
In the 1960s, the London-born Sassoon was a beauty pioneer akin to fashion rebels like Mary Quant, releasing women from stiff, high-maintenance looks and putting them in sleek, wash-and-go wedges, bobs and other less-is-more crops, most famously Mia Farrow’s Rosemary’s Baby pixie, which earned him $5,000.
Back then, “we were creating something that was socially necessary,” Sassoon told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore.”
“Vidal Sassoon totally changed the world of hair and beauty. He was a complete maestro,” says one of the heirs to Sassoon’s celebrity stylist title, Oscar Blandi. “When I was in school learning the trade, I always took from his work to improve my own methods of styling. He was truly the most revolutionary person ever to enter into the industry. He paved the way for the celebrity stylists of today. … He had no fear. Vidal is the one who made me fall in love with my business because he showed the true art of styling.”
Indeed, Sassoon succeeded in sudsing together craft and commerce. In the ’80s, he stepped out from behind the chair and, looking matinee-idol suave, uttered a jingle for his products that became almost as iconic as his styles themselves: “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”
It was a glossy departure from his hardscrabble childhood — he spent several years in an orphanage — and his stint as an Israeli soldier at age 20. Both experiences were chronicled in the 2010 documentary Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, as was another knotty subject: his brand’s dilution.
In 2003 Sassoon sued Proctor & Gamble, alleging the company had abandoned his products after 20 years of ownership in favor of other labels, such as Pantene. At the time, Sassoon lamented to USA TODAY: “We were a thriving brand with a philosophy.” The lawsuit was settled the following year.
In that same interview, Sassoon reflected on the cultural upheaval that swirled as he grabbed his first pair of professional scissors (it was his mother who encouraged his vocation). Sure, The Beatles were changing the world, but “you can’t wear music,” he said. “But you can wear your hair different.”