The death of one of my heroes has just been announced.
Vidal Sassoon has passed away. Twitter is exalting him as the hairdresser who fought anti Semitism as one of the youngest opponents of fascism when the blackshirts marched through the East End last century. You might know him as the purveyor of the first two in one shampoo and conditioner. His place in my heart is somewhat different and more empassioned.
I am very ordinary looking. Early on in my teenage years I realised I would never be the most beautiful girl in a room. Never would anyone herald me as their muse or go a bit weak at the knees just because I batted my eyelids. I kind of knew that was the practicality for the majority of women, but I still felt a tad shortchanged, until something else happened. While my face was fairly mediocre, my hair had potential. And that potential belonged to a man born 50 years before me.
Vidal Sassoon was a Greco-Ukrainian Jew from the East end of London who should never have registered more than being a rent-a-gob against Oswald Mosley, except that he picked up a pair of hairdressing scissors. Armed with those and a new vision of his trade, he re-invented the way women (and everyone else) thought about hair. He created the 'wash and wear' ethos that removed women from the need to spend hours in the salon chair and sleeping at night with tiresome lumps and bumps of rags and ringlets and fearing even a drop of rain. He liberated them from spending all thier spare time on their hair with his new style of cutting and like most pioneers, he took it ever further and reinvented the follicle, teaming up with Mary Quant to create iconic geometric bobs that epitomised the Sixties.
I was born in 1978. Vidal Sassoon was old hat by then. His geometric perm was passe in the decade of sleek centre parted hair and his bob was forgotten when Studio Line took over in the eighties. But just as I resigned myself to a life of meh, he crept into my life in the 90s. Everyone else was either flicking their hair into a Rachel or Bjork style bunches, but seeking something grown up as I turned 18, I lopped my long locks off in a fit of daring, trusting them to a man trained at Vidal Sassoon's academy and who could see that my hair could live out my desires to be fascinating and interesting and striking. Just as Vidal had set in motion with his creative cuts that subverted social norms.
Until Vidal chopped the hair of Mary Quant and then Mia Farrow, women were only seen to be beautiful if they had long hair. Cropped hair was frowned upon. Long hair was a woman's crowning glory, completing the package of feminine mystique. Then Vidal took his scissors and scythed sharp bobs and pixie crops and unleashed a new beauty on the world, creating iconic images on the way. And a feeling that remained in me 30 years later. As my hair fell round me in clumps and tufts and the blades cropped closer and closer to my hairline, so I felt more and more grown up and confident. I shook off my childish appearance as the shape of my scalp became apparent. Short, but not sweet, my hair was assertive, stylish and headturning, for both me and others. A skinny shapeless teen, the teachings of Vidal turned me into a woman and helped me take new strides. The shorter and sleeker my hair, the chicer I felt. That hair cut (and the many that followed) launched me. I looked at myself differently, no longer feeling resigned to my destiny. I fell in love with my potential. And my hairdresser fell for me.
Fifteen years later, I know I'm getting old because I hark back to those halcyon days and still ape that style with every cut. Every hairstyle I have has to pass the correct cut test. It can be outrageous and it can be challenging in length or colour. But it can't break the golden rule and be a bad cut with high maintenance demands. Back in the Sixties, Sassoon knew the secret. The proof is in the polish. A haircut should be so good it never needs more than a wash and a bit of hairspray ultimately. It shouldn't need laden with product or justified with long spiels. The motto is still 'wash and go' for me. Every decent haircut I've ever had came from someone trained at Vidal Sassoon even now. When I moved to London, I felt like the bee's knees to get my hair cut at his flagship salon. So what it cost £96 a pop (in 2003) for a serious style. I was wearing history on my head. It broke my heart to stop going there and rely on lesser chains such as Toni and Guy.