The following article appears in the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Subscribers can read the issue online.
Before Vidal Sassoon came along during the swinging '60s, women's hair was caught in a Mad Men world. "Women were going to the salon three or four times a week. They had big hair. They were sleeping in rollers," says Craig Teper, director of the new biodoc Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, which opens Feb. 11 in New York and Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
The London-born hairdresser upended all of that. As the movie stylishly demonstrates, Sassoon can rightly be called a design revolutionary. The short, geometric hairstyles he invented were so low-maintenance as to be genuinely liberating. "He actually helped create the social revolution of the '60s," Teper says. "Women no longer had to spend hours and hours a week on their hair, which allowed them to be more competitive with men."
Inspired by the clean lines of midcentury architecture, Sassoon took hair into the modern era. In 1967, he made headlines when he chopped off Mia Farrow's flowing Peyton Place locks to create the iconic, astoundingly cropped pixie cut she wore in Rosemary's Baby. His most famous design was the five-point cut, which was first modeled by Vogue fashion editor Grace Coddington, the scene-stealer of another recent fashion-world documentary, The September Issue.
Today, the charming, spry Sassoon -- who also has a book, Vidal: The Autobiography, coming out in April -- lives in a glass-box Neutra house in Bel-Air with his wife of 19 years, Ronnie. THR spoke with him about the Hollywood highlights of a career that took him from a tiny third-floor London salon to an empire (since sold) of salons, haircutting schools and products -- marketed, of course, under the slogan, "If you don't look good, we don't look good."
How did you end up doing Mia Farrow's famous haircut?
Roman Polanski was a friend, and he called me and said, "Would you like to come to Hollywood and cut Mia Farrow's hair for Rosemary's Baby?" I said, "Roman, I did it about six weeks ago." He said, "Yes, but there's always something to take off." And of course I went to Hollywood. She was Mrs. Sinatra at the time, and suddenly all this press showed up.
Just to document the haircut?
It was on television. It was in all the newspapers. It was at Paramount, Studio 13, I think, and it was in a boxing ring they had on set. The press was supposed to stay out of the ring and photograph from there. Well, that lasted about two minutes. There was one guy under the chair photographing upwards. It was a total madhouse.
Were people shocked by your innovations?
Yeah, Barbara Walters. I did the morning show, and she was really shocked by the work. She said I was making beautiful women look like boys. She gave me an award for making women look ugly on the show. And I gave her the award for retrogressive thinking. It was very playful.
Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner were your clients. Why didn't they ever go short?
They were known for a certain look. It wouldn't have worked. That would have been like giving the queen of England a great geometric cut -- which, by the way, I would have loved to do.
Was there anyone else who got away?
Princess Radziwill was my client, and she'd always tease me, 'I'm bringing in my sister.' Well, the president's wife [Jacqueline Kennedy] never came.
Did being a celebrity hairstylist ever go to your head?
There was no room for thinking I was special. I was always thinking of what I was going to do next and would it be successful and would I make a mess of it. I was reading Montaigne one day, and he said something rather beautiful: "However high you think you sit on the throne, you are still sitting on your own behind."
Did you ever get starstruck?
My second wife, Beverly, made movies where she had second and third billing with Dean Martin. We were invited to all kinds of wonderful parties in Hollywood. But to be honest with you, my heroes were the great architects of my time. If I had gone to college, I would have studied architecture.
See a clip of Vidal Sassoon: The Movie below.