Iconic hairdresser and styling mastermind Vidal Sassoon died on May 9. Though his name often recalls ‘80s hairspray commercials and severe bobs, his career was much more than that. His philosophies revolutionized the industry and the style of modern women, both of which still feel his influence today.
After opening his first salon London in 1954, he made waves by adopting a “wash and wear” approach to women’s hair. By the ‘60s, he was the most famous hairdresser in the world. His most notable individual haircut was Mia Farrow’s for Rosemary’s Baby. However, he was more widely known for his angular, often asymmetrical, bobs. These Bauhaus-inspired cuts epitomized mod style, and he collaborated with icons of the movement, such as Mary Quant and Grace Coddington.
Many of the cuts and styles that he created half a century ago feel still feel modern and edgy. Today, if you go out wearing your hair in a beehive, you look retro. But if you go out wearing one of his wedge bobs, you look fresh to death. How many artists and designers can say that about their creations? Go to any show at First Avenue and you’re likely to see more than one of his asymmetrical bobs waiting in line at the bar.
It may sound a bit over-the-top to call a hairdresser revolutionary, but Sassoon’s beauty-on-the-go hairstyles shifted the mindset of what it meant for a woman to be stylish. Until then, it was common, if not customary, for women to have their hair set in salon. Sassoon was the first major influencer to say that women shouldn’t need to go to the salon every week, that they could have beautiful and functional low-maintenance haircuts that they could easily style on their own. It’s because of him that the concept of “setting” one’s hair feels so ancient and unfamiliar in our modern culture.
In addition to impacting style around the world, Sassoon was a bit of a badass. After WWII, he joined 43 Group, a group of Jewish veterans who broke up meetings of Nazi sympathizers after the war—kind of like Inglourious Bastards-lite. He was only 17. Following that, he served in the Israeli army before returning to London to open his first salon.
He’d seen a lot at a young age, and he thought it was ludicrous that women were expected to spend so much time, energy and money of their appearances before stepping out into the world. He loved art and style, but knew that life was too short to spend it under a dryer in a salon. The women he idolized were confident, graceful and whip-smart. They didn’t have any time to waste.