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Brushing up on hair history: "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie"

January 25, 2011 |  5:08 pm


There's no doubting how Michael Gordon, founder of hair company Bumble & Bumble and producer of the upcoming documentary "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie," feels about his subject.

In the first few moments of the film, Sassoon is described as the "Dior of hairdressers," "Einstein" and "the Messiah." It's all a bit tongue-in-cheek, for sure. But the film is still an incredibly flattering portrait of the British hairdresser who changed the look of women's hair in the 1960s, creating geometric, wash-and-wear cuts that were their own kind of liberation and echoed the sharp lines in fashion at the time.

The project started out as an 80th birthday tribute book for Sassoon and became a movie when Gordon brought in director Craig Teper. The result is a rags-to-riches documentary told through interviews with Sassoon and his friends.  

Between the treacly parts, there are plenty of fascinating facts about the man, now 83, who had the foresight to open Vidal Sassoon styling academies around the world and to launch a product empire with the famous tag line, "If you don't look good, we don't look good." [Updated]*

Whether you're just brushing up or reading about Sassoon for the first time, here's a crib sheet:

Inauspicious beginnings. Vidal Sassoon spent part of his childhood in an orphanage and started his career as a glove cutter.

In another life: If he hadn't become a hairdresser, he says he would have been an architect.

Slow and steady: He opened his first salon in London in 1954. It took nine years for him to develop his technique.

Hair 101: His philosophy involved cutting hair to suit a woman's face and bone structure. His first famous haircuts were the Nancy Kwan bob and the five point haircut, which he perfected on model-turned-Vogue creative director Grace Coddington.

Vidal models 

Eliza Doolittle moment: He spent three years getting rid of his Cockney accent.

Fitness fanatic: He was an early adopter of Pilates and once got Gore Vidal's enema in a case of mistaken identity at a health spa.

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere: He opened his Madison Avenue salon in 1965, and he and his fellow crimpers were treated like "hairdressing Beatles." Of course, they slept with many of their clients.  

Scissor sisters: Fashion designer Mary Quant and model Peggy Moffitt were pals and collaborators. [Updated.]

Hollywood hair: In 1965, Roman Polanski filmed "Repulsion" over five days in Sassoon's London salon. Sassoon created Mia Farrow's famous pixie cut for Polanski's 1968 film "Rosemary's Baby. " That cut "brought my name to Middle America," he said. 

California days: In 1975, Sassoon moved to Los Angeles, where he still lives. He has written several books, including the bestseller, *"A Year of Beauty and Health," co-authored by his former wife Beverly  Sassoon, and "Vidal: An Autobiography." He also had a shortlived TV series in 1980, "Your New Day With Vidal Sassoon." He met his current wife, Ronnie Sassoon, when he was 62. [Updated.]

What's in a name? Vidal Sassoon is no longer affiliated with the salons and products that bear his name.

"Vidal Sassoon: The Movie" opens in New York on Feb. 11 and Los Angeles on Feb. 18.

--Booth Moore

UPDATED 1/26/2011 at 2:26 p.m. An earlier version of this post had the incorrect title for the bestseller Vidal Sassoon co-authored with his former wife Beverly Sassoon. It is "A Year of Beauty and Health."

UPDATED 1/27/2011 at 12 p.m. An earler version of this post misstated the Sassoon slogan and missspelled Peggy Moffitt's last name as Moffatt.  

Top photo: A portrait of Vidal Sassoon in Paris. Bottom photo: Vidal Sassoon models on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Both from "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie." Credit: Phase 4 Films