- Edition 6, Chapter 8 -
Hairstory founder Michael Gordon spent several years and a lot of money creating Vidal Sassoon the Movie and its companion book to record the Sassoon legacy, and honor a father of modern hairdressing. Hours of interviews with key collaborators were shot, and as is the norm in filmmaking, jewels of reminiscence were left on the proverbial cutting room floor. As we mark the third year of Vidal’s death, I delved back into transcripts and strung them together into this narrative that illustrates the currency of the Sassoon revolution.
This preview of unpublished and unscreened material – to be expanded into a booklet and possibly a movie sequel – are hair stories to be sure, but they’re also life stories, work stories, and devotional stories to one remarkable man.
Fashion editor and journalist Caroline Baker reminds us that in order to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the 1960s and the Sassoon contributions, “You have to imagine how different the ’50s were. We all ran around wearing hourglass clothing. We did our hair in beehives. We were the most unnatural things going with our makeup, our eyelashes, our lipstick. I mean, we hardly went out the door without gloves on.”
English society at that time was still establishment-driven, old-order, and classist, and a new generation was intent on disruption: Minority rights; women’s rights, environmental awareness, opposition to aggression, and a general concern for others led professor of linguistics and influential intellectual Noam Chomsky to call the ’60s “a period of significant democratization with civilizing effects.” When you saw somebody wearing Mary Quant clothing and a Sassoon cut, she could have been anything from a countess to a clerk.
The most celebrated artists are directly engaged with their culture and time, and whether Vidal was responding to or actually influencing social change is a chicken-and-egg debate with no clear winner. But, it can be said that the most progressive periods in history are when women’s lives are significantly improved, and that’s exactly what happened, explains professor of social history Caroline Cox: “Sassoon changed how women thought about themselves because they were not only liberated sexually and socially, they were also liberated through their clothes, and very particularly, through their haircuts. Then you see that hair has actually changed the world.”
Professionally speaking, the United Kingdom is very different from the university-centric United States in that apprenticeships in various trades are more common than the college experience, and tales of the most respected hairdressers in the industry as teenagers running the show are extraordinary and often quite amusing. “We didn’t know that we were making history,” says hairdresser Tony Beckerman about his early days with Vidal. “We didn’t know we were creating a revolution. We were just enjoying our times.” And what times they were – innocent, passionate, vibrant, glamorous – “magical” is a word oft-used by these witnesses.
I hope you enjoy these evocative stories as much as I did while editing them. And if any of you who are quoted here do us the honor of reading them, your comments are most welcome. Short biographies can be found on the next page.
– Alexander Brebner, creative director
Joshua Galvin: There are four generations of hairdressers in my family. My grandfather was a Polish immigrant, a master hairdresser and wig maker. His was the very first salon where ordinary people came; before it was only the wealthy women who had their hair done. Then Dad became a master barber after a six-and-a-half year internship. I used to work in his barber shop on Saturdays. My daughter went to the college of fashion, and she’s also a very good hairdresser.
Caroline Cox: I come from a long line of hairdressers. My great-grandfather was very well known in the industry because he was one of the first people to invent the chemical perm. He invented the exothermic pad system and so changed perming from the thing where you wear the machine, the sort of mad chandelier, to something that was much easier. So, I’ve always had an absolute fascination for hair because my family had such a really exciting history.
Etienne Taenaka: My mother was a hairdresser when I was growing up, and we went to a hair show together. We sat down to watch a hairdresser whose collection was called Hairchitecture. There was a big screen with a blueprint of the cut, and he came out on stage, and boom, boom, boom created this 3-dimensional shape in 15 minutes. I was so in awe of the idea that I said, “That’s what I want to do.”
Charles Booth: I came from a family of hairdressers, and my grandfather was a barber. My mother and my uncle had a chain of shops up and down England, and I was brought up over a hairdressing salon, worked there as a kid sweeping the floor, cleaning the perm rods. When I was 16, they came to me and said, “Well, Charles, we’re gonna send you to London to work in a salon called Vidal Sassoon and you can start your career in hairdressing.” They persuaded me if I gave it six months then I would have the option of leaving. I will never forget the day when I walked into that salon in my one and only gray suit. Vidal was in his patent leather slippers with tight trousers, dancing around the chair and pulling faces. I was more terrified than I had been walking in, seeing all that. And it was a kind of interview. Was I going to be accepted there? Vidal apparently decided, “Okay, we’ll give him a chance.”
Trevor Sorbie: My father was a barber, and I’d been working with him for five years and I wanted to go into ladies’ hairdressing, and at that time, Vidal Sassoon was The Man to work for. I went there and trained for a month, but I left the company because I felt the way Vidal was cutting women’s hair was too similar to barbering, and I felt I hadn’t made the right move. I went to the suburbs and trained to be the ladies’ hairdresser I thought I was going to be – shampoo, roller sets, hair up, and all that stuff, but I realized that fashion was becoming an important part of my life, and Vidal was the bee’s knees, the kingpin, so I reapplied for my job and became an art director within 18 months.
Laurance Taylor: I was one of the first people to join Vidal in 1954. I was looking for a job, and I saw this little ad in Hairdresser’s Journal for this man I’d never heard of called Vidal Sassoon. So I tramped up the stairs to the third floor because the elevator was so small, and met this charming, very pleasant, very open guy called Vidal who said, “When can you start?”
Maurice Tidy: I started hairdressing at 13-and-a-half and became a master barber by the time I was 15. In 1956 a youth employment agency found me a job in London. My mother took me to London and we walked in and rode up in this little elevator like sardines in a can. I walked in and I got the job. You know it as Vidal Sassoon. There were eight people in the whole company at that time. The type of work that people know us for did not yet exist.
Charles Booth: I remember standing at the back of the salon for a month and not speaking to anybody. I was so nervous to make a mistake. To describe the atmosphere in that place is very difficult. It was absolutely electric. Vidal was the greatest motivator I have ever met. He is the most intense person I have ever met. It was like being a boxer in the time of Muhammad Ali, or being a physicist and working next to Einstein, because he was that good.
Christopher Pluck: I figured, bigger and better things are looking for me. Maybe I can go to London. So I looked around and there is this fella, Vidal Sassoon. He seems to be in all the magazines. He gets all the press. I said, “He’s for me.” So how do I get there? You call him up, don’t you? So alright. I call up one Saturday afternoon, and lo and behold, this fella picks up the phone. “May I help you?” I say, “I’m looking or Vidal Sassoon.” He says, “Well, you’ve got him.” He says, “Who am I talking to? I says, “This is Christopher Pluck from Manchester.” He says, “Here, my team is playing your team this afternoon.” Well, that was it. I was in. Soccer. The holy grail of England. Magic. He says, “What do you want with me?” I says, “Figured I’d come and work for you.” He says, “Come down next week, we’ll talk.” So I went down that week, did a couple of haircuts for him and I was in.
Steve Moody: The first time I saw Vidal, he was doing a show in London, and he’s an amazing, amazing wordsmith. He uses the English language to its fullest degree. I watched this man speaking on stage and I was utterly enamored by how completely charming and genuine he was.
We made our own shampoos. We mixed our own hairsprays. We shellacked in pure alcohol.
Maurice Tidy: I grew up with Vidal, you know. I was a 15-year-old kid. I mean, I didn’t know how to roll my pants on properly along with everything else. I had to stand on a box to do a shampoo. I was a baby. At that time, we were doing more the traditional side of hairdressing, where you set hair, teased it and put it in place, and if it didn’t stay for a week you were in big trouble. We made our own shampoos. We mixed our own hairsprays. We shellacked in pure alcohol. I was Vidal’s only apprentice.
School didn’t teach me how to be a hairdresser, how to present myself, how to speak to people. I learned all of that at Sassoon’s.
Annie Humphreys: When I first started, color was pretty hit and miss, really. Some of the things were absolutely frightening, and I can remember using neat 880 ammonia. You just put a couple of drops in peroxide and shake a few soap flakes in to make it a bit thicker, and this is what you put on lovely hair. It was pretty scary. I mean, you can blow someone’s head off with that stuff. It was lethal. But I guess you’re fearless at that age. You just do it.
Tony Beckerman: Money didn’t really matter. Time didn’t matter. Staff meetings at the end of the day didn’t matter as long as we were allowed to produce fabulous work and be allowed to progress. All the geography and the history and the stuff that I learned in school was almost useless. School didn’t teach me how to be a hairdresser, how to present myself, how to speak to people. I learned all of that at Sassoon’s.
Guido: Sassoon was the beginning of my career in hairdressing. I got fired after 18 months of being an apprentice with the company. But I always remember those months, and it’s part of who I am, really, in hairdressing. So, it’s a funny sort of beginning. I was brought into the office and they said, “You know, you’re never gonna be a hairdresser.” I always think that helped me become what I am today because I fought against that notion.
Richard Blass: It was very, very hard work in those days. I must say, a lot harder than it is now. At that time, I was living at home with my parents. My mother would say to me, “What on earth are you doing? How can you work such long hours? You’ve been out since seven this morning, it’s 10 o’clock at night now! Who is this Vidal Sassoon? How can he have such power over you?” I said, “You don’t understand, Mum. I love it. If they asked me to work until midnight, I’d work until midnight.”
Caroline Cox: We associate the name Sassoon with an incredible change in culture. Up to the early 1960s you had a culture that was very establishment-driven, an old order of social classes where those at the top didn’t talk to those at the bottom. After the Second World War, a new generation of young people wanted to break those rules, didn’t care about social class, and were prepared to question authority. When you saw somebody dressed in a Mary Quant outfit with a fantastic Five-Point cut, you didn’t know if they were a countess or someone who worked in a shop.
Laurance Taylor: Now, of course we still hadn’t perfected the geometric cut. I’m trying to remember exactly when the cut became The Cut, but Mary Quant was the first person to wear it, and she looked great; it worked with her expensive version of Carnaby Street, and suddenly everybody was wearing mini skirts, boots, and cropped hair. The Beatles and the Stones were just beginning. Of course I treated everybody like a star, because that’s how I was.
Beverly Sassoon: When I met Vidal we were all wearing big hair, putting in curlers and lots of hairspray, and we would wrap it at night with toilet paper or something so it didn’t get messed up. It was a horrible thing we did to ourselves. His concept was to get rid of all that unnatural looking stuff on the top of a woman’s head and create hair that moves, that flows, that’s sexy. And it took a long time to get American women in particular to understand the beauty of a haircut that’s wash-and-wear.
WE DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE CREATING A REVOLUTION. WE WERE JUST ENJOYING OUR TIMES.
Caroline Baker: My life changed because of my Vidal Sassoon haircut. I was a secretary; all the girls started off as secretaries in the ’50s, and I went to the Observer youth paper and was working on the home pages. One of the art director guys said to me, “You need to go to Vidal Sassoon and get a proper, modern haircut,” because I’d had this sort of backcombed, Julie Christie, long hair with a fringe. So I went to Vidal Sassoon and got my fringe with the five points, came out, and heard that Molly Parkin at Nova was looking for an assistant. So I went to see her – me with my lovely, new haircut. I’m sure that’s why I got the job – Vidal hair with miniskirt and legs, because we wore the shortest skirts going. So, of course, the guys would just fall at your feet, you know.
Tony Beckerman: When I was a junior of Christopher Brooker’s, he went to cut Mary Quant’s hair one day at her home. He was cutting to a new record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. The new music. Music that made you grow. Even the hairstyles that they were doing were growing. But I think this has a lot to do with the generation; everybody was between 16 and 18 years old so they were growing anyway. But new things were happening; that’s the point. Vidal started to get the publicity in the early ’60s, and we didn’t know that we were making history. We didn’t know we were creating a revolution. We were just enjoying our times.
Christopher Pluck: In America we were the hairdressing Beatles on Madison Avenue. We had skills that no one in America had. We couldn’t find brushes that wouldn’t melt when we used hair blowers. We couldn’t find hair blowers. To begin with, it was a sort of hard sell. When Vidal went on Johnny Carson and showed some of the photographs, it wasn’t well received because people didn’t understand it. Kenneth was the hairdresser in New York. Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant flick up was the look of the day, and all of a sudden these English kids come along with their long hair and their tight trousers, and they want to cut hair off and, you know, wear it a completely different way. That was another battle to fight, but we won, I think.
THE FRENCH NEVER FORGAVE US FOR TWO THINGS: FIRST, THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, AND SECOND, VIDAL SASSOON.
Harold Leighton: Vidal and I used to go to Paris together. By this time, we got into the word “fashion,” and we didn’t know what it really meant, but we were looking at magazines and there was Freddie French, and Raymond, and then René doing softer work. These are hairdressers, for the American audience, who were what Kenneth was in New York, and Alexandre, and Guillaume were in Paris. Freddie French was already beginning to blow dry hair with a Denman brush. Every hairdresser who was anybody had a Denman and a pair of Artisan scissors, which Vidal was selling at that time. We started looking at Tattler, and Queen, and Vogue, and we were very jealous because Freddie French was in there with Teasy Weasy – and Raymond used to take the Café de Paris once or twice a year to show his new styles.
Joshua Galvin: To me, the Five-Point cut was the absolute top, top drawer. I remember being in Paris with Grace Coddington and seeing her jumping around the discoteque and this hair bouncing around; everybody was looking at it. I was working with Elle Magazine and in the evening, and when we went out to the clubs, the haircuts just stood a mile above the rest; we looked so different to anybody else and that was the exciting part of it. The French never forgave us for two things: First, the Battle of Waterloo, and second, Vidal Sassoon.
Trevor Sorbie: We went to Paris and that was the first time I saw Vidal cut on stage. He gave it the whole showbiz treatment, his face, getting down, and moving all over. The place rocked because even though the French didn’t particularly like our style of work, they still appreciated the enormity of this guy’s reputation. And when the Wedge came onto the catwalk, they literally pulled the model off the stage to see how it was cut. And that’s what put me on the map of hairdressing.
Laurance Taylor: So there we were smack in the middle of Bond Street, and everybody started to come. Joan Collins used to come before she was Joan Collins. I walked into the salon and Joshua was doing Shirley Temple’s hair; upstairs Rafael finished Judy Garland’s who was under the dryer with Liza on one side of her. Britt Ekland, Sybil Burton (when Richard Burton went off with Elizabeth Taylor, Sybil was a client and of course I was on her side even though I did sneak off to see the premiere of Cleopatra without her knowing). Fleur Cowles, the lady who invented Flair magazine, brilliant artist, brilliant writer; Julie Christie who is my favorite actress of all time, and the most wonderful lady; I did Catherine Deneuve for Repulsion for Roman Polanski and he filmed in the salon for a few days. It was just incredible.
Maurice Tidy: I became more or less the artistic director by the time I was 16-and-a-half. That’s when I started working in the photographic side of the world. I started working with models like Jean Shrimpton and Grace Coddington, and Celia Hammond. Duffy, Terrence Donovan, David Bailey, and Norman Parkinson were the four main photographers. I did my first shoot for Vidal when I was about 17 for Vogue.
Kathy Phillips: I think that possibly the English invented the celebrity hairdresser because really and truthfully, if you think about it, no other country really made hairdressers into this phenomenon, where they went to dinner, who they married. Vidal was the first. I think the English have been surprisingly pioneering in a lot of fields of creativity, and a lot of it happened in the ’60s, and the characters that came out haven’t been eclipsed. They started enormous numbers of trends in film, in makeup, and fashion.
Harold Leighton: We used to go to the turkish baths on a Friday night and all we did was talk hair. We developed two words – well, one word but two meanings: Form. “Are you on form or are you off form?” When we were doing hair, we would stand behind one another and ask, “What am I doing wrong?” And it would be said, “You’re off form.” So we would walk away and sulk. Vidal would say, “Where am I going wrong? Is it the scissors or is it the way that I’m combing? I can’t see the growth of the hair.” In those days we had to follow the growth of hair to develop a haircut rather than just do a haircut because we wanted to.
Maurice Tidy: I was working right beside Vidal when we first started doing the geometrics. The first one we know as a typical bob. He said to me, “Well, what do you think?” I said, “Why don’t we cut the back shorter?” So he did. Boomp. It fell right in place, and that made what people know as the Sassoon bob. It’s a very simple look and a simple type of way of doing it. For me, it was freedom. I mean, literally, freedom, because he gave me the opportunity to not just to do hair but to grow up in a whole new world and a whole new life.
Charles Booth: The work Vidal was doing evolved during the time that I was there. When I arrived, he was setting hair, rollers, pin curls, combing it through; he was looking for something. I was there when he cut Mary Quant’s hair; I was there when he cut Grace Coddington’s hair and Nancy Kwan’s; I was her shampoo boy. Grace Coddington was absolutely gorgeous, and she let Vidal do what he wanted to do. I went to the shoots with him, watched him comb hair with a long, straight pin. The photographs that emerged of all those iconic haircuts were perfect in themselves by the time they were photographed.
Annie Humphreys: It’s very important to understand that when you work with a shape you must actually bring out the points that the cutter has put there. Sometimes, something that is mono and very simple reflects the light in a certain way, as it did in the early days. As we went on and the techniques with cutting progressed, the coloring got as complicated as the cutting. And of course, the introduction of the concave, short hair supporting the long hair and making these shapes opened up endless possibilities, making the short hair recede and the longer hair stand out. You were emphasizing what they were trying to do. And Vidal was very, very interested in the architectural side, obviously, the shape and the whole structure. I tried to enhance that by making a color that would work to accentuate that structur
ALL THOSE ICONIC HAIRCUTS WERE PERFECT IN THEMSELVES BY THE TIME THEY WERE PHOTOGRAPHED
Christopher Brooker: Let me tell you about the Brush. One day Voguephoned me up and said they had this lovely little French girl, but nobody could do anything with her hair. I told them to send her over. Her hair was red, and over-processed chemically, and all sticking out, and they were all trying to make it lay down. I had seen a shaving brush all sticking up and I thought it would be great to do that with hair. So instead of going against it, I went with it, and I used some candle wax to to give it some help standing up from the root. I have this philosophy of turning a negative into a positive.
John Santilli: I remember when the Isadora became famous around 1969. Christopher Brooker had a wig that was a bob, short in the back and very long in the front for an Ungaro show. It had been lying in the wig room for maybe three years. Christopher came out with an idea, just for fun, “Why don’t the females wear it one way, and turn it around for the males so you’ve got a short fringe, and long at the back?” Six months later, Roger Thompson came out with this as a new look. I think, if I’m not mistaken, it took over the States. Roger had also done a haircut called the Mouche beforehand. When you mixed the Mouche and the Isadora, you get the layered haircut.
Trevor Sorbie: In 1974, Vidal was asked to do a show in Paris. So he pulled all his art directors together and said, “We need a collection of haircuts.” So we all went our separate ways and got busy experimenting, and one day I was doing this haircut which was one length to the top of the ear and very, very short in the nape, but all one length. I looked at it and said, “Oh God, the French won’t like that,” because they like soft hair. That day, Christopher Brooker was working in the salon and I said, “Come over here and tell me what you think this is. I quite like it.” That was the birth of the Wedge haircut. It was the first haircut to ever get a double-page spread in English Vogue. That was an honor.
Fumio Kawashima: I’m a very simple man. I don’t like complications. To me Vidal Sassoon technique is a straight, simple, nice haircut. And when I made the Box Bob in 1974, I was working with Christopher Brooker. I was working on a Dior show, and I met a model called Spiza who had beautiful hair and I approached her and said, “Would you like to have a haircut?” She said, “I wouldn’t mind,” and it was photographed in the Sunday Times Magazine. Christopher saw it and called me, “Fumio, did you do it?” “Yes.” So I actually made the Box Bob for the Sunday Times before Sassoon.
Guido: When you look at those classic Sassoon shapes, at the time they were very anarchic. People were quite startled by them. It’s very hard in this decade to shock people because we’ve see so many things. I think maybe then people weren’t so visually literate. Today, we have so many reference points; in the ’60s, I don’t know what you’d have thought when you saw someone walking down the street with one of those haircuts. It was probably like punk was in the ’70s. It was probably an outrage.
Tony Beckerman: I was sent around with Laurance Taylor to nearly every city in America demonstrating techniques, hairstyles, the mindset and the philosophy. That is such an important part of what Sassoon’s magic is; the haircut is important, always has been, but we were teaching a mindset. We were teaching a philosophy. It was how you walked, how you talked, how you dressed. I ended up opening the first school in San Francisco on Ellis Street and it was absolutely flooded with students.
Christopher Pluck: You stand around the shop and you’d watch all the boys cutting and setting, blowing out the hair, and then in the evening, this guy, Robert Edell, fabulous fella, great teacher, would show you the tricks of the trade – how to do the five-point cut, how to do the asymmetric cut, you know, how to lay in the rollers, how to blow them out, how to do the pin curls without any crimp marks – it was magic.
Trevor Sorbie: The one thing that Vidal taught me more than haircutting was discipline. And I always say that if you are taught well, you become good because you’re not being taught bad habits. The hardest thing in life is to drop a bad habit, especially with a skill. And Vidal never took the short route. He always took the long route. But it was the right route. Consequently, it has taught me how to be who I am today.
The hardest thing in life is to drop a bad habit, especially with a skill
Richard Stein: Vidal was enormously inspirational and as a guru, if you will; the guy just had an energy level that was extraordinary and palpable. He gave us all this amazing opportunity to study how to run a salon – what it would be like to cut famous people’s hair, how one could be a celebrity and a hairdresser at the same time. Vidal used to call me “Little Richard” which made me feel like a rock star. Everybody had a part to play in this.
John Santilli: I think it was 1974 when the Academy opened and I moved there with David Vista and Pat Ahearn. Pat was really a punk, but in those days there was no such thing as punk, but she was a great muse for us when we had students from all over the world. We were teaching what today would be pre-punk; punk is looking in the camera and being angry. Pre-punk was doing really nice styles, colors. There’s no anger in that. Before then we would be doing haircuts that were really advanced for their times, but today we would call them the basic cuts. So we are talking about the bobs, graduated bobs, layer cutting, the Greek Goddess, mainly graduation because that is teachable. It takes a lot of energy to learn. Layer cutting I think is less teachable and you need a little flair, whereas graduation is another kind of flair, another kind of work.
Charles Booth: Vidal was a teacher. He shared his ideas. Hairdressers used to hide if they knew they had a technique. I remember trying to go to Alexandre de Paris on a visit there. They wouldn’t let us in as though they were guarding nuclear secrets. But Vidal shared. People came in to learn. Classes and teaching were the lifeblood of that place.
Laurance Taylor: I was working there a week when Vidal said, “Take that raise I was going to give you at the end of the month now. You’re terrific.” That was the beginning of his kindness to me as a person and as a professional. He invited me to a Seder at his mother’s house in the East End. I was born Catholic and beaten by nuns with rulers during the war. It was a religion of fear, and Vidal’s family made me feel so welcome that from then on I thought I was a Jew.
Annie Humphreys: He was always very generous letting them get the attention they deserved and that they worked very hard for. He taught you to actually be sympathetic to people and to let other people be themselves – and creative. He always, always helped people, even when there wasn’t so much money in the bank and we were all struggling to a certain extent. He would give as much as, or more than he could really afford to people who needed it.
everybody wanted to be you, but you helped me become me
Richard Stein: One thing I could say about working with Vidal was his effect on me as a father figure, a role model, a man who I could really look up to. He was my spiritual dad. He was the personification of élan, or charm; he just seemed to exude this magic. I remember one of the last times I saw Vidal I said to him, “One thing I must thank you for is that everybody wanted to be you, but you helped me become me.”
Christopher Pluck: Vidal is the kind of man that I have always called strong. One of the great things he taught me was never work below the excellence that is within you. I tried to do that with everything that I do, first off with my family, my children, my wife. I tried to do that with the way that I live my life, being clean and in good shape, and I also do that with the people I work with when I cut their hair. I share that energy I learned from my friend, Vidal. It’s been a great experience knowing him and I thank him. I salute him for everything that he gave to me, and the industry.
When I think of Vidal, I think the three ‘gens’ – generous, genuine, and gentleman
Trevor Sorbie: Vidal came to visit me in my salon one day. He went up to the receptionist and said, “Good morning. My name is Vidal Sassoon and I’m here to see Trevor,” and shook the receptionist’s hand. I gave him a tour of the salon, and at every client he went, “Good morning, Madam. My name is Vidal Sassoon and I’ve just come to see my friend Trevor.” He went up to every junior, even the cleaners, and shook their hands. He was so generous with his behavior, a man of such fame going up to the common person and introducing himself.
Etienne Tanaka: When I think of Vidal, I think the three ‘gens’ – generous, genuine, and gentleman. That’s what he was, and he could be generously genuine or genuinely generous, but above all he was a gentleman, and that is something I learned from him, how far those three things will get you in life.
Richard Stein: I studied every move of his, and to watch him work was like watching Nureyev. I mean really, the man was performing all the time. He represented a new breed of hairdresser, a new breed of fashion, a new male that was emerging from the post-war debris. He was one step ahead of the game, always – always that marvelous question mark that he leaves: What’s next, what to do, how to be a world viewer, a global visitor if you will.
John Santilli: My first memory of Vidal was one day when his junior wasn’t helping him, so I got to. I was holding the hair and watching him cutting. Most people cut with comb and scissors. Vidal cut with his whole body, so when he would take a section, his mouth would move. His eyes would move. He would grab the hair and throw it and say, “Super!” The customer was incantato, as we say in Italy. They were so entranced.
Christopher Pluck: Everything Vidal did, every section he took, was like a piece of art in motion, from section to section, he’d watch the shape, build and move. You’d had to get out of this fella’s way because he danced. Yeah, he was pretty good at the discotheque also, I’ll tell you about that later. But he’d stamp his feet, and really get flowing. It was something to watch.
Beverly Sassoon: Vidal was electric when he would work, not only on the road shows but in the salon. It was like watching a boxer or a fighter; it was a show but it wasn’t, that’s just the way he did it. Everything else was tuned out. He wasn’t the sort of hairdresser you’d tell your troubles to; he didn’t listen. He was so into every piece of hair. It was like watching an athlete. It was dynamic.
Harold Leighton: Vidal – he was crazy, actually. If a client would touch her hair, Vidal would smash them on the knuckles with a comb. I swear to you this is gospel. So when a client got a rap on the knuckles, Vidal would throw the brush away, throw the comb away – never a pair of scissors because they were expensive. He would just leave the client, walk out of the salon and go for a walk. Sometimes he wouldn’t come back, sometimes he would. I became his stand-in, and I would finish the clients if he didn’t come back, or if he did and didn’t want to finish them.
Maurice Tidy: I was scared stiff! At that time, we use to set hair, right? And we had to make our rollers out of cotton balls. We’d take the little strips of cotton and use a little setting lotion to make them into different sizes. Well, one day I’d made all these rollers and I handed him one. And he looked at me and said, “Wrong size!” and threw the rollers all over the place. So I sat in the staff room and I wouldn’t come out until he apologized.
Annie Humphreys: I learned from Vidal that you should be fearless. If you believe in it, you should go for it. And you must always, always, give 200%, because you might manage to get 100. “If you don’t put it in, you’re not going to get it out.” That’s how he was. When he wanted something, in his early days, he just went for it, and anybody who didn’t was left by the wayside. So, you had to be in there for the ride, because he had no time for people who were not completely dedicated and on the same wavelength. And if you didn’t look the part, that’s it; you’re out the door. If you hadn’t cleaned your shoes that day, boy… there was no shilly-shallying; nobody dreamt of coming in looking like they’d slept in their clothes or been out the night before.
Joshua Galvin: Vidal didn’t tolerate anyone being less than 110% dedicated. If he felt that anybody was not right – in those days you could fire people – he’d say, “Out! Don’t let the door hit your backside as you go!” And you’re gone.
you should know your history of art. You should know your history of design. You should know your history of fashion.
Harold Leighton: These younger guys – Charles Worthington, and Oribe, and Frederic Fekkai, Eugene Souleiman, Guido – wonderful talent with such creative genes – must get back to showing how hair can change and do another revolution. Hair needs another revolution. I think we’re relying too much on product and not on skill.
Christopher Brooker: It’s not enough to be a good hairdresser. If you don’t have the marketing, if you don’t have the business, if you don’t have the other aspects you need, then you will never be fulfilled. Vidal showed that.
Aitch Peters: Vidal has made it welcoming for people to be more inquisitive, to do different things, and be hungry rather than greedy. So to young hairdressers I would say, “Follow your dream. Do what you have to do and get the best training that you can and continue creating.”
Tony Rizzo: It’s a record. It’s a history. Sometimes we seem to forget that that’s all we have. We have those memories that allow other generations to see that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a certain amount of time to get there!
Guido: I think what we lack today is that people don’t want to train, and they don’t want to learn their craft. And I still feel I’m learning every day from my assistants and other hairdressers. You know, hair reacts differently all the time. The technique that you used yesterday suddenly doesn’t work today. So, you have to keep learning.
Caroline Cox: You have to be aware of the latest thing in architecture, in literature, film, and particularly fashion. As a budding hairdresser, you should know your history of art. You should know your history of design. You should know your history of fashion, and see how hair fits into those cultural contexts because hair does not exist in a vacuum, and if you look at all the greatest hairdressers, they’re part of culture.