Liberator of ladies' hair Vidal Sassoon dies at 84

Associated Press Modified: May 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm •  Published: May 9, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vidal Sassoon used his hairstyling shears to free women from beehives and hot rollers and give them wash-and-wear cuts that made him an international name in hair care.

When he came on the scene in the 1950s, hair was high and heavy — typically curled, teased, piled and shellacked into place. Then came the 1960s, and Sassoon's creative cuts, which required little styling and fell into place perfectly every time, fit right in with the fledgling women's liberation movement.

"His timing was perfect: As women's hair was liberated, so were their lives," Allure magazine Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells told The Associated Press in a written statement. "Sassoon was one of the original feminists."

Sassoon was at his home in Los Angeles with his family when he died Wednesday at age 84, police spokesman Kevin Maiberger said. Maiberger said police were summoned to the home but found that Sassoon had died of natural causes, and authorities wouldn't investigate further.

"Vidal Sassoon was the most famous hairstylist in the history of the world," said John Paul DeJoria, a close friend of Sassoon and CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems, a company he co-founded with the late Paul Mitchell, a Sassoon protege. "Good hairstylists never die. Vidal Sassoon and Paul Mitchell will always live on."

DeJoria said Sassoon had been scheduled to sit at his table for a fundraiser Monday night but called to cancel, saying "his body was feeling just a little bit too tired and he would be there in spirit."

Sassoon opened his first salon in his native London in 1954 but said he didn't perfect his cut-is-everything approach until the mid-'60s. Once the wash-and-wear concept hit, though, it hit big, and many women retired their curlers for good.

His shaped cuts were an integral part of the "look" of Mary Quant, the superstar British fashion designer who popularized the miniskirt.

"My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous," Sassoon said in 1993 in the Los Angeles Times, which first reported his death. "Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn't have time to sit under the dryer anymore."

His wash-and-wear styles included the bob, the Five-Point cut and the "Greek Goddess," a short, tousled perm — inspired by the "Afro-marvelous-looking women" he said he saw in New York's Harlem.

Paul Mitchell's son Angus Mitchell, co-owner of John Paul Mitchell systems and a prominent hairstylist in his own right, said Sassoon's simple-but-dynamic system forever changed the business because it could be replicated anywhere.

"Vidal was like Christopher Columbus," Angus Mitchell, who studied under Sassoon, told the AP in a phone interview Wednesday. "He discovered that the world was round with his cutting system. It was the first language that people could follow."

Celebrity stylist and Madison Avenue salon owner Oscar Blandi said Sassoon made him fall in love with the hair business and showed him the "true art of styling."

"He truly changed the world of hair and beauty," Blandi said in an email. "He was definitely the most innovative person ever to enter the industry. He led the way for the celebrity stylists of today."

Many of those celebrity stylists were tweeting tributes as word spread.

"My great day turned into a devastating day," Tabatha Coffey of the Bravo reality TV series "Tabatha Takes Over" said on her Twitter account. "RIP Vidal Sassoon thank you for all you have done for our industry and for me."

Sassoon often worked in the 1960s with American designer Rudi Gernreich, who became a household name in 1964 with his much-publicized (but seldom-worn) topless bathing suit.

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