Cut, Action!: Vidal Sassoon, Liberating Women With Haircuts

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Published February 11, 2011

He may have started as a novice apprentice at 14, but Vidal Sassoon has spent the last 50 years as the most famous name in hairstyling. Beginning with his wash-and-wear geometric cuts in the 1960s, Sassoon went on to create a hairstyling empire that includes a product line and numerous hairstyling academies. In the new documentary, Vidal Sassoon: How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors, we learn the story behind the name. Produced by Michael Gordon, founder of the Bumble & bumble salon, the film project initially began as a birthday gift for Sassoon highlighting his work, but quickly grew into something more. Working with director Criag Teper, the pair spent four years following Sassoon across continents from his childhood home to his current Los Angeles abode.

The documentary follows Sassoon from his youth in a Jewish orphanage, through the nine years Sassoon spent perfecting his innovative cuts—including the iconic “Five Point.” Director Craig Teper, in his first feature, discovered just how revelatory these simple shapes were for women in the sixties. “I hadn’t realized that creating these wash-and-wear cuts freed women from having to go to the hair salon twice a week. It helped level the playing field—women could get up, wash their hair, and go to work, much like a man could,” Teper told us.For Gordon, a fellow Londoner, Sassoon’s shadow loomed large when he began apprenticing. “I first became aware of him when I was 15 or 16, and I joined a very wonderful salon, but it was very old-school,” he said. “The talk among apprentices was all about Sassoon, so if it was as if I had signed up for the wrong team.”

While Gordon did not know Sassoon until much later in his career, their easy rapport is on display throughout the film. Teper describes the relationship between two of the most successful men in hairstyling this way: “They have so much in common… They’re both Jewish guys from London, and they both have that same drive for perfection, and they expect a lot. They have a kind of connection that few people have… So in some ways, Michael doing those interviews drew things out. I think Vidal said things to Michael that he wouldn’t have said to anyone else.”

While Gordon did not specifically follow Sassoon in terms of style, his influence was clearly felt. “He sets the bar for what you want to be. In that way, [he] set the bar right at the top of Mount Everest. “

For Gordon, now having left Bumble & bumble, the film was a chance to reconnect with the excitement of an earlier, more innovative time. “I did make it for [future hairstylists]… People of any age get resigned and lose their enthusiasm, and I wanted to show them you can really create something. I wanted to wake up the hairdressing industry.”

VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE IS CURRENTLY IN LIMITED RELEASE IN THEATERS AND IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON DEMAND.