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Vidal Sassoon: The wash-and-go hairstylist’s legacy

Hairstyling legend Vidal Sassoon, who freed women from their beehived, shellacked with hairspray ‘dos, died May 9 at the age of 84. He’ll be best remembered for his concept of the wash-and-go approach to hair care: A cut so simple and so good that it required little maintenance. Wrote Adam Bernstein, in Sassoon’s obituary:

Clean geometric lines had been Mr. Sassoon’s driving motivation since opening his first salon in London in 1954. At the time, most women were resigned to going to bed at night with rollers in their hair. His approach grew into a direct assault on the beehive style and other formidable towers of hair seemingly shellacked with hairspray.

In 1957, he launched a fruitful collaboration with British clothes designer Mary Quant, the widely acknowledged “mother of the miniskirt.” In the bob style he perfected for Quant — who wanted her models’ necks and shoulders bare — Mr. Sassoon crafted a look that was tight at the nape but allowed the hair to fall in a flirty, bohemian cascade.

The “Sassoon bob” became the rage of Swinging London and one of the most enduring hairstyles of the last half-century. Variations on the bob included the popular “five-point” cut first modelled in 1963 by Grace Coddington.

Subsequent hairstyles he promoted included an asymmetrical, peek-a-boo bob and a short, closely curled look called the “greek goddess.”

Writer Delia Lloyd recounted her experience with a Sassoon Bob, which transformed her fine hair:

I myself am eternally grateful to Vidal Sassoon. As someone who is the opposite of hirsute, with hair so fine my stylist once decried it to be “like a doll’s,” I’ve sported a Sassoon bob (and its descendants) for as long as I can remember.

(Of course, not everyone bought into Sassoon’s signature look. The Dallas-based Vidal Sassoon salon closed soon after opening in the mid-70s because women hated the trademark, architecturally-inspired blunt haircuts. Former governor Ann Richards’s hairdresser famously said that in Texas, anyway, you didn’t want your hair to be smaller than your bum, as “big hair gives a gal proportion.” Ha!)

Sassoon freed women to have touchable, carefree coifs — women like Monica Hesse, who wrote a tribute to Sassoon’s approach. However, she lamented that hair could never be as simple as it seemed:

We got the bob, and our hair was still not maintenance-free. It stuck up in weird places. Our stylist had convinced us to go short, but it turned out we didn’t have the hair to go short. We had a strange cow-lick in the back of our head, and the bob made it worse. The shampoo wasn’t as promised, either. Nobody’s hair got miraculously shiny, we didn’t achieve the miraculously promised gloss. For awhile, we looked like Dorothy Hamill, and we know that was never your intention. (“If you don’t look good, we don’t look good,” the slogan was, and we have to say, there was a period of time where you looked really quite bad.)

That’s life, though, isn’t it? The things labeled “low-maintenance” often result in higher work. Hair simply doesn’t bounce in real life like it does in the commercials.

But you made us believe in the fantasy of low-maintenance, and the message of hair-liberation:

Free yourselves from the salon. Rely not on the hairspray. Shampoo your hair and get on with your life — and we tried to, every day.



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