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Obituaries

Vidal Sassoon, liberator of women’s hair; at 84

Reuters/File 1997

Vidal Sassoon’s creative cuts, which required little styling and fell into place perfectly every time, came along in the 1960s and fit right in with the fledgling women’s liberation movement.

LOS ANGELES - Vidal Sassoon used his hairstyling shears to free women from beehives and hot rollers and to 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 Mr. 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.

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Mr. Sassoon died Wednesday at his home on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, police spokesman Kevin Maiberger said. He was 84.

His family was with him. Officers determined that Mr. Sassoon died of natural causes.

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

‘My idea was to cut shape into the hair. . . . Women were going back to work; they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore.’

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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.

Mr. Sassoon opened his first salon in his native London in 1954, but said he did not 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.

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

He also 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.

“While Mr. Gernreich has dressed his mannequins to look like little girls,’’ The New York Times wrote after viewing Gernreich’s collection for fall 1965, “Vidal Sassoon has cut their hair to look like little boys with eye-level bangs in front, short crop in back.’’

He got more headlines when he was flown to Hollywood from London to create Mia Farrow’s pixie cut for the 1968 film “Rosemary’s Baby.’’

Mr. Sassoon opened more salons in England and expanded to the United States before also developing a line of shampoos and styling products. His advertising slogan was “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.’’

He also established Vidal Sassoon Academies to teach aspiring stylists how to envision haircuts based on a client’s bone structure.

“Whether long or short, hair should be carved to a woman’s bone structure,’’ he told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “Actually short hair is a state of mind . . . not a state of age.’’

He wrote four books, including “Vidal: The Autobiography’’ released in February of this year and 1984’s “Cutting Hair the Vidal Sassoon Way.

He sold his business interests in the early 1980s to devote himself to philanthropy. The Boys Clubs of America and the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center of Los Angeles were among the causes he supported through his Vidal Sassoon Foundation.

He had moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s in search of a chemist to formulate his hair-care products and had decided to make the city his home.

A veteran of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Mr. Sassoon also had a lifelong commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism. In 1982, he established the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Growing up very poor in London, Mr. Sassoon said that when he was 14, his mother declared he was to become a hairdresser. After traveling to Palestine and serving in the Israeli war, he returned home to fulfill her dream.

He told the Chicago Tribune in 2004 that he was proud to have entered the field.

“Hairdressers are a wonderful breed,’’ he said. “You work one-on-one with another human being, and the object is to make them feel so much better and to look at themselves with a twinkle in their eye. Work on their bone structure, the color, the cut, whatever, but when you’ve finished, you have an enormous sense of satisfaction.’’

Married four times, Mr. Sassoon had four children with his second wife, Beverly.

None of the children went into the family business. The eldest, Catya, an actress and model, died in her sleep on New Year’s Day 2002 of an accidental overdose.

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