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Perhaps his most important legacy is the signature techniques taught around the world today at Vidal Sassoon Academies and the golden rule of cutting that he has passed down to generations of hairdressers--If your client doesn't look good, you don't look good. W recently spoke with the 83-year-old beauty icon about his life, loves, loss and the prolific work featured in his new book,Vidal: The Autobiography.
This is a big year for you with the release of the autobiography and Vidal Sassoon The Movie. Which project came first?
They both happened at the same time. It was absolute madness. I'd be on location in London walking around old haunts or talking with old friends and something would come up that I felt needed to be in the book. This gave the projects this wonderful sense of sameness. In other words, what we were doing in the book had the same passion and sentiment as what had in the film.
At 83, what prompted you to write a memoir now?
At 83, most people are thinking of putting their toes in the sand. I had been approached several times to write a memoir. I kept saying that I was too young. The agency said that they didn't think so and that they would find me the best ghostwriter in town. I said if it needs to be written, I'd be the one to do it. And, so I did it. The last few years working on it have been magical. It has been a wonderful learning opportunity for an octogenarian like myself.
How does it feel to see your life condensed to approximately 350 pages of text?
It was a very difficult job choosing what to include. The book could have easily been 500 pages, but my editor said 350 were enough. There is work that was cut out that they didn't feel would interest as many people. It's very much like a movie in the way that it goes to the cutting room floor or how it's edited. I'd argue sometimes about things I felt should be included and they'd leave in what I fought for. Otherwise, I mostly relied on their very good judgment.
From left, VS in salon mirror, Vidal Sassoon Academy and Salon, 101 Bond St., London, England
After the chapters on your childhood and mother's influence, the book tends to focus more on your professional life than your private life. Being a memoir, is there more you'd have liked to say about your personal life?
Not really. The truth is that three lovely ladies left me, because I was so into hair, doing hair shows and traveling. We barely saw each other. That was really my fault, nobody else's... I take the blame for that. The problem is when people lose their identities; they truly lose their identities. I think I lost a lot of women that way. I've been with my wife Ronnie for twenty-two years now. She doesn't have the sense that she lost herself by traveling with me or doing mainly what I do. She's got a great sense of whom she is and so it's lasted.
What was the best thing that happened to you as a hairdresser?
I have never lost the passion for hair itself. It's the only substance that grows from humans that you can shape and mold. Apart from the original cutting, the best thing to happen was being able to create something that became a worldwide success. We worked ten years in London to change hairdressing as we saw it. It was so elitist when I was working in Mayfair. It was only socialites that would come in to get their hair washed and set for the week. I thought that we should give them beautiful cuts and beautiful shapes that wouldn't need dressing more than once a month. That gave every woman the ability to enjoy a gorgeous haircut.
Who were your muses?
Grace Coddington became my top model. She was eighteen when I first met her. She was just a little waif when Mary Quant and I got on to her. She carried off the Five Point Cut to be believed. Here in Los Angeles in my work with Rudi Gernreich, it was Peggy Moffitt. She was an extraordinary model. She acted out every piece of clothing. She would look in the mirror and act it all out before she would go in front of the camera.
From left, Sassoon with Grace Coddington; Rudi Gernreich and Peggy Moffitt (with Vidal Sassoon cut)
How did you go about creating your iconic cuts?
No one starts with the advantage or that great gut feeling and sense that it's got to be done, and that I am going to be the one to do it. It's something that slowly happens. In 1967, I called my top staff to tell them that we would work all weekend to find a new concept and to let me know if anyone had any objections. No one did. We worked all weekend long and we came out of it with The Greek Goddess. Along with the pride of a beautiful cut comes the sense of knowing that we literally worked from Friday night to Monday morning on it. And, we got it. In essence, it's the quality of work. It wasn't a personality, mine or someone else's, who created this image. It's the work of us all that created the image.
What do you think of today's popular hairstyles? Do you think we need another radical change?
There are a lot of beautiful cuts out there and women who look fantastic wearing them. However, there are some that I call the "the curtains". It's a curtain on each side of the face. I can understand it for a hairdresser that does three cuts in an hour instead of two... it's easier, but it does nothing for the face! I'd love to see some beautiful cutting coming back.
What type of haircut do you think you'd give someone today?
My favorite is still a great geometric cut that shows off the bone structure. A woman's neck and bone structure can be very sexy. So for me, it would be all about bones. I'd cut angles here and there. And when she'd shake it around, it would fall back into a great haircut.
Sassoon with Mia Farrow
I don't think that most people know about your deep ties to Israel and the philanthropic work you have done. Can you share more about the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism?
I am Jewish and personally experienced Anti-Semitism firsthand growing up during the war in London. I was a member of the 43 Group, a group formed to fight fascism in the streets. After the United Nations voted to form the Israeli state, I was one of the volunteers to go over and help the state. I ended up serving in the Palmach [a fighting force that became a part of Israel's official army] and for a time I thought I'd stay. In 1982, I founded the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University with Professor Yehuda Bauer. We've hosted wonderful seminars throughout the years and many of them have seen attendance from an audience of around sixty percent gentile...that is exactly what we wanted. You've got to talk to the people whose minds you can change, not the ones who already know. Unfortunately there have been some recent remarks by people that should know better.
Yes, and what did you think about the recent remarks made by John Galliano?
I've witnessed this sort of thing in my life. I believe that it is indigenous. People learn it from their parents and grandparents. It comes from generation to generation. Unfortunately, it has raised its ugly head again. The wonderful thing is that in France the punishment can be quite severe. The only way to break the trend is to enforce severe consequences.
A recent photo of Sassoon
Looking back on your life, what one thing do you attribute the most to your success?
I would say there are two things that attributed most to my success. The first is discipline, which was taught to me by the first man I was apprentice for when I was fourteen. His name was Adolf Cohen, or Professor Cohen to me. He said that we must have our trousers pressed along with shoes and nails cleaned daily. Now, we were in the middle of a war and sleeping down in shelters. I first wondered how the heck would I be able to do that. I quickly learned...you slept on your trousers to keep them pressed, kept some black boot polish with me and the nails would be more than clean after two shampoos. He was a disciplinarian and he really taught me discipline. I used it a lot with my staff. I often said that if we were going to develop into a craft that people admire, we must first show that we are worthy of it.
The other thing was vision. I don't think that anything would have happened without the vision. I was always thinking of different looks and my two top guys [Christopher Brooker and Roger Thompson] were too. We'd get together as a team and we'd sort something out that was different from the rest, because we had the vision.
What do you most regret or what would you do differently?
When I was going through a very bad period with my divorce from Beverly. It was a very tough period. I started to make mistakes. I started to make decisions that really shouldn't have been made. A company called Richardson-Vicks was seducing us and they really kept on. They told me that we'd become international much more quickly with them than on our own. It was really like a seduction. We bought into it. Only a year and a quarter later, they were bought out by Procter & Gamble. And of course, all the promises that were made by Richardson-Vicks were not kept. Obviously they couldn't be, because it was different company with different ideas. That I would regret, but my nature won't let me ponder over what could have been... so I can't really allow myself to regret it. And, so my work has gone around the world and it has been very special.
What’s your secret for longevity?
I wrote something recently about longevity. Longevity is a fleeting moment that lasts forever. For some people, they do one thing that takes them out of the ordinary... and that can last forever.
Vidal: The Autobiography is published Macmillan UK with distribution in the United States by Trafalgar Square Publishing. To purchase the book, please visit Amazon.
Photos courtesy of Vidal Sassoon personal archives.
The 3000-square-foot historic landmark was once a soldier’s hospital, but now houses Agnès’ men’s, women’s, shoes and accessories collections amidst the antique architectural details, clean white walls, and mid-century furniture. And while the clothes are the focus, it would be worthwhile to pay a visit just to peruse the art: a 500-square-foot gallery wall curated by Agnès will feature international artists from her Paris gallery, Galerie du Jour; her art periodical Point d’Ironie will be available alongside a selection of art books; her collection of original film noir posters will decorate the space; and underground art films will occasionally be screened in-store.
And if that weren’t enough, the art and fashion worlds collide with a series of tees for her Artist T-Shirt line, including designs from notables including Ryan McGinness, Rostarr, Harmony Korine, and Bast, many on sale exclusively in-store.
When Diane von Furstenberg approached her usual collaborator earlier this year about possibly her biggest party ever slated for Shanghai, De Betak didn’t break a sweat. “I’m setting office here as we speak,” said the Paris and New York based guru. “You still can do anything in China that you may dream of, but at times it takes re-inventing the wheel. There was no precedent for the events of this nature being done here and obviously not in the obsessively perfectionist and luxurious ways of doing things.”
DvF’s enormous Chinese affair (which will happen tomorrow night after months of planning) stuck to some familiar themes. “As Diane often says,” noted DeBetak. “It’s about recreating the spirit of ‘a man in a woman's body’ as well as other East-West dualities like ying and yang, night and day, art and fashion, and strength and spirit.” The pair settled on artist Zang Huan's studio as the venue, which happens to be 45 minutes away from the city center. But incredibly that brick hangar boasted 35,000 square feet in real estate and 50 feet in height. With the luxury of space, DvF and De Btak masterminded a party in which no detail will go unnoticed and no red candle will be left behind.
The many remarkable highlights will include the DvF branded scarlet fabric welcome gates, cocktail hour contracted out of custom made bamboo towers and paper, one hundred Chinese red laser masters, two Zang Huan sculptures and the 7,500 square foot arrangement of giant beds for the dinner serving. After the guests will enjoy barbecued delicacies at the tables, DJ Michel Gaubert and a giant red disco ball showpiece will entertain the crowd. “I guess this all feels like a giant wedding,” noted von Furstenberg. “Which makes me both nervous and happy.”
Ruby Kobo diamond slice clay ball bracelet
"In December I went over to India, which was my first time taking off since we started the collection," Alpert told us when we stopped by Ruby Kobo's studio to see their latest wares. "I did a lot of traveling before we launched and you really saw that in the first collection; the influence of Nepal and the Himalayas. And then this thing kind of became a business [laughs] so you realize you have to come to work every day and can't really leave."
So when some downtime materialized around the holidays, the peripatetic designer leapt at the chance to organize a trip to the Subcontinent (armed with suggestions from fellow CFDA Incubator resident, Waris Ahluwalia) to work with local craftsman and source new materials. "We've been using tulsi wood since last season and I was having it carved in Jaipur, but I've never met these guys so I decided to go there to meet them and work and mess around."
Submarine rose gold and diamond ring
The result of said messing around is a natural evolution of Ruby Kobo's boho luxe bijoux. To wit: Alpert refashioned his signature diamond ball bracelet using traditional Indian clay instead of sterling silver, which is then topped with sliced white diamonds (which appear black because of the dark clay base), encased in an 24k gold web and strung with lava stone beads ($450). The idea for the delicate diamond-studded 14k rose gold "Indian Submarine" ring ($1200) and earrings ($1040)—the duo's first foray in either category—came after watching a Discovery Channel show on the plane en route to India.
The Ruby Kobo Nessa collection
And then there's the Nessa collection ($250-$480), which features a delicate rose gold-plated sterling silver bangle, ring and pyramid studs, topped by black rubber or oxidized silver that's wrapped in 18k yellow and twisted rose gold trim. Nessa was inspired not by the designer's India jaunt but by a piece of vintage rubber jewelry found closer to home. "I wanted to try and design a piece that used rubber, but in an elegant way," Alpert said. "And I always thought it would be cool to make a pinky ring."
Which goes to show that inspiration can just as easily be found in Manhattan as Mumbai.
18K yellow gold, chrysoprase, lapis, onyx, moonstone, and turquoise necklace, $29,100, at Jeffrey, New York, 212.206.1272.
I probably wasn’t the ideal candidate, then, to attend a dinner last night at Jacqueline Schnabel’s ridiculously chic West Village townhouse in honor of the organization World Bicycle Relief, which fosters access to everything from health care to education in rural villages by providing them with bikes and thereby transportation. Schnabel discovered their endeavors last November on a visit to Zambia—where they are working to distribute 50,000 bicycles to local children—and the non-profit is collaborating with NGOs to reach out to other African countries (to date, they have given out 71, 416 bikes in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania).
From left: Jacqueline Schnabel, F.K. Day and Julian Schnabel
But my lack of cycling prowess didn’t prevent me from understanding the charity’s raison d’etre, as founder F.K. Day addressed a packed audience that included Stella and Lola Schnabel, Olivier Sarkozy, Ross Bleckner, Alek Wek, Marina Abramovic, Ted Forstmann and Frederic Fekkai.
And quite a crush it was—Jacqueline’s carpeted, Marrakesh-worthy abode was teeming with friends and family nibbling on steak tartare, English pea and mushroom crostini and a buffet dinner downstairs.
From left: Hannah Bronfman, Arden Wohl
“It’s so crowded. It’s a fucking zoo here,” said her ex-husband Julian Schnabel as he entered (sans current squeeze Rula Jebreal), before adding, “I guess that’s a good thing.”
It was. Hannah Bronfman and Arden Wohl caught up with friends, while Dustin Yellin eyed Angela Lindvall.
From left: Angela Lindvall, Marina Abramovic
“That’s my first love,” said Yellin to a companion. “The girl in the green dress.&rdquo
“Why isn’t she talking to you?” he responded.
From left: Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek; Stella Schnabel
The frenzy only heightened when Naomi Campbell arrived, clutching her Russian beau Vladislav Doronin’s hand. The model kiss-kissed her way through the crowd—one for Fekkai, “Hi Vit!” to Vito Schnabel—as she was stopped by fans.
“Of course I remember you,” she said to one, rather dubiously, as she made a lap before heading out into the night.
A World Bicycle Relief bike
Photos: David Prutting/Billy Farrell Agency
This was exactly the void that Danny Meyer and his team were looking to fill when they took over the former Sarabeth’s space in the basement of the Whitney and remade it as Untitled, currently in a soft opening stage.
Inspired by coffee shops of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Untitled offers an all-day menu of breakfast and lunch dishes to hungry museumgoers and local business workers, alike from 7:30am-3pm on weekdays and 10am-3pm on weekends (Saturday and Sunday prix fixe dinner service will arrive later this spring). A Stumptown fueled coffee bar stays open until the Whitney closes, offering beverages and pastries.
And it all goes down in a setting designed by the Rockwell group. White oak tables and room dividers ground the space, there will be chrome seats with red felt upholstery and felt-backed white oak benches and there is a large bar area backed by a chalkboard paired with chrome and white leather stools, all created to meld with the famous Marcel Breuer building, rather than distract from it. Everything can be quickly cleared away and stored in two hours for one of the Whitney’s many nighttime events.
“The museum [basement] is used eighty percent in the evenings for functions so it basically had to be breakfast-lunch business…so we said, Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could reimagine that with exceptional ingredients?” says Meyer’s partner Richard Coraine, who oversees new business. After all, this is a Danny Meyer enterprise—Bisquick and Jimmy Dean sausage don’t cut it.
Instead, chef Chris Bradley, formerly of Gramercy Tavern (and also an Aureole and Café Boulud alumnus) and his team have focused on sourcing the freshest of ingredients: bread baked at Brooklyn’s Scratchdrop; fresh eggs from Urban State Garden Farms in Newark; five apple pies every other day courtesy of Four & Twenty Blackbirds (they only produce 100 pies a day from their Brooklyn kitchen), and artisanal Brooklyn Sodaworks drinks (I got to sample a delicious apple-ginger one. Still waiting to test-drive the food. Hint, hint.). The bacon, ham and pastrami are cured in house and any meat smoking is done at Meyer’s catering company, Union Square Events’ kitchen.
And the menu is gimmick-free—no Kandinksy omelettes or Rothko waffles here.
“I had some lngonberries in to make a jam and was going to call it ‘Ligon berry jam’ [in honor of the current Glenn Ligon exhibit], but too jokey,” says Bradley.
His offerings cover ample ground from cheesy scrambled eggs on toast and pork sausage gravy and a biscuit to Matzoh ball soup and one of Bradley’s favorites, kale, beet and almond salad with a yogurt vinaigrette. Heartier fare includes a pastrami reuben, Greek lamb burger and parmesan-crusted grilled cheese.
“This is an ‘unlearning.’ I have to learn how to not make it elegant, make it look homey so people can come in and feel relaxed,” says Bradley, who will get to display his fancier skills in the weekend dinners. Themes being tossed around include “Meet Your Maker,” in which he’ll craft a meal around one of the purveyors and invite them to join and Sunday roasts. “I’m not holding back in here. I’m just doing a different style and then taking the weekends and really show off.”
As for the café’s curious title, or lack thereof, it was the product of indecision (“Over six months time we couldn’t come up with a name and the director of the museum Adam Weinberg said ‘It’s called Untitled. Great works of art are called untitled sometimes,’” says Coraine.), whose effect continues to comically rear its head.
“I got an email today from one of the purveyors that said, ‘Let us know when you decide on a name,’” laughs Bradley. “And I was like, ‘No, it IS Untitled.’”
There is no missing Nella Camara. Dressed in a flirty polka-dot cocktail number, five-inch lollipop-red Louboutins, and a feather-festooned beret of her own design, the French-Senegalese hostess at Miss Lily’s, a month-old Jamaican Jerk Hut in Greenwich Village, appears at the entrance like an amped-up cabaret singer from the Forties. And like the rest of the vibrantly-attired women working at the restaurant, she immediately makes you wish you had put more effort into your own outfit. “It’s a fun, punchy place; I wanted the girls to be an extension of it,” says Miss Lily’s creative director Serge Becker, who assembled a lookbook of colorful and wildly patterned fashion images to inspire them. There are no uniforms (“this isn’t Disneyland,” says Becker); each of the employees pulls from her own closet—or someone else’s: On the day of this shoot, Dominique Armorer, a model from Trinidad, was wearing a floral dress that Nella had designed; while Kheswa, a musician from South Africa, was poured into a sequined piece borrowed from Miriam Parker, the restaurant’s manager. As for her own eclectic ensembles, Miriam, an LES-native, tends to raid her family’s closets. “I have a rich, cranky great-aunt who has tons of amazing old Leonard and Cacharel,” she explains. “I’ll mix stuff from her with vintage finds.”
Miss Lily’s, 132 W. Houston St., New York, NY; (646) 588-5375