Magazine article The New Yorker

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Magazine article The New Yorker

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Article excerpt

The Whitney Museum is closed on Tuesdays, but a few weeks ago it opened its doors to someone you may know from the shower: Vidal Sassoon. A genteel London-to-Beverly Hills transplant, Sassoon was in town for the opening of "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie," a documentary about his contributions to the art of hair (its subtitle: "How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors"). The film, produced by Michael Gordon, the founder of Bumble and Bumble, originated as a tribute from one hairdresser to another, on the occasion of Sassoon's eightieth birthday. Its completion, three years after the big day, loosely coincides with the publication of Sassoon's autobiography. That's a lot of self-narration for someone whose brand has nearly obscured his personhood. "I've had people come over to me and say, 'I thought you were a bottle,' " he said.

And yet his life has been full of incident: a Dickensian East End childhood (when he was five, his impoverished mother deposited him in a Jewish orphanage, where he stayed for seven years); a stint in the Israeli Army; four wives. In 1954, fed up with the back-combed coiffure of the day, he opened his first salon, on Bond Street, dreaming of a hair revolution. It took years of experimentation before his geometric bobs took over London, culminating, in 1965, in the Five Point Cut, first modelled by Grace Coddington, in Queen. The product line followed, in 1973, as did the indelible slogan "If you don't look good, we don't look good." Revolution achieved.

Had Sassoon not become a hairdresser (at his mother's insistence), he might have been an architect. In the museum's lobby, wearing a Hedi Slimane suit and thick-framed glasses, he recalled his first trip to New York, in 1961. "There were two buildings that totally fascinated me. One was obvious--the Seagram. And this," he said, gesturing to the concrete walls. "I can't think of a museum that eliminated the superfluous as much as the Whitney." Back in London, he ran into its architect, Marcel Breuer, at a restaurant, and they chatted for half an hour. "We talked shape," Sassoon said. "And it wasn't just shapes of buildings. He knew the shapes of the haircuts. I never saw him again, and I regret it."

A museum employee, Graham Newhall, led Sassoon to the third floor, where there was a show by the sculptor Charles LeDray. After surveying a collection of buttons carved out of human bone ("Looks like we're made up of many colors"), he paused in front of one of Breuer's angled windows. …

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