Thursday, May 10, 2012

Icon: Vidal Sassoon

In my eyes, Vidal Sassoon was not only an ingenious artist who changed the way we view women's hair, but also someone who raised the bar of quality in hair care products.

In the early 90s, while I was in high school, I saved up and went to the Chicago Vidal Sassoon salon. With my parents' blessing of course, as they paced and passed time outside while I was getting my hair done. My goal was to get a nice haircut that would instill in me a sense of proper, adult-like style and help usher me into a new phase of my life as a high school sophomore.

I was very surprised when the stylist suggested my hair be cut and styled to be curly or wavy. I had assumed that VS was into straight, shiny hair and would never consider wavy hair as a passable style. My eyes immediately opened to new possibilities of self-esteem and acceptance. I hadn't had many haircuts up to that time, but no one had ever even remotely considered styling my hair wavy or curly--which is my natural texture.

Of course, with any new experience, a happy surprise is just as likely to turn a scary surprise at the drop of a hat. At just over $80 with tax, it was the most expensive hairstyle (or anything for that matter) that I had purchased up to that time. It emptied my wallet. My eyes were as big as a saucers. But I smiled.

Immediately after, my parents and I proceeded to eat lunch at our favorite nearby Italian. I mulled over the importance of the act of spending $80 on a haircut. I smiled anyway. In my introspection and deep thoughts, I happenstance noticed my dad looking at me funny and smiling, and my mom not really looking at me at all.

Suddenly, my mom began a litany of criticism. She thought I had made a mistake by intervening in the stylist's original plan (which I didn't) and had caused an uneven haircut (asymmetrical!). Essentially, mom was shocked by and hated the tousled tendrils that dripped longer in the front and my new, shorter, cropped back. She suggested that people might begin to think that I was trying to mock the orthodox Jewish men who wear curly side burn tendrils.

And to think, just how popular this hairstyle has become over the past five years because of Victoria Beckham! I guess mom was one of the many who, like me, assumed that VS was only into straight, glass-shiny hair with pointy edges. Curls came as a shock.

My excitement abated in the following days as I struggled with a blow dryer diffuser attachment on busy school mornings. However, I refrained from being officially depressed, because the darn haircut had been so doggone expensive. Alas, I couldn't keep at bay thoughts that, perhaps, being avant garde at my school or neighborhood in suburban Chicago, might not have been the best idea. Looking back, it was one of the most important self-esteem and natural hair texture experiences in my life.

How had I become aware of Vidal Sassoon in the first place? We had one of their hair dryers at home, and we had been purchasing for some time their hair spray and other products. Their  advertisements peppered our television viewing time. But perhaps more importantly, my mother had regaled me with her memories of walking often past one of their salons in London in the 60s, while she was in college.

She used to say that she had successfully absorbed some of the tricks the stylists used, at that time, and applied some of those same techniques on her own hair at home. I never saw any photos to help confirm or deny those statements. The best I could do was picture the storefront in my mind's eye, stylish and confident  women with short, boyish hair exiting and entering the shop from the small entrance, and mom's own long, shiny brown tresses waving left and right as she walked past. There were no curls involved.

I guess the best artists bring flair to their art and leave a lasting impression in our minds. I can ascertain this experience definitely left a lasting impression in our family. But that's what legacy is all about. Vidal Sassoon has certainly left a lasting impression in my mind, but of his and his staff's (and training program's) innovativeness, precision, consistency, and quality. All these are standards that still inform my hair product and hair styling decisions to this day.

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