PETER FROST pays tribute to Vidal Sassoon.
Multi-millionaire hairdresser Vidal Sassoon died at his home in Los Angeles last week aged 84. Not perhaps a fact that you would expect to take up too much space in a serious paper left wing paper like the Morning Star particularly when you take into account that Sassoon was an enthusiastic Zionist for most of his life.
However there is another side of this man’s story that needs to be told –a more important aspect of the man. All his life Vidal Sassoon was a relentless fighter against fascism.
Born in London on January 17, 1928, the son of a poor Turkish-Jewish carpet salesman, Sassoon spent his early years in an orphanage. He quit school at 14 to become an apprentice hairdresser.
Like all poor Jews growing up in the East End he soon discovered the institutionalised anti-Semitism and the communist led fight back characterised by events like the battle of Cable Street.
Sassoon joined the fight against fascism. When he was still in his teens he plotted with other Jewish and communist East End teenagers to kidnap Oswald Mosley, strip him naked and chain him to a lamp post in Piccadilly Circus – sadly the plot failed.
In a recent interview with the BBC Sassoon explained “Suddenly, there were fascists preaching hate on every corner. These rabble-rousers were the same Nazi sympathisers who had spent the war years in prison, and were now starting up where they had left off.
“When you’ve got a thousand throats all screaming “the Yids, Yids, we’ve gotta get rid of the Yids”, that is pretty terrifying. They’d wear uniforms, insignia, the whole thing. That and the pictures we were seeing from Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau changed the shape of our rage, our slogan became “Never Again!”.
Sassoon was a founder member of the anti-fascist 43 Group, a paramilitary force which began with a meeting of 43 Jewish ex-servicemen and which grew to number more than 1,000 Jews and gentiles, men and women many of them communists.
“The men were mostly ex-servicemen, unsung heroes who had fought Hitler’s Nazis for five years and had come back to be abused by fascists as they walked down the street.” said Sassoon. “We had to use the same weapons as the fascists did: knuckle-dusters, coshes, and cut throat razors. I used my pointed hairdresser’s scissors.”
The most famous hair stylist in the world will be mostly remembered for ending the 1950s bouffant and beehive hairstyles of lacquer and hair pins. He invented the simple well cut wash and wear look. Sassoon’s hairstyles along with Mary Quant’s mini-skirts changed the way women looked forever. When the Beatles adopted Sassoon haircuts his fame and fortune were made.
Whisper it quietly but Vidal Sassoon’s new look – or a cheaper copy of it – was just as popular on the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Grosvenor Square as it was in the swinging King’s Road Chelsea. But that’s just by and by.
The important thing is to remember Vidal Sassoon for what he was – a brave street fighter against fascism. We need them just as much today.
This obituary first appeared in the Morning Star