Monday, May 14, 2012

Vidal Sassoon Cost Me A Fortune

Vidal Sassoon cost me a fortune over the years.

Before him, people who cut men’s hair lived in barbershops marked by red and white spinning poles, to be visited rarely and salelyto stop the hair from growing over your eyes.

Our local barber in Tynemouth had frosted windows and chairs with leather straps where the men with the swept-backed Brylcreemed hair would sharpen their switchblades before shaving foam off old men’s chins. The buzz of electric shavers, interspersed with the clickety-click of comb against scissor, reverberated round the little wooden-paneled room, bedecked with adverts for Durex and Old Spice. Grown men talked of football and beer: I was ignored, other than to be asked questions about my favourite subject at school. I was certainly never asked how I wanted my hair cut: “Not too short” was my Mum’s terse instruction. Short hair was what you got when you had nits. My £1 cut was rounded off with an electric trim up the back and Brylcreem on top.

My hair has always been an embarrassment: it’s the most uncooperative mop. Mum has an appalling photo of me as a choirboy with protuding ears and hair stuck out at an extraordinary angle. She calls it angelic: it’s actually horrendous. My Dad always insisted I had a parting, but when you put a brush anywhere near my hair, it would spring skyward. No gel invented could tame it, no comb could ever breach its impenetrable thickness.

It was many years – too many – before the parting and I parted company. I’d spent my teenage years trying to straighten it, even growing it longer in the mistaken belief that its own body weight would make it sleek as the stars’ locks on Top Of The Pops. Or at least cover my projecting ears. How I envied boys at school who could imitate The Beatles. Mine was more Art Garfunkel.

 As a result, 60s style completely passed me by until eventually I gave up haircuts altogether. There’s a picture of me at university looking like a camp Robert Plant with purple sweater and brown corduroy trousers. My hair, left to its own devices, had become a nest, like something from an Edward Lear poem, in which an owl could happily raise its young.

So when I went to the BBC to begin the process of becoming a journalist, something had to be done. I did some research (well, I asked someone famous I met in a lift at Broadcasting House), and they said I had to go to Leonard. Leonard was the protégé of the great Sassoon, the man who’d created 60s hair revolution. It wasn’t just about the women, with their sharp angular shapes. Men, too, were being pampered in glossy hair emporiums. And none was more glamorous than Leonard’s “house” in Grosvenor Square.

It had yellow and white awnings. I booked an appointment. “Who with?” they asked. This threw me: I assumed it would be with Leonard. Sure, I could have Leonard, but it would cost as much as a family car. Or I could have Sarah. Sarah would do just fine. I have never felt so insignificant: it was a palace. They played music and brought you coffee and magazines. It was full of beautiful women, with frozen Sassoon cuts.

Thinking I’d come to the wrong department, I asked for the men’s section. The girl behind the counter laughed: this was unisex. She summoned a supermodel with impossibly long legs who sat me in a chair until Sarah arrived, studied my birds’ nest in a mirror, then asked what I wanted. I hadn’t the slightest clue. “Not too short, please,” I suggested. She snorted and then I spent the next 2 hours – and £25 plus tip – in makeover mode.

 I emerged short and, as Sarah called it, “choppy”. And I’ve been short and choppy ever since. Since then my hair has been cut by a succession of stylists, all of them expensive and all trained in the Sassoon tradition. The result: I still have terrible hair, and it’s cost me £10,000 more than it would have done in my local barber’s shop. But, short and choppy – that’s me.

No comments: