And Thank you ICD for this honour in my NEW hometown Boca Raton
Intercoiffure has had a reputation for me, for many many years as an organization that shares extraordinary hair innovations and has formulated a culture of shared creativity.
I am honoured to share with you ALL my experiences as a hairdresser, my relationship with Vidal and my own personal philosophy.
Way back around 1950 at the ripe old age of 18, I was working for Romaine, a new hairdressing salon in central London. One day a young SLIM HANDSOME man came into ROMAINE’S after returning from the Israeli army.
To us his workmates his name was Viddy. His real name of course was Vidal Sassoon! He was just another young DUDE wanting to be a ladies hairdresser in the 1950s. I am going to share with you a peek into the missing years of his life!
Vidal was a very fit and good-looking guy, and fun to be with. Other than hair he adored the ladies and soccer. He was also a great dancer! Weekends he would do a double act with one of his mates on the stage dancing and performing at the Hampstead Tennis club. Maybe it's where he learned to preform and dance around the styling chair!
He belonged to the '43 group' a band of young Jewish men who fought anti-Semitism that was rife in London at that time. Many times he would come to work the next day with a bloody nose! All his life he was a great supporter of Israel.
Once a month on a Friday evening after work Vidal, Gerard and myself (known then as The Three Musketeers) would go to the Turkish baths to have a scrub down and massage and an ice-cold plunge in the pool. It was a great way to relax.
It was there were we would then start to talk Hair into the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, envisioning, and developing all our new ideas on haircutting and styling, which was very exciting.
This is where so many ideas were born and many creative styles were designed for hairdressing CONTEST, S! Vidal and I entered many competitions and we HAPPENED TO win quite a few between us.
We continued to work almost every night (after work) on models, developing our new cutting and styling techniques. One day in walks a rep to the salon showing us a 4in new scissor, we realized this would give us the ability to control the hair far more than using a 7in! Our lives changed from that moment on!
Vidal in the early days had temperamental issues. He would experiment on many clients. If a client touched her hair or complained about the cut or finish, he would throw his brush or comb on the floor and march out of the salon. I became his “stand-in” and finished off the client on many occasions, placating her and saving the day!
When clients touched their own hair, Vidal would rap his comb on the client’s knuckles and say "do not touch your hair, it's not yours until you pay FOR IT!” Can you imagine doing that today!
We now know Vidal went on to become the global master haircutter and personality of post war hairdressing “The King of the Crimpers” and changed our industry. I was VERY lucky to have worked side by side him as a junior and a hairdresser. Our five-year age gap made a big difference at this age, but we became loving friends for MORE THAN 60 years until his passing in May 2012.
I am probably the only hairdresser who worked on the next dressing table to him that rode the wave of a Rock star for this period of years. I was just lucky working in the right two salons at the right time.
Vidal wrote in my last book "From Salon to Celebrity" THE INDUSTRY COULD ONLY HANDLE ONE HAROLD LEIGHTON I don’t think the industry could handle two!
There are so many fun and sexy stories to tell but they will have to wait for the next book!
One story I will share is of a real British Titled Lady. 'Lady Linda' a client of Vidal after her shampoo always loved to have a ‘Coty friction massage’ before Vidal set her hair in rollers and pin-curls. This was a big thing in the 50s as it was an extra 2 shillings & sixpences on her bill.
This time it went slightly wrong - our domestic cleaner George an ex policeman and punch drunk boxer who used to wash the towels and not knowing, leave soap in, because he never rinsed them enough. The towels got so hard you had to break the towel over your knee to place it around the client’s shoulders! That day George ran out of 'Coty Lamont' frictions so he refilled a used empty bottle and made up his own concoction!
His concoction consisted of: 1oz. of surgical spirit, Disinfectant and Perfume to give it an aroma.
Vidal sprinkled this from the bottle after shampooing, onto the warm scalp and gave a short sharp scalp massage. He was very strong as he was a weight lifter and worked out as a young stud!
We then heard Lady Linda in her high pitch voice say.
“Oh ”Mr. Vidal! Mr. Vidal! Oh Mr. Vidal. It’s burning my scalp Mr. Vidal Oh Mr. Vidal Mr. Vidal.”
Saying this as she was sliding off her chair, falling out of Vidal’s reach and onto the floor as the home made friction was burning her scalp!!
LAUGH we were all in hysterics!!!
Working side-by-side Vidal at Romaine’s and Dumas, gave me many wonderful stories that remained with me and I shall always be blessed he was my dear DEAR friend.
Working in such a creative environment early in my career, inspired me to write three industry books, invent industry products and gave me the opportunity to style the hair of celebrities in both Europe and the States.
I have had a love affair with hairdressing for over 60 years. (SO MY WIFE TELLS ME) It is because of this early creative experimental culture that instilled in me a personal philosophy, “it is far better to dare mighty things, and to create new concepts even though it may be checkered by failure, than to remain in a safe environment.”
We all have a responsibility as leaders TO educate the next generation of hairdressers to step out of the safe twilight AND into the bright sunshine and to continue to evolve the industry.
Life is made up of small comings and goings. And for everything we take with us, there is something We Leave Behind.
I leave you with my own personal belief. “We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.”
I would like to present my last book “From Salon to Celebrity” to your President Frank Gambuzza. Thank you all and I thank ICD for my 59th wedding anniversary gift for Harold and my darling wife Maxine who has stood behind me all these years and is here with me today I TRULY LOVE YOU. Thank you so much FRANK GABUZZA - ICD and Leon Alexander.