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Vidal Sassoon, the man who invented modern hairdressing, dies aged 84

The stylist opened his first salon in London in 1954 and helped shape the look of the Swinging Sixties

By Rob Hastings

Vidal Sassoon, the revolutionary hairdresser of swinging London whose scissors helped cut away sexism and patriarchy as well as hair, was found dead in his Los Angeles home yesterday after succumbing to leukaemia.

The 84-year-old died in his home on the city's famed Mulholland Drive, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

Among younger generations of women, Sassoon's name will be mainly associated with the brands of hairstyling products that made him millions.

Yet Wash and Go was not merely the name of his shampoo. It was a fashion concept that went some way to helping the momentum of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s, as he snipped away at the intricate and cumbersome hairstyles of British women to introduce bolder, simpler looks – most famously the bob – which required far less work. With the beehives and bouffants gone, so too were the curlers and the hours spent sitting in them at home.

"Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn't have time to sit under the dryer any more," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. However, he added that his approach was not just about practicality. "My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous." The fashion designer Mary Quant – whose clothes were intrinsically linked to Sassoon's cuts – labelled him the "Chanel of hair".

Last night the celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke said Sassoon was "one of the top five Swinging Sixties icons along with the Beatles, Carnaby Street, Mary Quant and the Union Jack". He added: "What he did was bring in a form based on Modernism. He just brought that to hair that worked in terms of it being all about the cut."

Sassoon opened his first salon on London's Bond Street in 1958, and began opening more in Britain and across the Atlantic in the mid-1960s as excitement grew around his styles, which also included the five-point cut and the Greek goddess. His ideas had ever-increasing influence in the fashion world, leading to him being flown from London to Hollywood at a reported cost of $5,000 simply to cut the hair of the actress Mia Farrow – with a pixie look – for Roman Polanski's 1968 cult film Rosemary's Baby.

Born in 1928 to a poor Jewish family, Sassoon joined the 43 Group to fight fascists on the streets of London in the 1940s, leading the author Michael Rosen to pay tribute to him last night. On one occasion he was arrested and spent a night in a cell for his troubles.

He left for Palestine to fight in Israel's war of independence in 1948, and later, in 1982, he established the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was made a CBE in 2009, commenting after receiving his award from the Queen at Buckingham Palace that the monarch's hair had a "beautiful colour".

Despite moving to the US he maintained a strong affection for the UK – not least through his support for Chelsea FC. Indeed, his love of football led him to say in 2007: "I thought I'd be a soccer player but my mother said I should be a hairdresser, and, as often happens, the mother got her way."

Sassoon's personal life proved somewhat rocky, taking in four marriages. He had four children with his second wife, but their eldest daughter, Catya, died in her sleep on New Year's Day 2002 after an accidental overdose. He is survived by his fourth wife, Ronnie.

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