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Vidal Sassoon remembered for pioneering women's hairstyles

Vidal Sassoon, who passed away Wednesday, was a veteran of Israel's 1948 war for independence and opened hair salons and styling academies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

By Sandy CohenAssociated Press / May 9, 2012

A file photo shows Vidal Sassoon after he received his Commander of the British Empire medal (CBE) from Queen Elizabeth II at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Place, London.

Anthony Devlin/Press Authority/AP/File

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Los Angeles

Vidal Sassoon used his hairstyling shears to free women from beehives and hot rollers and give them wash-and-wear cuts that made him an international name in hair care.

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When he came on the scene in the 1950s, hair was high and heavy — typically curled, teased, piled and shellacked into place. Then came the 1960s, and Sassoon's creative cuts, which required little styling and fell into place perfectly every time, fit right in with the fledgling women's liberation movement.

Sassoon died Wednesday at his home on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, police spokesman Kevin Maiberger said.

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Officers were summoned to the home at about 10:30 a.m., where they found Sassoon dead, Maiberger said. His family was with him. Officers determined that Sassoon died of natural causes, and there will be no further police investigation.

"My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous," Sassoon said in 1993 in the Los Angeles Times, which first reported his death Wednesday. "Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn't have time to sit under the dryer anymore."

His wash-and-wear styles included the bob, the Five-Point cut and the "Greek Goddess," a short, tousled perm — inspired by the "Afro-marvelous-looking women" he said he saw in New York's Harlem.

Sassoon opened his first salon in his native London in 1954 but said he didn't perfect his cut-is-everything approach until the mid-'60s. Once the wash-and-wear concept hit, though, it hit big and many women retired their curlers for good.

His shaped cuts were an integral part of the "look" of Mary Quant, the superstar British fashion designer who popularized the miniskirt.

He also often worked in the 1960s with American designer Rudi Gernreich, who became a household name in 1964 with his much-publicized (but seldom-worn) topless bathing suit.

"While Mr. Gernreich has dressed his mannequins to look like little girls," The New York Times wrote after viewing Gernreich's collection for fall 1965, "Vidal Sassoon has cut their hair to look like little boys with eye-level bangs in front, short crop in back. For really big evenings, a pin-on curl is added at the cheek."

In 1966, he did a curly look inspired by 1920s film star Clara Bow for the designer Ungaro. He got more headlines when he was flown to Hollywood from London, at a reputed cost of $5,000, to create Mia Farrow's pixie cut for the 1968 film "Rosemary's Baby."

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