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Vital Vidal 

A serious talk with Sassoon on his official day in S.F.

Wednesday, Oct 15 1997
Tuesday was Vidal Sassoon day in San Francisco, according to a proclamation signed by Mayor Willie Brown as part of his continuing efforts to transform S.F. into the nation's most gracious host of corporations. Previous beneficiaries of the mayor's favor include Nike, the Home Depot, and the San Francisco 49ers; Sassoon is well aware of the company in which he has been placed.

"It's quite an honor. I don't know what I did to deserve it," Vidal says.
Modest words coming from the mouth of the man who single-handedly invented wash 'n' wear hair and whose academies have trained many of the best hair professionals in the world.

It's probably no accident that Mayor Brown gave his very special State of the City address on Vidal Sassoon Day itself. With that correspondence in mind, SF Weekly invited Mr. Sassoon to discuss issues of concern to San Franciscans.

We were alarmed to learn that Vidal is a philosophical opponent to Willie Brown on the most defining issue of this mayor's administration: the public funding of sports stadiums. To avoid possible conflict between these two men on their very special days, the Weekly changed the subject of the interview to aesthetics, traffic, theology, and theoretical astrophysics.

SF WEEKLY: What are some of the ideas behind this season's hairstyle collection?

VIDAL SASSOON: It's called the fall look. It's a disconnected look which is very hard to put down on paper, but it intermingles with extraordinary colors -- not color, but colors -- very subtly done to mingle in the creative lines and the look of the hair. It's a little different for us, because we're known for absolute classic cuts. Here you've got classic cuts, but with the disconnected look of the cut it's a very wild effect, and that's what we've done.

It's very street!
SFW: Now I'm going to ask you some questions about things of general interest to San Franciscans, that might not have anything to do with fashion, given you're the man being honored today on Vidal Sassoon Day.

VIDAL: OK. Let's give it a whirl.
SFW: Some in San Francisco promote the idea of closing Market Street to motor vehicle traffic. If you had a store on Market Street, would you fear losing business?

VIDAL: Let me put it this way. I think cities should have malls that are walkable. Some of the most beautiful cities I know have places where cars can't go. Now, if I have a business on that street, am I going to enjoy it? I'm not sure. If it's pouring outside, and people can't get into my store, I'd feel limited by the city. In beautiful spring weather, people love to walk.

SFW: Do you believe October 12 should be named "Indigenous People's Day," or "Columbus Day"? Or for that matter, do you feel it should be named "Vidal Sassoon Day's Eve"?

VIDAL: Well, it certainly shouldn't be called Vidal Sassoon Day's Eve, for sure. San Francisco, to me, is this wonderful global city, where people come, they get off the plane, and they smile. To call it Indigenous People's Day cuts out so many of its tourists and people from so many other cultures who come here to learn the culture of San Francisco. So I certainly wouldn't call it Indigenous People's Day. If you wanted to call it the International Day of All Peoples, I think you'd have a wonderful name.

SFW: San Francisco voters recently approved using municipal revenue bonds to subsidize a new stadium. Do you think this is a good use of public money?

VIDAL: We'd be much better advised in major cities to put that kind of money into decent schooling for everybody and education. And let people who open sports stadiums find their own money. There is plenty of money on Wall Street. Taxed citizens shouldn't pay for it.

SFW: San Francisco's UCSF Medical Center will soon merge with the Stanford University Medical Center into a private, nonprofit corporation. Do you feel public or private entities are best equipped to provide health care?

VIDAL: Hmm. Well, I grew up in England. I was born there. We were not middle class. Let's face it, as far as income was concerned, we were very working class. And without state-funded national health [care], my mother could never have had a major operation, because the cost probably would have been in the region of $200,000, and she didn't have 200,000 pennies. So I am all for, when it comes to education and health, state funding.

SFW: The state government will soon spend a billion dollars to rebuild one span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Do you think they should paint the new portion rust-red, to match its sister span, the Golden Gate Bridge?

VIDAL: I think they should maintain the appearance of the bridge, yeah. The topography is such that the more minimalistic you can keep your bridges, the better. You don't have to fancy them up. They're there against this wonderful nature background. If you start tarting up your bridges you're going to lose the effect of the aesthetics.

SFW: What are your feelings about the way the U.S. deals with immigration?
VIDAL: It's two-faced. Use the Mexican population if we need them, then begin screaming that there's too many here. All the people that are truly bitching about foreigners being in the country -- too many Mexicans, blah, blah, blah. Their grandparents were in the exact same position. It's arrogance at its worst.

SFW: Some people believe that the concept "God" refers to the immutable moral force we as human beings are born with. Others believe that "God" is a humanlike being with conscious thoughts and a physical presence. Which of these would best describe your understanding of the concept "God"?

VIDAL: I think the first. My, that's a long subject. I'm 69, and we ponder God from the day we can think. Deism has the sense that God is omnipotent, that he must have been present at his own creation. Others believe there is a spirituality out there that comes from our very nature. From my point of view, there is a tremendous amount to be said for secular humanism. Realizing our society as it is, without theology dogmatically telling us how we should react to it, and being humane toward that society, that is all that we're sure of. The rest is all possibility and maybe.

SFW: Do you believe it would be wise to replace our money economy with a pure barter system?

VIDAL: I believe it would lead to chaos. Especially in a global economy. But I do believe that the U.S. monetary system is a damn good one, and the fact that Europe is having the thoughts that they are, on a Euro-dollar, to me makes enormous sense.

SFW: Traditionally, the results of scientific research are hidden from the public until they are reviewed and evaluated by a panel of scientific peers. Some researchers, particularly fans of the Internet, feel that results should enter the public domain as soon as they are available. Which best furthers the cause of science?

VIDAL: Well, when you saw the consequences of thalidomide, which was an extraordinary thing, I mean children with no arms, no legs, just born totally humiliated. When you see the results of something that isn't truly put to the thorough test, you have to sit back and think, "Wait a minute, should the public have the knowledge of something that hasn't been certified as the truth?"

And I think not.
SFW: Do you believe physicists will soon find the unified field theory? If so, what will it be?

VIDAL: It's very interesting that even Einstein, whose theory was unquestionable, has been now questioned by Stephen Hawking. I think what comes into play here is Hegel's thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Once a synthesis is found for both arguments -- thesis and antithesis -- that synthesis itself becomes a thesis. And when somebody evaluates it, somebody attacks it, then there's a new thought, a new added dimension. So, the reality is that a new thought will be there to haunt us, or help us.

SFW: To fend off potential scalpers, Procter & Gamble, owner of, has reserved more than 100 domain names, including, according to unconfirmed reports on Internet bulletin boards. Do you think this creates an inappropriate association for your product line?

VIDAL: Well, to be associated with diarrhea isn't absolutely, really appropriate, no.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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