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New movie shapes life of hairdresser Vidal Sassoon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hairdressing pioneer Vidal Sassoon rose to fame nearly 50 years ago with his geometric cuts and business savvy that created a global brand, but he says hairdressers still don’t get the respect they deserve.

Vidal Sassoon (R) poses with his wife Ronnie as they arrive the opening of the first Stella McCartney boutique in Los Angeles September 28, 2003. REUTERS/Jim Ruymen

Sassoon is dubbed a pioneer by many for not only coming up with so-called wash and wear looks -- liberating many women from weekly salon trips to have their hair done -- but also creating a multimillion dollar line of hair care products.

The 82-year-old’s life and career are depicted in “Vidal Sassoon The Movie,” produced by Michael Gordon, founder of the Bumble and Bumble hair salons, which had its world premiere and is showing at this week’s Tribeca Film Festival.

But while the U.S. hair care market is worth more than $8 billion and the country’s 80,000 salons generate $16 billion annually, according to industry data, Sassoon said some people still viewed hairdressing as “a craft for creeps and freaks.”

“Hairdressing in general hasn’t been given the kudos it deserves,” Sassoon, who was unable to appear at the festival after spending several weeks in hospital with pneumonia, told Reuters in a phone interview. “It’s not recognized by enough people as a worthy craft.”

“If you get hold of a head of hair on somebody you’ve never seen before, cut beautiful shapes, cut beautiful architectural angles and she walks out looking so different -- I think that’s masterful,” he said.

The film tells of Sassoon’s rise from an impoverished childhood as a Jewish boy in London, to fighting for Israel against the Arabs, to forging his career as a hairdresser, building his company and becoming a television star.

He was born in Britain and spent several years in an orphanage as a young boy after his father left his family. He left school at age 14 and began to train as a hairdresser after his mother “had a vision” that her son should be cutting hair.

He opened his first salon at 26 and decided that if he could not change hairdressing within a decade he would quit and become an architect. Sassoon said he drew inspiration for hair cuts from great buildings around the world.

A big Chelsea football fan, Sassoon said that after working in the salon all week, watching his team play every weekend was “better than a psychiatrist’s couch.”

Sassoon, who now lives in the United States with his second wife and had four children in his first marriage, came up with the idea of selling hair care products to “make money while people sleep.”

He sold the rights to his name and hair care products to U.S. health and beauty supply company Richardson-Vicks in 1983. The company is now owned by Procter & Gamble.

“I just consider being one of the luckiest people in the sense that creativity came to me and it flowed,” said Sassoon.

Editing by Christine Kearney and Bob Tourtellotte