By Mario Toneguzzi
Fifty years ago this fall, Vidal Sassoon arrived in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood and helped transform that community from a hippie destination to one of high-end luxury today.
Recently, Sassoon Salon celebrated its 50th year in Toronto and its important role in changing the neighbourhood from a bohemian enclave to a leading high-end destination.
The late Richard Wookey, the developer of Yorkville who bought up a lot of the area years ago, was the catalyst in bringing the Vidal Sassoon iconic brand to Canada.
“It was a hippie area of Toronto. It was coffee shops. Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot had their start here. It was sort of the entertainment area, just completely inundated with motorcycle, some vagabonds, T-shirt shops, coffee houses. And into this area my father started his development here. He had great vision because the area was central to the city,” said Wookey’s son, Ian, who is now CEO of Seniority Investments Ltd.
“He was very influenced by what was going on in London. He spent a lot of time in London. In fact, he had an apartment in London and in the 60s London was known as Swingy London. Carnegie Street. King’s Road. Flower Power. The Beatles. Rolling Stones. The British Invasion. The Who. The mini skirt was developed and came out. And into all this Vidal Sassoon arrived. His approach to hair cutting was revolutionary at the time. He actually invented modern hairdressing. He liberated women to have a more wash and wear look as opposed to permanence, hot rollers, curling irons and that kind of stuff. He gave women haircuts that they could easily take care of at home on a daily basis. He was an iconic figure of the 60s and he and my father were great friends.”
Richard Wookey had built York Square, which was modelled on the London scene, and suggested Vidal Sassoon come to Toronto and the Wookey family business became a 50/50 partner with Sassoon.
Ian Wookey, as a 13-year-old boy, was at the grand opening of the Vidal Sassoon Salon 50 years ago.
“It was a coming of age for Toronto to have Vidal Sassoon from London come to Toronto which was sort of still developing its image. Fifty years later, the partners have come and gone. Vidal has passed away. My father’s passed away,” said Wookey.
“A lot of Canada’s hair stylists who exist today have either come through Vidal or worked at Vidal and started their own businesses. The fact that hair stylists and hair dressers still come to brush up on their hair cutting skills is a fact that it is recognized as an expert in hair cutting.”
Today, Sassoon Salon is located on Scollard Street. It moved there about three years ago from its original location at the corner of Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue.
“It was the first international fashion name that said Toronto’s the place to be and we’re coming to Toronto. We believe in Toronto. Toronto’s ready,” said Wookey. “Sassoon was impactful not only on Yorkville but on Toronto. The fact it’s still there is a testament.”
Today, the salon is on three levels - the first two floors is the salon itself with its services and the third floor houses the Sassoon Academy.
Wesley Hanlon, Sassoon Salon’s creative director, said the salon is a busy one.
“It’s a busy little spot. I think one of the reasons it is quite busy is because of the foundation that it’s built on. It’s been around for a long time and people in the community and even outside the community know that when it comes to precision hair cutting they would come to Sassoon’s,” said Hanlon. “We’re quite busy and I think it’s a testament to the fact that we have that reputation.”
The name does still carry some weight but obviously not the same as it did in the years past. The younger generations are getting further and further away from the actual time that Vidal Sassoon, the man himself, was around.
“In the industry, hair stylists, that name Sassoon, or Vidal Sassoon, stays as strong as it did ever. People come to the academy and they can be really young,” said Hanlon.
“Most of our young clients are here because we are very current. Sassoon’s is always trying to be cutting edge. We move with the times and the hair styles. So we do a lot of really cool, funky stuff and that keeps the youth coming in.”
Hanlon said the salon’s presence for 50 years has meant a lot to Yorkville.
“I love listening to my older clientele that have owned art galleries or shops of their own or high-end boutiques in Yorkville back in the 80s. I love listening to the stories of what it was like . . . I feel like it’s my job to keep that connection with the community . . . We are a presence still to this day. It’s up to us to keep the name and the community together.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com