JOHN SAHAG in 1985
Photo by Lawrence Ivy,
for an article in New York Magazine by Anthony Hayden-Guest.
John Sahag was the first internationally-recognized freelance hairdresser. He got his first Italian Vogue cover at age 19 and went on from there to work with the world’s top models, top photographers, top magazines, cover after cover, on the most famous heads of the era and do the hair for the most famous ads of his time, from Brooke Shields in Calvin Klein Jeans, to Isabella Rossellini in all those Lancome ads, to name just a few.
He worked his magic on the heads of Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger, Queens and Princesses, who often flew him by private jet to exotic places, on superstars and supermodels, many in eye-catching editorials. And in fashion shows, the most mind-blowing being for Issey Miyake in Paris.
Movies included cutting Demi Moore’s gamine for “The Ghost” and acting as Faye Dunaway’s hairdresser in the cult movie “The Eyes of Laura Mars.”
He was 6’2” tall, 175 lbs, charismatic and charming, with impeccable manners, spiritual although not without ego (!) and looked like a sexy rock star in his tight pants, winkle pickers, long hair. This heartthrob hairdresser functioned from the heart and vowed to treat his ladies like roses. No matter how famous his client was, whether a housewife or how old, he did, looking into the mirror all the time, to make sure their hair suited them from every angle, often flirting as only he could and offering his last lady of the day a glass of a good champagne, in a great champagne flute, from the collection he kept with his shampoos and in his staff room ‘fridge.
John Sahag literally lived and was famous for the shapes he carved with his dry cuts, which he achieved with his unique tapering techniques. He will also go down in hair history as the first hairdresser to create seemingly imperfect chignons and straighter than straight hair, looks still popular today.
He was born in 1952, in Lebanon, of Armenian parents, raised in Australia, went to Paris at age 18, stayed for 12 years in Paris and, as he became more famous (with the help of L’Oréal and Maniatis, for whom he freelanced) he traveled back and forth to NY, opening his first Workshop (salon) on Madison Avenue in 1985. He later moved to 49th Street and Madison and that salon is still open although John Sahag passed way at age 53, in 2005, after a 3 year battle. He is now making his beloved shapes in heaven with the angels.
I did the PR for John Sahag’s first salon, started a few months before he opened, produced the first press release, seen here, and I organized his opening Press event. At one time, I did his bookings, he didn’t want an agent, and he could have 6 requests a day – maybe Richard Avedon, Francesco Scavullo, Elle or Vogue, or Bazaar. It was incredible. There are no words to describe what it was like working for John Sahag!
The experience was like no other I had ever had. But I left him in 1986. For 8 years, he tried to get me back. Every so often, we met for brunch, for dinner, and it wasn’t until he said to me, “I want you to take my Creative Evenings on Wednesday night, I want my staff to do things they don’t get a chance to do during the day, I need you to work on my portfolios and photo library,” and then he came up with the words that got me back, “I want you to be my Ambassadress,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. He replied,” I don’t know but it sounds good.” When we both stopped laughing, I said, “OK, send me a card with the name printed on it.” He did, grey, silver embossed. So he got me back.
I went on from there and started doing his PR but he had weird ideas about PR, like I should never instigate any requests, he wanted everyone to come to us. I ended up also formulating an education program for him, and at one time, even supervising the Tuesday night cutting and coloring classes, as well as the Wednesday night creative classes.
I had fun, it was wonderful, but it was also madness, painful, and I was often working 14-hour days that no one knew about except me, and I was not really appreciated, until I resigned after 3 years. Then, he wanted me back again. “I love you, come back” but I never could.
There are more stories about John Sahag that no one would ever believe and one day I may get to tell what can go on behind the scenes in a salon when a one-of-a-kind hair icon is in action…
Meanwhile here, in the archives, are some photos we worked on for his Workshop Press Releases, his fashion shows, the creative evenings, the salon decor, many not seen before, with priceless text.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © HELEN OPPENHEIM 2012