Photo by Lawrence Ivy, courtesy NY Magazine

JOHN SAHAG in 1985
Photo by Lawrence Ivy,
for an article in New York Magazine by Anthony Haden-Guest.

John Sahag (1952 – 2005) 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. And don’t miss his famous editorials.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © HELEN OPPENHEIM 2012

22 Comments

  1. Jun 6, 2015

    John was a real artist, truly. Watching him cut or engage his staff and clients/friends, he really was a visionary. Perfectly un-perfect. one of the great thoughts/moments I took away from him was that hair was a never ending art project :)

    • Sep 2, 2015

      Patte Otte. Just saw this, from June ! Thank you for lovely comment. Yes, he was a visionary. Good description. Perfectly un-perfect. Thanks.

    • Sep 2, 2015

      Patti: just saw this. Yes, he was a visionary. And perfectly unperfect. Great description. Thank you.

  2. Apr 15, 2015

    Hi Helen… John was my mom’s second cousin and though I was young when he passed away, stories and photos of him inspire me every day. He was such a special person and I wish I had my very own memories with him. Reading this brings me to tears because it’s now been ten years since he’s been gone. Thank you for sharing your stories, and please email me if you read this because I would love to know more. You sound like a wonderful person and I’m sure he’s smiling down on you for showing so much appreciation.

    • Apr 15, 2015

      Tiffany, What a lovely Comment. Thank you. I hope he is looking down at all the love everyone has for him. I will email you, ~H

    • Sep 2, 2015

      Hi, lovely tribute page for John.
      I was one of his hair models in the 80’s, also for his Wednesday night classes.
      I cherish so many conversations about our travels, unusual lives and interests.
      John was a gentleman, a gentle soul, who touched mine.

      Gina F.

      • Sep 2, 2015

        Gina. Thanks. Have you been to More and Wild Nights on this website? Maybe there’s a photo of you there. You aren’t the Gina we photographed in the Sahag Press photo page, or are you?

  3. Nov 2, 2014

    Oh What a Life Helen, hard work but the fun you must of had, and work with that talented handsome hairdresser. The thing that stood out to me was his imperfect chignons, I was so trained to be so precise I leaned towaed imperfection later myself. We called the workshops soires back at La Coupe, you ran that show to, it was great! Now I read you did his, so cool, I think you should put a comb and scissor in your hands one day Helen! LOL You would surprise us all!! Thank you for sharing all your talented hairdresser, I for one really enjoy reading it, I wish you adopted me! xox

    • Nov 2, 2014

      Oh, Lois, your words are so wonderful. Thank you. Sahag wanted me to take lessons to be a hairdresser. I said I’d never keep my clients! He did consider me one though. Those who worked with me … knew. Many could not accept it, but many did.

  4. Aug 19, 2014

    Lovely story. At first glance I thought it was you in the Photo whispering in his ear. Keep up the good work. Much appreciation Helen O…From Helen C.

    • Aug 19, 2014

      Thanks for the compliment! Thanks Helen C from Helen O

  5. Jun 7, 2013

    Helen, It is so wonderful that you keep John’s magical finishes available with your website. He was truly one of the finest hair aritsts (and I mean ARTIST) that I ever had the pleasure to spend time with in a photo studio. John took each and every look quite seriously and made every model feel special. Knowing he would cut strand by strand, the Modern photo team allowed at least 4 hours for every model. It was always worth the wait. He is missed, to this day, by those of us who had the honor of working with and along side him. Again, Thank YOU for keeping the memory of John Sahag alive.

    • Jun 7, 2013

      Maggie, Thank YOU for saying such beautiful things. I know you do many photo shoots so these words are even more special. Yes, he made a model feel wonderful, always. Of course, he usually flirted with them too! It showed in the photos, as you know.

  6. Jun 7, 2013

    Everyone who worked for John Sahag was very dedicated. Working for him was an experience none of us will forget. He was a legend. Thank you, Lori.

  7. Jun 7, 2013

    Helen, I so admired John Sahag for how he treated people. Whether you were a celebrity or an ordinary housewife, you were always a star in his eyes. His dry cutting concept of hairdressing changed the industry as to be a huge part of its history. His work is and always will be mesmerizing. It’s timeless. There is no other huge Hair Icon like him. He stands alone as one of the top 15 Hairdressers in the world.

    Helen, your description of time you spent together is an experience you have shared with me on a professional level. How fortunate he was to have you, and for you to see this all evolve, is something so special. He is sadly missed by so many. Thank you Helen Oppenheim for keeping his memory alive. I know, how much you miss him so. Lori Bermani.

  8. Oct 18, 2012

    I remember seeing the components of one of your press kits for him–stacks and stacks of clips–marching all the way across the living room of his place on 25th Street, Helen. Your hard work for him was apparent.

    Thank you for remembering him so well. He was a brief presence in my life, long ago, and for some reason, I had him on my mind this past week. Finding this little part of your site has given me some measure of peace in learning that he had died. Who knows what’s up with me thinking about him? John, like the Lord, works/worked in mysterious ways.

    • Oct 18, 2012

      Thank you for recognizing all the hard work. Trying to work out who LB is!

  9. Oct 18, 2012

    Thank you from all of us at The Sahag Workshop! Everyone looks fabulous in the photos looks fantastic. We are so appreciative of all of your hard work on this. We have re-posted it on The Sahag Website…

    All the best,

    Karmela, Raphael, Mayumi, & Gabriel

    XOXO You are amazing Helen and a true inspiration!

    PS-We are still doing creative evenings :)

    • Oct 18, 2012

      Thank you Karmela, Raphael, Mayumi, Gabriel, pleased you like what I have done!
      And thank you, Dario. I haven’t forgotten Australia!

      • Jun 6, 2015

        love you guys! wonderful to have been able to work with all of you years ago, great memories:)

  10. Oct 4, 2012

    If you were fortunate to have experienced Jonh Sahag’s sculpture free style hair cutting ,you have a true understanding of movement ,flow , softness , hair that will respond to you, hair that will dance with you, and you can also make it bark and attack , this is the artistic side of sculpture cutting.

    • Oct 4, 2012

      I see you knew John and his work, Dario. Thanks.

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