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Personalitys in the revolution of hair design in the 60s 70s | all galleries >> Galleries >> roger_thompson_gallery > A dedication to Roger Thompson by Gerard Austen.
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A dedication to Roger Thompson by Gerard Austen.


The following is not meant or intended to be a historically accurate biography of Roger but rather my personal recollections of not only a great haircutter but, to me, and most importantly a special friend. No doubt time tends to distort memories of events so please bear with me should you believe I am in error.

It was Paris in 1964 Jerry Schatzberg, the well known photographer, was hosting a party for Glamour magazine at New Jimmies a club on the Blvd. St Michel when I first met Roger. Of course we knew of each other, he being the “Man” at Sassoon and I having the Gerard Austen at Carita salon on Sloane Street. Although the work was diametrically opposed we represented the two hottest salons in London at that time. Believe it or not Roger had started his career at the Morris School in Shaftsbury Ave. His first job was at Ivan & Gabriel, after which he joined Sassoon. Kudos to Vidal for recognizing an exceptional up-and-coming talent.

Fast forward June 1966 Vidal and I agree to join forces. I stopped crimping sat behind a desk as the Managing Director of V.S. Roger at that time was running the Grosvenor House salon. Christopher had become the manager of my old salon, Vidal by now was no longer cutting hair, he was jetting between London and N.Y.C. I had become increasingly concerned that we could be in danger of losing our creative energy. I also believed the talents of both Roger and Christopher were being wasted in running salons. I was of the opinion they needed to be unfettered and be given the opportunity to “do their thing”. The baton was passed to them and boy did they run with it! Roger and Christopher became respectively the Artistic Director and Assistant Artistic Director but what’s in a title? They were a team. The concept of Artistic Director was an industry first. Within Sassoon all were in awe of the young good looking man whose work we admired so much.

When Roger cut hair he was as one with both scissors and hair. It was spellbinding as we saw a cut evolve. It was as if we were watching genius, and we were. Roger was, in his early Sassoon years, shy and introverted, some might say aloof. Knowing him as I did, I believe he was overwhelmed and insecure in his role as a salon manager, however once he was free to cut hair and not be involved with the minutia of running a salon he more than rose to the occasion, the same applied to Christopher. With all due respect to anyone who has, or still cuts hair everything you do, knowingly or not, stems from Roger Thompson, and/or Christopher Brooker. Their technique was without parallel, I fully appreciate that if this statement raises a few eyebrows, so be it. As I said at the beginning these are my feelings. In their respective roles within the years 1966-69 they created a veritable plethora of new cuts and looks; Mifume, Mouche, Havington, Veil, Isadora, (2 versions), breeze, VS, Halo and the Greek Goddess.


Who created the haircut was of no consequence to them. Their personalities were very different. However, as a team what they brought to the table was the epitome of true dedication to their craft. It goes without saying Roger and Christopher had found their true calling and had formed this incredible creative partnership. Sassoon haircutting was in safe hands. The Greek Goddess was a revolution. It was the first Sassoon look to have movement. It was an overnight sensation, thanks in no small part to the spread Felicity Green gave it in the Daily Mirror. This led to shows across the U.K, Japan, and Sweden.

Roger and Christopher continued, most importantly to ensure the standards of work in the London salons, holding ongoing classes for stylists. There was that certain buzz that one always got when in a Sassoon salon.. They raised the bar higher and each and every crimper responded.

In 1970 Roger went to work in the New York salon. Christopher then became the European Artistic Director and Roger’s title changed to International Artistic Director. The Dream Team was no more. At this juncture Christopher exits the Roger Thompson story. There was no way I could have written about Roger and those London years of 66-70 without making much mention of him, and I know Roger would have agreed.

New York was not London. The original team of crimpers who included among others Charles Booth of La Coupe, Christopher Pluck, who had come from London, had all gone their separate ways. This was due to a law which stated that if you resided in the USA you were liable for the Draft even if not an American citizen. It was at the time of Viet Nam. Some went to Canada and others to places unknown.

The salon was lacking in artistic direction. I was aware of this as the newly appointed Exec. V.P I was now based in N.Y. Although the salon bore the name Vidal Sassoon its standards, in my opinion, fell far short. In 1969/70 Roger was asked to come to New York to kick it up. In retrospect it was the beginning of the end of his Sassoon career. The move turned out to less than the golden opportunity he had hoped for. If anything it was a regression. He was back in the business of teaching basic geometric cutting.

It is not my intention, and I certainly have no desire to put down the work of the Madison Ave. team, but to be blunt Roger had a lot of work to do. Let me set down my reactions to what I believe was the source of our problem. New York hairdressers were trained in schools in the use of rollers, pin curls, backcombing (teasing), and hood hairdryers. On the other hand we worked with 5” scissors, comb, a wooden handled Denman brush, and a handheld hairdryer. There was a conceptual clash which, again in my opinion, was exacerbated by the fashion mode difference between the dolly bird of “Swinging London” and the more elegantly conservative New York look. Each Sassoon haircutter came through our three year apprenticeship system. They were Sassoon. On the other hand in N.Y. there is no apprenticeship system. Hairdressers having got their license tended to work as individuals within a salon. There was no overall salon identity other than the name.

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In Sassoon regardless of the haircutter, the client knew she would get a great Sassoon cut. In short, the New York team had great hairdressing ability but were conflicted and not yet fully into our haircutting technique, which essentially is what Sassoon is all about.

Roger soon found that he had a lot on his plate. To set up a training program, was not so easy with a team of stylists who were in a comfort zone. “Why do we need this” was their reaction. We are doing our own thing and doing quite well was the attitude. To say he was frustrated would be something of an understatement. Those who know, or were taught by Roger would recognize his reaction if shown a bad haircut the shrug of the shoulder followed by him, without comment, walking away from, in his opinion, a model with a poor haircut. He was frustrated and with the sole exception of Philip Mason there was no one who was really in tune with what he was striving to achieve. He had no time to be creative. Hence during that period nothing new flowed from him. Over the course of the past 40 years hairdressers throughout the world have learned to cut using the principals and technique of the Sassoon revolution.

I knew of his frustration although by this time I had left Sassoon. I was living in Japan but we had kept in touch. With my departure Roger was left isolated. We had been a team and I believe his coming to the USA was in part his wish to renew our working relationship. With my departure I understand the management structure radically changed, creativity was of no importance. The suits were in control, they were only interested in the bottom line. Nevertheless, Roger although isolated and working in a creative vacuum strived, and continued to give of his best.

In both London and Paris the look was changing. Hair was less structured and not so stylized. It was cut to allow the expression of its natural movement and direction, scissors weren’t cutting horizontal lines but were slithering and pointing. Natural was “in”, hair was being crunched and air dried. Roger wrote to tell me could not cut another geometric. He had reached a breaking point and was about to make one of the most crucial gut wrenching choices of his life. He was torn between his loyalty to Vidal and the need to get on with his career which he perceived had hit a major road block. As we know he resigned and opened a small salon at 155 E. 55 St. N.Y.C. He was relaxed; he had shed geometrics and once again enjoyed cutting hair.

Sometime thereafter I returned to the U.K and in 1974 was about to open a salon on Berkley Sq. London. I was in New York and of course dropped in to see him. I told him I

Was opening in Berkley Sq, I never heard the Nightingale sing, he suggested that he wanted to help me launch and he would come cut hair for the first three weeks of the opening, and he did. I was blown away. Further, he got in touch with Manfred in Munich who also came. Again I was blown away. They never asked for one penny, cent or deutschmark. I was humbled.

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A year later I sponsored The World Congress of Hairdressing at the Albert Hall and asked him to appear. Although he hated stage work he duly obliged. When he came on stage it was magic. No pizzazz, no hoopla, just a chair placed at the centre of a long runway surround by lights and a TV camera. The music was most fittingly George Benson’s “Everything Must Change Nothing Stays the Same”. For the first time London saw Roger do a cut that was not a geometric. WOW.

Shortly thereafter Roger became, as I understood the creative consultant of Glemby. I was on the move again, this time to Boston just down the road from N.Y.C. Roger was offered and accepted an offer from Barneys to open a salon in their exclusive store. He was very involved with the design which was minimal, featuring a group of mini salons creating an intimate personalized client-to-haircutter ambience. As with the salon his approach to a new client was different. In the consultation area he and the client would discuss her hair. He explained what he wanted to do. If he felt the client was not comfortable he would advise her to go and think about it. As it was important for him to get the complete visual picture the client was never gowned during the consultancy. I had never seen Roger so relaxed and happy He had arrived at the place he wanted to be. A great salon, a staff that adored him, a loving wife, three great kids, and a beautiful home on Woodbine Lane, Stamford Con.

I now had a great loft in downtown L.A. Roger called to tell me was on his way to L.A. as Barneys were opening in Beverly Hills and wanted him to open a salon/spa. He needed a California license so, this is true, he was coming to the Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica for two weeks to prepare for the test. We hung out every evening, good wine, sushi, and did the L.A. thing. As we know, Barneys changed their mind and never opened the salon/spa.

It was now 1998, a fateful year. One morning I got a call from him, which was not unusual as we spoke every week, but this was different. As I picked up the phone I could tell from his voice that something was wrong. Very simply with no preamble he said “I have a brain tumor”. We cried together, wiped our eyes and agreed we would fight it. From then on we spoke everyday, kept it light, went for the laughs, and lived from day to day.

He had an operation after which he faxed me a picture of a scar which looked like a flap running down one side of his head. We joked about the Flap Look being a fashion statement. We continued to keep it light. Shortly thereafter he was readmitted to the hospital. Sara his beautiful daughter phoned to tell me he had passed. Shirley lost a wonderful husband. Sara, Sam & Sean lost a great dad. I lost a great friend. Hairdressing lost an original who cut hair like it had never been cut before or ever will be. All too soon Roger left us.

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Janice Neudorfer 26-Mar-2021 03:50
Rest In Peace Roger. My condolences to your family. I met Roger at I magnum in SF. He was teaching. A true artist, I learned sip much from him. I also went east and got to see his salon in Manhattan and watched him cut hair! He was very generous in sharing. Thank you so much, Janice
Janice Neudorfer 26-Mar-2021 03:44
I’m so saddened to hear of Rogers passing. Sorry to the family.. I met Roger in San Francisco when he was working at I Magnins.. when I moved back east he invited me to his first salon upstairs in a nyc. He was a great artist , I learned a lot from him. Thank so much foe making hair exciting! RIP, Janice Neudorfer
Guest 02-May-2020 20:11
Thank you Gerald Austen. RIP Roger Thompson. xo HC
Steve Booth 11-Dec-2017 19:57
Thank you Gerard, my memories of Roger & Vidal as a young stylist from Sheffield I watched the launch of the Greek Goddess at the european championships in Brighton 1967, I never moved from that stand hosted by Wella all day, so so inspirational. My next meeting with Roger was when Bruce of Crescendo in Toronto where I was working hired him to do a seminar in 1972, he spoke then of his desire to open a salon with no name in a N.Y. apartment block, he ranks as the most respected hairdresser I ever had the pleasure to meet.
Maureen Lucht de Freibruch 02-Jan-2017 17:32
This story brought back some great memories of my time at the Salon in Berkeley Square. I worked there when Roger Thompson and Manfred flew in to cut hair in a way never seen before. I have been trying ever since to get a hair cut as good as the one that Roger Thompson gave me and have not succeeded. How sad that he died so young. What a talent!
Great to have worked for Gerard Austen too, all those years ago.
Best wishes
Maureen Lucht de Freibruch
David Popham 23-Dec-2016 00:13
This recollection of Roger rekindeled my own memories of those early years for which I am so very grateful. I remember Sloan Street soirees under Roger and on occasion assisting Christopher, I visited Rogers small salon in New York when I transferred their in the early seventies, with the sculpting of clay heads going on in-between clients, and agree, he seemed so very relaxed and yet somehow diminished in the absence of the bigger canvas. Those encounters remain with me as I cut hair today and strive, still in their shadow, to be that good - in my dreams!
David Popham
Jon Clifford 31-Jul-2016 16:06
Fabulous story. We need more of this! Bravo.
Stephen thaler 14-Dec-2015 23:39
I worked in the penthouse salon was a private salon in a apartment where foger had his salon there were only four of us Roger Charles,and Howard fugler when he was to do a client would go there to cut there hair it was so much atmosphere of greatness and artisty of no where on earth these were the greats I'm thrilled and honored to work and know these men of greats and thank then for recognize the talent I have to be one with them
Guest 20-Sep-2013 21:22
I was one of rogers stylists....i worked for him at barneys nyc from opening day, for 2 yrs...roger and shirly aere awsome....i loved workinv for him...i had left the prestigious nubest and co on long island. To join his staff....i was not.aware of his death until this minute....i send my very best to.his children and to shirley who was alway so good to me.......if anyone of.them .including shirly sees this ,fa ebook me....richard lowy....i am.wearing.a blk bandana ....
James J. Keating 29-Nov-2012 01:37
Brilliant! Thank you for this moving tribute and history! It was a pleasure to work with him and be his mate! Always James J. Keating
elia13-May-2012 14:57
Gerard, I remember Roger well from the mid-sixties, and no truer testament to him have i read . I worked at the Bond st salon till 71 and left for Montreal to work for Charles Booth . Roger, the man and the innovator was a great influence on me and surely many many others. RIP Roger and God bless .
Ezell Thompson 09-May-2011 16:17
A dedication to Roger Thompson by Gerard Austen
Occasionally, when frustrated by what I see in the industry, I turn to the tribute of this great man.
I have often spoken of how disappointment Roger would be, to see how far we have fallen from his original intention.
I worked for Vidal Sassoon, Newbury Street Salon, Boston 1989.
At that time it was difficult (for me) to get an education from the industries master elite of hair cutting.
Though Sassoon had the classic shapes handed down from Roger and Christopher, the information became diluted in the hands of it's predecessors. We did have Tim Hartley, but he was infrequently in the states.
I asked Robert (Bostons manger at the time); why it was so difficult to get logical, concise training for me?
He simply transferred my training over too two junior stylist, rather than leave me in the hands of the current art director.
It was aptly put by Gerard; the American salons have a comfort zone that does not wish to change.
I have stated often; nothing really has changed the face of modern hair cutting since the late sixties.
Modern hair cutting is based upon traumatizing the hair, via layering and texturizing the hair to death, thus the over dependency upon product; in an attempt to clue the broken form back together after it has been shattered.
Even Vidal Sassoon continues their heavy, hard lined format. Graduation over layering yes, but the same persistence to employ showy images that are not functional shapes. I call it; The Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars haircuts. What about surgical hair cutting that follows the paths, or natural currents of an individuals hair?
We need less flash, and more biological truth. We need functional reality, not fantasy that merely gratifies personal ego.
I was fortunate to work with Roger in the nineties. His work was not based upon flash. He no-longer had anything to prove (if ever he did). His shapes were soft and functional. Roger had moved his skill from artist, to a surgeon of hair.
I do recall some of those shrug of the shoulders moments (as Gerard put it) in the Dallas Barneys Salon.
One such moment was when a woman client came in. She was assisted by me and seated in Rogers chair.
He came in, greeted her, but before Roger could open his mouth, she entered upon a barrage of details as to how he was to cut her hair. He listened until she stopped. Then he made a statement I would here more than once in my time at the salon; You could not be speaking a more different language then if I was from Mars.
She looked stunned at him, as he proceeded to tell her what he would do.
Once again she persisted to give him advice on what he needed to do for her. At which time he turned silently and left the room.
A moment or so passed in silence until she asked; Is he coming back? I said no.
I am now fifty three, about the age of Roger, when I worked for him.
I have just launched a clear, logical and concise hair cutting philosophy. A method that interprets the boundaries of each head, and the characteristics of individual hair movement and texture. The time I spent with Roger was a major impact upon my life.
Roger was the inspiration for every well known hair cutter, whether they know it or not.
I have a vision that one day hair cutting will be as clear as a staff of music, with clear understanding in which to guide each hair cutter to a realization that you do not make a haircut, you realize it. A genetic identity that is rendered in balanced spherical truth.
Roger helped me to understand that it is not so much what we do, as what we do not.
Our perception and skill guides us in the ability to get out of the way from the forms own natural identity.
No flash, no ego, no confinement or manipulation; just the truth of what already is.
Thank you Roger; I finally get it, all these many years later.
They say we stand upon the shoulders of giants.
Roger, thank you for your creative support these many years.
It still inspires me...
Ezell Thompson
Miguel Fernandez 28-Jan-2011 00:30
A truely GREAT man! I worked for Roger Thompson in the Barney's New York days and it was a incredible time. The things I learned from him were priceless. I can honestly said that my career ended when the MAN passed.Roger's passion for hair and his direction were like no other. Roger Thompson stands alone, NEVER selling out, always staying TRUE.
Nik 24-Oct-2010 21:41
Thanks for the memories. Good to see names like Chris Brooker, Chris Pluck and Phillip Mason.
Judy 28-Sep-2010 05:56
I loved Roger as a hairdresser and a friend.....I was a regular five week client at Barney's circa 1986-1990. Miss him

Tony Dorso 12-Mar-2010 13:28
My God, what a wonderful, touching story and a novice haircutter in the 70's, the salon chain that I worked for at the time had a superb VP of Education who
made sure that we embellished ourselves into the world of Sassoon and were aware of ALL of the principles of that time in the company......Roger, Christopher, and Tony, just to name a few.....we lived, ate, and breathed what they did, read everything we could get our hands on, and whenever a new collection came out, studied it with great intent....
They were, as far as I'm concerned the happiest days of my career.....reading insight like this into the company is still mind boggling for me.....and, as a platform artist now, who often teaches freelance at basic academies when asked, I always make sure that these kids absolutely, positively know about the trailblazers like Roger Thompson, as well as a host of his other peers from that time period.....wonderful, wonderful story.
guest 05-Feb-2010 18:18
Gerard..Thank you for your wonderful article.In the late seventys Roger had seminars at Phillip Masons in San Francisco which i was lucky enough to attend..He was a creative genius.John Lebeau Jordan
Sean Thompson 20-Jan-2010 02:50
Hello Gerard,
This is Sean. I am deeply touched and it is wonderful to see that Roger is still remembered. There are so many stories i can tell, but you all may know that i am a very private person. The wounds are nearly healed but the memories are still fresh. Thank of you from the bottom of my heart, Roger lives on from our memories and let's cherish them dearly.
Sean Thompson
Vi Nelson 08-Mar-2009 17:22
my fondest memory of Roger back in the day was when I was still a baby-editor at MODERN. Roger did a workshop for Rocco Altobelli and "some of the guys" and I was invited to cover it for the magazine. At dinner, Roger discovered that I'd never cut hair (I'm journalism, not hairdresser trained!). The next morning, scissors in hand, a live model in front of me and Roger standing behind me, I was never more scared in my life!!
I learned that day (what Roger may have wanted me to learn) that there's a LOT more to hair cutting than just picking up the scissors. Lesson learned. never did it again! Thanks for keeping the memories alive. Vi Nelson
Ian Gavet 07-Mar-2009 16:47
I had many memorable opportunities to watch Roger work and the simplicity of the looks he created were so deceptive, like looking at a Michelangelo sculpture thinking "I could do that" then realizing that in it's clean lines,great balance and ultimate suitability for the hair type he was cutting, that I couldn't, but because of that I try harder every day.
There was much more to it that came from within him. He inspired me as it is now our goal to carry on his vision. He will be missed by us all and for the young stylists who never new him they need to know their heritage, that's our job.
Love,Ian Gavet
Guest 06-Mar-2009 03:10
Gerard. Your beautiful words about Roger brought tears to my eyes. I only met him once, when I interviewed him for an article in the NY Sassoon salon, but I never really knew him personally. Or the full story. Although I do remember and admired his early London work. I now know more what happened to him in America. ~Helen Oppenheim
C. Brooker 04-Mar-2009 13:38
Gerard, thank you for your article, it is closest to how I remember those times that I have read. Maybe one day I will put pen to paper and describe those creative days now you have done this. Although a thousand words could not describe one beautiful cut that he or Vidal did, not without the help of the great team.
Best wishes, Chris
Daniel Rizzardi 04-Mar-2009 00:45
great moving story!!!!! Thank you
tim w03-Mar-2009 16:55
The imeasureable impact of Christopher Brooker, and Roger Thompson in modern contemporary hair style is visable each week in HJ, and so many of our trade publications. Everyday I create modern looks with some simulation from booth men.We are so fortunate to have a Roger, and a Christopher. They trained a generation of the greatests living hairdressers. Christopher told me it was implied that his understudies were going to be better then he was. I am so glad this story is in print.
Tony Beckerman 03-Mar-2009 16:55
Great and moving story Gerard. You brought back some wonderful memories.
Hope we meet up again soon.
Your friend,
Tony Beckerman
Dwight03-Mar-2009 16:15
What a wonderful synopsis of Roger's career. He was leaving Sassoon's London as I arrived. Visited him a couple of times at Barney's-NYC. The work went through a series of major evolutions (London side) by people like Darryl Benson, a direct linage to Roger. The early 70s was also a time of great creativity, imagination and a new direction in hair. Sassoon's was basically undisputed until the late 70s when talent and names seemingly came out of the woodwork. Many were X-London Sassoon's, nevertheless, all had training and some foundation from Sassoon's directly or indirectly. Hard to put a real measure on the extraordinary influence Roger and Christopher had in changing the direction and skill of the craft.
Thank you so much for this important and inspiring glimpse of hair history!
Guest 03-Mar-2009 02:07
What a wonderful story by Gerard Austen of Roger Thompson! Cheers. Peg Cribari
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