“Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”
John F. Kennedy
By the mid 1960s fashions were changing. Revolution was in the air and the world was reeling from the tragic assassination of John F Kennedy. Women were becoming more liberated in their choice of dress, choosing an eclectic mesh of colours, styles and designs. Emerging French designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin were the toast of the fashion world, and Australia closely followed UK fashion trends with the mod Chelsea look becoming a hit. Locally, Jean Shrimpton caused a commotion in 1965, at Melbourne’s Derby Day, when she wore a dress with a hemline raised high enough to reveal her slender legs and knees.
Musical artist Elvis Presley was now not only a chart success but had made the transformation into big screen actor, and the Beatles would soon emerge to steal his reign in popular music.
Politically, Australian prime minister, Liberal Leader Harold Hold had finally put an end to the Labour Government’s long standing ‘White Australia’ policy and a largely multi-cultural Australia was emerging. By the end of the 60’s up to 6,000 Asian migrants a year where arriving in Australia and a second wave of post war migrants were arriving by the thousands from Europe. Australia was also once again in the throws of war, this time on the battlefields of Vietnam. The war was met with a mix of support and revolt from Australian population.
The population was learning to have a voice and street protests and rallies were held all over the country to protest for peace and other social issues of the time. The more formal social protocols of earlier decades were waning.
For hair too this was a time of rebellion against the stiffer, coiffed, backcombed, beehive hairstyles of the decade past. Women opted for softer flicks and curled up styles. The bob was a fashion hit in London, and more and more women were following the trend. From an industry point of view, a young Vidal Sassoon was making his impact felt on an international scale.
“We had four haircutters at the salon who were booked every 15 minutes with a new client. Sassoon brought about change when he began to adopt cutting techniques which took an hour, where previously cuts could take as little as 15 mins. It meant hairdressers could charge more for the service but I was furious. I went to a seminar in New York and I wanted to see this method in practice and hear the theory behind it. Sassoon went over and over the haircut. They called it geometric cutting. After an hour, I left. The style turned out so different to the style he was discussing. Today a good style cut takes half an hour and it’s a little more technical than it used to be. We have developed our techniques, but I do prefer the techniques we used in the old days.”
In 1964 the M.L.H.A decided they wanted Australia to have more of a presence on the overseas market. They wanted a team assembled to compete in the world hairdressing championships being held in Europe. Vincent had been all over the world and he knew that Australia had talent of world class standard at a fair level to compete, but he struggled with this idea. He knew that a newcomer had no chance of winning the competition. There was a certain level of politics involved in the overseas market in which Australia had no part. At the insistence of the committee, however, Vincent selected his team. He gathered some of Australia’s most talented up and coming stylists, and prepared them for competition.
“What a nightmare that was! There were three divorces during that trip! One night, at two in the morning, one of the contestants came in to announce that the leader of the team, Franco Kramer, had walked out on the team and travelled to some remote town to gamble. He was their leader and they had to be in Brussels in a couple of days to compete!
“I couldn’t believe it. So I got up and, with a few of the other men, I hired a car and at 3am I went out to this place about 30k away in Frankfurt to look for him. When we arrived there were security men everywhere and here I was pulling up in this black limo with these men in suits getting out and starting to look around. They thought we were the Italian Mafia! What a sight! Well, to get into this place, we had to become members and pay a fee, so I went in alone. Sure enough, there he was gambling. He was a little shocked to see me, and we brought him home. I could’ve killed him!”
The team lacked the level of dedication and preparedness Vincent championed and, at times during the trip, this angered and frustrated him. He managed to persuade Franco to rejoin the team but the other members were still very angry that he had left in the first place, and the situation was very volatile. Vincent had to speak personally with each team member and mediate an agreement. By the end of the following day the team was back together and the situation had been resolved, but their morale had already been damaged.
“We didn’t win. We didn’t have a chance. When I got there I understood very quickly that when money is involved you’ve got no chance. It was very political. The teams with the funds did the best. They had the top ten and everyone else came in 11th. It took four hours to announce the winning teams. First, second and third were taken out by Germany, Austria and France. I was disappointed, but in no way surprised. I made a recommendation on the way home to the team in the US that there was no point in going to the competition again. They still went, though we never won it.”
Through the success of their business Vincent enjoyed many more trips abroad. Each trip was meticulously documented in an exercise book, from departure to arrival. Pages and pages of thorough detail accounting for every dollar spent, every impression made, and every task to action. Vincent applied this methodical approach to every aspect of his life. He took the word perfection quite literally, and always strived for it.
During his world trips he continued to meet influential and even famous people while tending to their tresses, including the award winning American sitcom Broadway star, and much loved comedian, Ruth Buzzi, who was a regular those days on the Rowan and Martin Laugh-in show. Ruth became a good friend of the De Lorenzos.
Vincent also filled his daily schedule with business appointments. He met with important industry figures including the heads of big companies such as Redken. He met with chemists, packaging companies, marketing consultants and journalists. Every trip was an opportunity to evaluate new technologies and seek to adapt these for Delva. By this stage, Vincent had become an accomplished chemist with an understanding of chemicals and formulae and how to arrange compositions to create treatments and address hair concerns.
In 1972, while in the US, Vincent documented coming across a computer room in one of the manufacturer’s factories he visited.
“They say they feed information into the machine and, in the future, after about seven years, they will be able to ask it questions and get an instant answer.”
The other important task to action for each trip was to first find the nearest Catholic church. Attending mass was always part of Vincent’s routine, and remained so throughout his life.
Back home Vincent’s responsibilities as well as his celebrity were at their peak. The hard work he was applying to his career was paying off, and there was no room for distractions or disruptions.
But disruption arrived abruptly, regardless.
In May 1965, Anna De Lorenzo suddenly passed away, leaving the family heartbroken, shattered and inconsolable.
Some months earlier, Anna had discovered a strange lump in her breast. In those times breast cancer wasn’t a widely understood disease. There were no expensive advertising campaigns to educate women about early detection.
Anna was concerned, but didn’t act on her discovery right away. In fact, it’s likely she kept this to herself for some time not wanting to burden the family with something she probably thought was insignificant. Anton’s wife, Yvonne, recalls, “I remember Anna asking me about this lump she had found in her breast. She asked if I might know anything about such things, and what it could be. I wasn’t sure, but I knew that she should have a doctor look at it right away. We all encouraged her to see a doctor and she did.”
The doctor knew the lump was potentially cancerous and urged Anna to have surgery to remove it. There was, of course, a risk that she would also lose her breast, and there were always the standard risks that go with any major bout of surgery. For the De Lorenzo family this was a grave situation, but they felt positive that the lump would be removed and Anna would recover in due course.
On Monday the 13th of May, at 9am, Anna went in for surgery. The family gathered at the Scottish Hospital at Sydney’s White City, hoping, waiting, and praying that the outcome would be a positive one and that recovery would be swift.
After many hours, Anna emerged from surgery in a serious but stable condition. The family was told she would need much rest. She was not out of the woods just yet.
They were uneasy, but relieved that she had come out of surgery and assumed she would simply recover. This was not to be. Anna never recovered from the surgery and, later that day, died in her recovery room.
The loss was both devastating and shocking for the whole family, and especially for Vincent. The operation was to have been a fairly straightforward procedure. At worst, she was to have had a breast removed. No one had expected this.
Vincent’s deep love and bond with his mother, his greatest supporter and friend, was inimitable, and Anna’s death had a profound effect on him. He took a long time to grieve the death of his beloved mother, and bore the cross of his heavy grief mostly in silence as he struggled to come to grips with the loss.
Anton’s wife, Yvonne, later recalled Anna as quite a proud woman. Losing a breast, for Anna, would have symbolised the loss of her very womanhood, part of her identity, her strength. Some feel the shock alone together with the loss of her husband some years earlier would have been enough to shock and diminish her spirit and conviction to live.
Anna’s death left a void in the family, which would never, ever, be filled.
At the time of her death, the family believed she was 65 years old. Anna had always proudly professed her age. On Vincent’s next trip to Naples, in 1974, he met with a relative who also happened to keep records and archives of the family tree. This included details of who was born, to whom, and in what year. Vincent was bemused and a little humoured to learn that, in fact, at the time she died, Anna was 75 years old.
“No wonder she looked so beautiful for her age.”
– Ends chapter 7 –