Sam Rogg in­ter­views Sam McKnight on styling the hair of icons, from Kate Moss to Princess Diana

Where London - - Contents -

Sam McKnight, hair stylist to the stars, talks to us about mod­els and roy­alty.

‘The first thing some­one says to me when they find out I’m a hair­dresser is “where’s your sa­lon?”’ says Sam McKnight. ‘“I don’t work in a sa­lon,” I ex­plain.’ It may seem odd that the world’s most soughtafter hair­dresser is with­out a base where he can be booked for a cut and blow-dry (sorry to dis­ap­point you), but for Scot­tish-born McKnight, the appeal of hair­dress­ing is tan­gled up in the heady world of fash­ion.

In fact, un­til this au­tumn, few out­side the fash­ion world had heard of the mas­ter hairstylist, de­spite his for­mer role as Princess Diana’s hair­dresser. He is also cred­ited with de­vel­op­ing the im­ages of icons such as Kate Moss, Naomi Camp­bell and Linda Evan­ge­lista over the years. Now, he’s set to be­come the name on every­one’s lips with a daz­zling ex­hi­bi­tion at Som­er­set House cel­e­brat­ing his ex­tra­or­di­nary 40-year ca­reer and long­stand­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with fash­ion heavy­weights like Pa­trick De­marche­lier, Nick Knight, Mario Testino and Karl Lager­feld, to name a few.

Cu­rated by Shonagh Mar­shall and de­signed by ac­claimed art di­rec­tor Michael How­ells, Hair by Sam McKnight show­cases a stag­ger­ing ar­ray of pho­to­graphs, wigs, mag­a­zines and be­hind-the-scenes footage to shine a light on the lit­tle-known cre­ative process that goes into pro­duc­ing the world’s big­gest fash­ion shows, shoots and cam­paigns.

You may not have heard of him, but you’ll recog­nise his work. He’s the man be­hind Princess Diana’s slicked-back crop, Madonna’s Bed­timeS­to­ries al­bum sleeve and hun­dreds of Vogue cov­ers, not to men­tion cam­paigns for Givenchy, YSL, Louis Vuit­ton and Marni. As if that’s not enough, he’s set to re­lease his first book this month (of the same name as the ex­hi­bi­tion). It’s enough to in­flate any­one’s ego, but as we found out when we caught up with him, McKnight is a cut above the rest.

You’ve been an in­te­gral part of the fash­ion in­dus­try for 40 years. How does it feel to have an ex­hi­bi­tion about your ca­reer?

Daunt­ing. It’s not some­thing I sought out. Som­er­set House very kindly ap­proached me about do­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion and I thought: ‘Re­ally? We have an au­di­ence for that?’ And they seemed to think we do. When I saw the con­text they were go­ing to put it in, I agreed. It’s quite an hon­our. The whole team has been fan­tas­tic. It’s been a real plea­sure. It’s nice to be able to high­light the hair­dress­ing in­dus­try be­cause I’m not from a sa­lon back­ground. I hope this show is a way of ex­plain­ing what we do and en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to be in­ter­ested in our craft. And not just hair­dressers – it’s a very high fash­ion-led ex­hi­bi­tion. I’m hop­ing young bud­ding stylists and fash­ion­istas will be in­ter­ested in this. Then again, every­one is in­ter­ested in fash­ion, so I hope it has a broad appeal.

You’re be­hind some iconic looks and mag­a­zine cov­ers. What in­spires you as a hairstylist?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with in­cred­i­ble peo­ple. I do shows for de­sign­ers such as Chanel, Bal­main, Fendi and Tom Ford, so I’m very lucky to be sur­rounded by amaz­ing cre­ative peo­ple to bounce off. When you’re in a room do­ing a fit­ting for a show or for a mag­a­zine, then you have this col­lab­o­ra­tion of won­der­fully in­spir­ing peo­ple. So whether the in­spi­ra­tion comes from retro pic­tures from a movie or artists, or even the colours in my gar­den, if your eyes are open, then the in­spi­ra­tion is there all the time.

You’re orig­i­nally from Scot­land. What at­tracted you to Lon­don in the 1970s?

I’m from an isolated lit­tle vil­lage in the hills of Scot­land and I came to Lon­don on hol­i­day when I was 17 or 18 – and I’d never been in a big city. I didn’t even know Glas­gow very well, so Lon­don just blew me away. It was full of peo­ple who ei­ther looked like they’d just walked out of Biba [the fa­mous Lon­don fash­ion store] or a David Bowie con­cert. It was bright and colour­ful and it had a raw glam­our to it, and I loved that.

How did you get your first big break here?

I started out work­ing in El­iz­a­beth Ar­den and Miss Sel­fridge – both had hair sa­lons in those days. Then I got a job at Molton Brown and at that time it was the cool sa­lon in Lon­don. A few months into the job, one of the stylists ei­ther got sick or there was a book­ing er­ror, so I was sent to do his job for Vogue mag­a­zine. In at the deep end! I guess I did an OK job. That was in 1977 or 1978, so I’ve had al­most a 40-year ca­reer with Vogue.

What’s been the most mem­o­rable mo­ment of your ca­reer?

Too many, and they’re still com­ing thick and fast. But I guess the one that’s rooted in me is trav­el­ling to in­cred­i­ble places around the world, like the Taj Ma­hal with Princess Diana – that’s some­thing that hap­pens be­cause of what I do for a liv­ing. I would never have ac­cess to any­thing like that if I didn’t have this job.

What was it like work­ing with Princess Diana for seven years when her style was evolv­ing?

I started work­ing with Diana in 1990. She was get­ting Ver­sace to de­sign her suits – those beau­ti­ful pas­tel-coloured ones – and she had short hair. Af­ter her di­vorce I guess she was grow­ing up and be­com­ing her own per­son – she was blos­som­ing. It was re­ally ex­cit­ing

to be work­ing with her at that time. My great­est mem­ory of her is that we laughed a lot. She could be very, very funny, and she could be very se­ri­ous, too. I used to think that she was a nat­u­ral sort of nurse – she had that qual­ity that nurses have of mak­ing peo­ple feel com­pletely at ease. She would dis­arm peo­ple so that they weren’t at all in­tim­i­dated by her from the word go – which gave her an in­cred­i­ble power. She never abused that power. She was a won­der­ful per­son.

You’ve been de­scribed as Kate Moss’ ‘go-to hairstylist’. What’s it like to work with a fash­ion icon like her?

Well, she’s not re­ally ‘Kate Moss the icon’ to me – she’s just the lovely Kate Moss I’ve known since she was 17 years old. So that’s still the same. I don’t have that icon im­age of her in my head – Kate is just Kate and she’s gor­geous and she’s lovely and she’s the best model that’s ever ex­isted. She’s a chameleon and she gen­uinely loves her job; she loves all the [hair] changes. That’s her role and she does it well. She al­ways brings a lot to the day and what­ever she’s do­ing.

If you could style any­one you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be? I think the Queen, don’t you?

It would be great to give her a new look – I think I’d soften her hair a lit­tle bit, just make her more re­laxed, or would that not be the Queen any more? I’d like to take that risk.

You caused a sen­sa­tion at Bal­main’s AW 2016 show when you changed Ken­dall Jen­ner and Gigi Ha­did’s hair colour. Do you think wigs will be­come main­stream?

Yes, I think they al­ready are. If you go into Selfridges, there’s a mas­sive counter sell­ing wigs. I’ve worked a lot with Lady Gaga and I think she made wigs an ac­ces­sory – so that, even if it looks like a wig, it doesn’t mat­ter. Wigs are the new hats, and it’s thanks to her. [Bri­tish milliner] Stephen Jones won’t be happy I’m say­ing that!

How is Lon­don style dif­fer­ent to other cities?

It’s more chilled and easy go­ing – it doesn’t take it­self too se­ri­ously.

What are the big hair trends for 2017?

In­di­vid­u­al­ity. That’s a big trend right now – it’s about em­brac­ing what you’ve got and mak­ing the best ver­sion of your­self, rather than try­ing to fight it. With mod­ern prod­ucts and tech­nol­ogy, you can change your hair daily and tem­po­rar­ily, with­out do­ing too much dam­age.

Where should peo­ple go for a good hair­cut?

You have to find a hair­dresser that you get along with. John Frieda, Daniel Hersheson and Daniel Galvin would be my top three sa­lons in Lon­don.

We hear you’re a bit of a green thumb. What are your favourite gar­dens in Lon­don?

I love Re­gent’s Park’s rose gar­den and the herba­ceous bor­ders. Be­fore I had a gar­den, I used to spend my evenings there, sit­ting in a deckchair and read­ing a book af­ter work. It’s just so Bri­tish and old school – it’s very peace­ful and right in the mid­dle of Lon­don.

Tell us about your new book, Hair by Sam McKnight, which ac­com­pa­nies the show.

It’s a 40-year his­tory of hair and fash­ion, in­clud­ing mag­a­zine cov­ers, beauty and celebrity shots. It’s a col­lec­tion of pic­tures where I found the hair in­ter­est­ing, and the whole im­age had some­thing to say. It’s my story and Som­er­set House thinks peo­ple will be in­ter­ested in it, so let’s hope they are! Hair by Sam McKnight. From 2 Nov. Som­er­set House, Strand, WC2R 1LA. Som­er­set House will be open­ing late on Wed, Thur and Fri un­til 8pm

Clock­wise from main im­age: Kate Moss, Sam McKnight, Kar­lie Kloss, Tilda Swin­ton, Princess Diana

Top to bot­tom: Giselle Bünd­chen; Sam McKnight, Jesse the chimp and Linda Evan­ge­lista

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