Sam McKnight is a celebrity hairstylist from Britain who discusses the statements we make about our hair in advance of a London show of his work.
We are so conscious of our hair in this country that we don’t mind pushing the limits. The British teenager has a special connection to their hairstyle: many young people have a tribal-inspired style. Perhaps it’s because of our small country, with so many people living together, we have to find a way that makes us stand out. We are in danger of losing this tradition, and I hope my Somerset House show will provide an insight into hair’s role in our culture.
It was an integral part of my teenage years. Although I grew up in a small Scottish village, I was always interested in fashion. The 60s were such a stylish decade to grow up in, and because of television we were all aware of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. My friends owned a hair salon, and I helped out on weekends to make some extra cash. The world of beauty intrigued me and I was drawn to the creativity.
In the 1970s, I moved to London and worked at a salon in South Molton Street. After that, I was able to do a Vogue magazine shoot. This opened up a whole new world full of beautiful models and photographers making sophisticated images. From the first day, I was hooked. After that, I was unable to go back to 12 consecutive haircuts. I admire people who work in salons. It’s a great talent. But it’s not mine.
While the outer shell of fashion may have changed over the years, the core of the business is still the same. Although social media has made it easier to recognize what we do, many people still want to know where my salon is. Timing is everything when creating a fashion icon. It must be done right at the right moment with the right person. I’m really lucky in my life because I work with the most amazing people, from the 80s with Linda Evangelista and the 90s with Kate Moss and photographers like Mario Testino and Nick Knight. All these talents are combined and spark off one another.
It’s still hair styling for brands, even when I do celebrity styling. You build a relationship with a brand and create an image. It’s like doing a Vogue summer cover. It’s communicating an idea.
Sometimes celebrities can surprise you. One time, when I was promoting a film, Tila Swinton suddenly said, “You know what? Let’s do something crazy.” She cut it short and has kept it that way ever since. She loved it. Tilda has that hairstyle. It’s a very satisfying thing to do.
The done and undone style is my favorite. This look is now mainstream and a favorite of many designers. Kate Moss’s Bardot style is very popular. The Princess Diana look was very popular. People still look up to celebrities for inspiration, but that’s only a small number of ideas.
Fashion used to be that the pendulum would swing. If you had short hair for a while it would turn long, and vice versa. We are now seeing something new. Individuality is a big part of hair care. There are many products available, and people often watch videos to learn how to use them. The product side of things is very interesting. You can temporarily change your hair, even for three to four hours, and it will not be damaged.
You quickly become friends with someone who does their hair. Many of the young actresses and models I knew as young models are still close friends today. In fact now they’re mothers and grandmothers and I’m working with their daughters. Yasmin Le Bon is a dear old friend and now I work with her daughter. Edie Campbell’s mother, Sophie Hicks was a fashion editor at Vogue and Tatler.
It was both strange and cathartic to go through all my photos for the book and exhibition. There were many that I had forgotten, and images of people who are no longer with us. It was a feeling of accomplishment and history that I felt. It was an incredible time to be in the fashion business. I was there at the very beginning in the 70s. I have seen the business through to the end because it is changing again. My work demonstrates how this was a golden age for fashion.