There’s one thing that gets under-appreciated when appraising a good high-fashion editorial. Hair. While you admire the styling of the latest collections, the backdrop and the model’s figure and features, how much hair contributes to the overall silhouette of the look, as well as the mood of the shoot, can go unnoticed. However, for the past 40 years, there’s been one individual who hasn’t failed to take notice - Sam McKnight.
Credited as the first stylist to make a living from session styling alone, Sam McKnight’s extensive body of work is soon to be celebrated in a major retrospective titled ‘Hair by Sam McKnight’ at London’s Somerset House. Not only will the exhibition document the award-winning stylist’s career, it will be the first event of its kind to explore the wider cultural significance of hair and the role of the session stylist within fashion.
Sam McKnight trained as a teacher before turning his hand to hairdressing. Now one of the industry’s most in-demand figures, he began his styling career at the Molton Brown salon on London’s South Molton Street, securing his first editorial shoot with Vogue in 1977. But it was following a move to New York in the early 1980s that he began working with some of fashion’s most respected photographers, from Richard Avedon and David Bailey to Mario Testing and Patrick Demarchelier, and it was Mr Demarchelier who introduced the Scotsman to the late Princess of Wales, for whom he created her famous slicked back crop.
The high-fashion hair stylist has worked on numerous editorials, including almost 200 Vogue covers. He counts Chanel, Valentino, Burberry and Tom Ford among an extensive list of high-profile advertising campaign clients, and has designed and directed the hair at countless catwalk shows – for the Spring/Summer 2017 season he was responsible for the models’ hair on a dozen runways.
Sam McKnight’s work spans a vast range of genres and styles, highlighting the key role that hair plays in the creation of an overall image. But it is his ability to work closely and respectfully alongside other creatives that perhaps underlines his success and longevity. As he revealed recently to the Business of Fashion’s Robin Mellery-Pratt, “The whole shoot may be hinged on the hair or the makeup — sometimes it’s both — but rarely. But it’s always a group effort, especially with so many people involved now. It doesn’t matter what happens in the dressing room, it’s what happens out on set. It’s the light. The model. All of us.”
‘Hair by Sam McKnight’ opens on 2nd November 2016 and runs until 12th March 2017. Read more about the exhibition here.