With 113 cover credits for British Vogue and 77 for international editions of Vogue, hair genius Sam McKnight has more credits in everyone’s favourite fashion bible that anyone else.
He has styled the hair of everyone from Lady Gaga to Princess Diana (he’s to thank for her shorter look), just about every supermodel you can think of from Kate to Cara to Cindy, and has carved relationships with some of the world’s most influential fashion creatives.
This week, Somerset House launched an exhibition celebrating his work from the very first fashion show snip in 1978, working with David and Elizabeth Emanuel, all the way through to his most recent covers.
One section looks at his working relationship with longterm collaborator Vivienne Westwood, with whom McKnight has worked since they met at now defunct nightclub Kinky Gerlinky in 1992. A selection of pieces from various collections are donned by mannequins with wigs styled into the distinctive looks that McKnight dreamt up for each of her shows.
Similarly Chanel, under Karl Lagerfeld’s reign, has been one of McKnight’s other longterm commitments, having begun working with the brand in 2009. A podium of models wearing exquisite designs also showcases their unique hair, created by McKnight in collaboration with Lagerfeld in a process which typically begins three weeks before each show.
Many of my favourite covers and most memorable shoots from reading British Vogue for the last 8 years appeared in the line-up of his cover credits. His first cover, for Harper’s & Queens in 1978, is on display alongside his extensive editorial work. Kate Moss, the model with 30 covers for British Vogue, features as one of his most prolific collaborators in some of her most memorable shoots. McKnight comments in the exhibit that he has worked alongside Moss and Kate Phelan, former fashion editor at British Vogue and current creative director at Topshop, almost more than anyone throughout his career.
The exhibition pays homage to the importance of the hair to a shoot, show or video. His work on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, in collaboration with Nick Knight, plays on a screen alongside images of the pop star. This moves seamlessly into exploring his close working relationship with Diana, for whom he was official hairstylist from 1990 after meeting on a shoot and transforming her hair into a short crop.
What is so evident in all of his work is that no matter how extravagant or detailed his concepts, there is always a sense of movement, as he puts it, an idea of ‘undone done’ hair. A project with Nowness featuring model Lily Donaldson elaborates on this idea, with her hair flowing freely.
The exhibition runs from now until 12 March 2017.