In a style which is true to form I managed to catch the Hair by Sam McKnight exhibition at Somerset House just a week before it closes. I’m very glad I did too. Sam’s is a hair stylist with huge credentials. His creations have graced over 190 Vogue covers and he is loved far and wide by models, film stars and royalty. Many of Princess Diana’s most iconic looks were created by him. Remember that slicked back look
This major exhibition is a celebration of his remarkable 40-year career from the late 1970s to the current day. The New York Times described him as “one of the most important image makers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries”. The aim of the exhibition is to contextualise the wider cultural significance of hair and the role of the session stylist within fashion. I think it achieves its aim admirably. The world of fashion and the often unsung role that hair plays in a look is examined in detail and to great effect. As is noted early on in the exhibition, it is often hair which defines a look.
The exhibition opens with a backstage look at the frenetic goings on behind the scenes of a catwalk fashion show. Screens set up on dressing tables show Sam and his team at work creating looks for models. It seems that at any one time 6-7 people might be working on one model.
Sam has worked with the likes of supermodels Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, and with international fashion designers Chanel and Vivienne Westwood, all of which feature regularly throughout the exhibition.
There are mannequins with flamboyant hair styles and large canvases showing models from magazine shoots, as well as all the 190 Vogue covers he has created hair styles for.
Apart from the images and mannequins, there is lots to read too and one of the quotes that struck me most describes the powerful symbolism hair has. “It’s an extension of our bodies and we inevitably form a close relationship with those who touch our hair” This is revealed clearly in some of the photographs and notes on display from Princess Diana thanking Sam for his work and sending him thank you notes and photographs from moments during their time together.
At the end of the exhibition is a short film of Sam in his garden which he clearly loves, talking about his work and his philosophy of hair. Quite simply he says, “Don’t be afraid of your hair, it grows it comes back, its like a garden” Wise words to someone like me who is a bit scared of her hair, and doesn’t change it very much at all.
Perhaps the last word should be given to Kate Moss with whom Sam clearly has a close relationship and for whom he has frequently created his famous ‘done, undone’. i.e do it, then slightly undo it.