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BATHROOM CHATS: WITH SAM MCKNIGHT

BATHROOM CHATS: WITH SAM MCKNIGHT

Flannels blog article
BATHROOM CHATS: WITH SAM MCKNIGHT

The OG session stylist, Sam McKnight is a true legend in the world of hair. The mastermind behind some of the world’s most iconic cuts – think Kate Moss across the decades, that Princess Diana crop and Naomi Campbell to name but a few – he’s also the man responsible for some of the fashion world’s biggest hair moments, from Vivienne Westwood’s brushed-out perm circa ‘94 to Fendi’s round bobs in 2019. It’s safe to say, Sam McKnight knows hair.

Luckily for us, McKnight has turned his talents to creating haircare. Enter Hair by Sam McKnight, a curated collection of four haircare must-haves: a dry shampoo, two texturizing sprays and a new-gen approach to hairspray. With eye-catching names, cool bottles and – most importantly – incredible formulas, it’s no surprise that they’ve gained a fan club.

From his hair beginnings to his biggest moments and the secrets behind his cult products, get ready to know Sam McKnight a little better.

Where did your journey with hair begin?

As a kid growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, hair was a very intrinsic part of modern culture. We didn’t have a TV when I was a kid until I was about eight or nine, so I was there at the beginning of television culture. We were being bombarded with images and a lot of those images would be people like The Beatles and Dusty Springfield and Jimi Hendrix. Really distinctive characters and, when you look back retrospectively, with very distinctive hair. And I guess, subliminally, that must have gone in. Then in the early ‘70s, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked by David Bowie on Top of the Pops. And David Bowie’s hair, of course, is legendary. From then on, I was transfixed with my own hair.

What made you first see hair as a career?

I stayed on at school and I went to teacher training college till I was sort of 20 years old, which I absolutely hated. My friends owned a hairdresser salon and in the same building they owned a nightclub and a restaurant, a burger bar. And this would’ve been sort of, mid ‘70s by now, and I mean we were trendy - this was in Scotland, and we were the trendy crew that went to discos on a Saturday night and bought all the latest gear from the Glasgow high street shops, all that kind of stuff. And I think David Bowie was the turning point. But when we all got interested and doing our own hair, colouring our own hair, and then when my friend saw I wasn’t happy at college… I used to do a bit of DJing, I tried to be a waiter, I was rubbish at that. And then I would sweep hair and I would drive the van for my friend’s hairdressing salon, and I just sort of got into it. I just got hooked. And, cut to a few years later, ended up working in London at the hottest salon in town, which was Molton Brown.

IT'S BEEN INCREDIBLE. IT'S BEEN FULL OF EVOLVING, INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES WITH THE MOST AMAZING, INSPIRING PEOPLE.

From there you became one of the OG session stylists…

I landed on my feet a bit. I got sent out on a photoshoot, because Molton Brown was the go-to salon for all the magazines, and in those days, it might sound a bit weird now, but the magazines got… well the models did their own hair and makeup. By the mid ‘70s, people had started using hairdressers from salons, and from the mid to end of the ‘70s, Molton Brown was the place where the magazines got the hairdressers from. But the hairdressers always worked on salons and would go out, take a day off the salon to do the photoshoot. I quickly discovered that I preferred doing the photoshoot to working in the salon. There was something sort of magical about creating an image. And that was when I got hooked. That was in the late ‘70s. And then in 1980, I left. When you’re young you just do things don’t you? Once you’ve learned a trade, like hairdressing, once you’ve learned a skill, you don’t really unlearn it, it’s something you can always turn to. And at the time, in the early ‘80s, there were new magazines, like i-D and The Face, and all these kind of style magazines popping up. And I felt that there’s a new wave here, and I really wanted to be part of that. So, I left the salon and just concentrated on doing photoshoots. And everyone thought that I was completely insane, like how could I possibly sustain myself on those, because you didn’t really get paid for magazines. But you did get paid for Freemans Catalogue and stuff like that. So, I did sustain myself, and then very, very quickly the business did evolve. That was the beginnings of what it is today.

You were the OG session stylist. You’ve done over 200 Vogue covers. You’ve spent over 40 decades in the business. What are those key moments that really stand out for you when you look back?

There’s so many, I couldn’t possibly choose just one. From the beginning, from the ‘80s, with this emergence of the supermodels… I mean I was about when Naomi, at 15 years old, comes from school on a go-see, and when Linda [Evangelist] and Christy [Turlington] were doing Vogue cover tries and we thought maybe they’ll get one, maybe they won’t, maybe they’ll even get a Vogue shoot. So that was an amazing experience, to watch that metamorphose into what it became. And then at the end of that, along comes little Miss Moss. Looking much shorter, tinier, smaller, bird like, different from everyone else. And you know, I’m still working with Kate to this very day. And in between then and through that kind of experience I met Princess Diana, through Vogue magazine and Patrick Demarchelier and then went on another decade of doing that, well seven years of doing that. And then came the era of the big fashion shows, which I still continue to do. And then came launching my own products. And also working with people like Vivienne Westwood and Karl Lagerfeld for many, many years. It’s been incredible. It’s been full of evolving, incredible experiences with the most amazing, inspiring people.

You’re the one creating the trends each season. Where does the inspiration come from?

I never think of them as trends. I think someone decides they’re trends after that. We’re looking at what actually works visually in an image or a show or for a certain collection. And quite often, because we were working so far ahead of time, it kind of clicks, and I think also because we’re always looking for the newest way of presenting things. That can just be a new version of the old way from a new angle, or you know, slightly tweaking it. Or it could be completely revolutionary. But I think it’s just constantly working in a team with an amazing designer, stylist and makeup artist, hairdresser. The four of us, and model of course, are tasked with coming up with something new every six months. I feel like we’re heading into an era where it’s kind of cool for someone to be their own thing and is not dictated to by trends.

How does the process work on shoots? We’ve heard you’re not a planner…

I say not a planner, but you have to have a certain preparation. You have to come armed with everything you think you’re going to need. But then you have the knowledge, the skill and the nerve; the guts, to dare to try something. I quite like being spontaneous and seeing what something looks like, and thinking, maybe if we do this it’ll be different. I’m good when I have something in front of me and you can kind of decide how it looks in the moment. I always think, if you plan something too meticulously it’s always going to go… not to plan. I quite like when things go not to plan. I think you can find certain beauty in mistakes.

I QUITE LIKE WHEN THINGS GO NOT TO PLAN. I THINK YOU CAN FIND CERTAIN BEAUTY IN MISTAKES. 

What does beauty – and hair - mean to you?

Hair, it’s not just decoration. People use their hair as a shield, as a protection. They also use it as an armour, and they also use it as a weapon. They can use it to create this drop-dead look, and they also use it to hide behind. Long fringes and long curtain bangs are really good to hide behind. And I think, depending on your mood, people use hair in a different way.

You’ve had your hands on some of the world’s most famous hair. Who has the best?

I have to say, Kate Moss has got amazing hair. Her hair will do absolutely anything and it’s an incredible colour as well. And Kate’s always up for it anyway, so, that’s always a great pleasure.


From the names to the packaging to the formulas, everything is so considered with Hair by Sam McKnight. What was the most important thing to you when creating your own line?

They came about, originally, from our needs on a shoot or backstage. What I was struggling with a bit, was that products were becoming very heavy, and we sometimes have girls who do ten fashion shows a day. So, it was making products that had a very, very light but powerful formulation. Products that would work instantly. We did have texturisers, but we were having to wet the hair, put mousse on it, all that kind of stuff, which was taking half an hour. With the Cool Girl it now takes two minutes, you know? To get the same, gritty texture that will do things for you. The Easy-Up Do makes hair so much easier to braid or backcomb or put up, so we don’t have to go through that sort of labour of putting tons of mousse in it.

It was really important to me that they brushed out, and we kept using the word ‘brush out-able’, because we were finding other things were really hard to brush out. And we don’t have time to wash hair, and people can’t be bothered washing their hair at fashion shows because it’s under a cold tap.... I did a shoot once, with an actress - Emily Blunt for a Vanity Fair cover - a few years ago and there was lots of product in her hair, my product. And she was going out to some event that evening, she said oh, ‘I’m gonna have to wash my hair’, and I said ‘no, no, no, you won’t, it will just brush out’. She didn’t believe me, and she was astounded when it just brushed out. And it leaves the hair feeling soft and silky and shiny. Oh, and the fragrance: your hair smells nice. That was vital to me, because I think hair products that don’t smell nice are really off putting. So, we got Lyn [Harris], in, and she came round and spent a couple of afternoons in the garden with me. She came back with a few options of sort of rainy gardens.

THAT KIND OF EFFORTLESS, SLIGHTLY DISHEVELED, LIVED IN, COOL. IT'S THAT THING THAT EVERYONE'S CONSTANTLY STRIVING FOR. 



Cool Girl has become such a cult product. Why do you think it’s resonated so much?

For me, it was the hair that I love doing. That kind of effortless, slightly dishevelled, lived in, cool. It’s that thing that everyone’s constantly striving for. You know that kind of ease, that kind of effortlessness, and when we were doing shoots and fashion shows we’d constantly be asked for that effortless, ‘cool girl’ hair. So, hence, ‘Cool Girl’, was born. I think the thing about it is, it’s less about the product than the look. It’s a feeling. The cool girl thing, it’s just as much a feeling as a look. We wanted to convey this cool girl ease, and I think, we’ve managed to do that.


Was there a girl in mind for the rest of the range?

Not for each of them but for Easy Up Do, we wanted it to have that kind of.. you saw the name, and you knew what it was. ‘I suppose there’s a bit of Kate [Moss] in Easy Up Do, because Kate’s hair can be quite silky. It gets rid of that just-washed silkiness. And makes it easy to backcomb, to put up in a messy bun, to do all those kinds of messy braids, those up dos that, if your hair is really silky the hair pins just slide out of it. But this stops that. We said when we’re done, it’s almost like 20 hair pins in a can.

We wanted to have a bit of fun with the names and have names that when you looked, it kind of hooked you in and you understood what it did. Lazy Girl… it’s dry shampoo, it’s an instant cleansing thing, it’s invisible, it’s light, it works really well… I think the most important thing for me was that the products did what they said on the tin.

What’s your most unusual hair tip or favourite hack?

Dry shampoo: I think rather than spraying it onto the hair, which, I think, people can get a bit carried away with, I have a soft, narrow, bristle brush and I spray the dry shampoo onto that. If you just take that through your hair, because it’s your hairline and your roots that are usually the place where you need it, or your fringe, if you just glide through a few times and then give it a blast with a cold hair dryer - never a warm hair dryer, the warm hair dryer will just melt the oil - and those particles will come off straight away and you won’t have any clumpy bits. You can target where you want it more with a brush than with a spray.


THERE'S A LOT OF PRESSURE ON WOMEN TO MAKE YOUR HAIR PERFECT, BUT I HATE THAT.

What’s your best piece of hair advice?

You don’t want it to look too perfect. You want it messed up a little bit. You want things to look a bit accidental and broke and not 100% perfect, because that’s what brings the personality to it. There’s a lot of pressure on women to make your hair perfect, but I hate that. I really don’t like that at all because hair is never perfect. Hair should move, you should be able to run your hands through it, and it’s never going to look the same one minute to the next. I think, it’s kind of knocking down those unattainable levels of perfection.


What do you predict will be big for hair in 2022?

I see a lot of amazing colour going on - I’m loving what’s happening there. I’m seeing tailor made, individual colour for people. The modern way to do colour is to make it your own thing, to make it individual, whether it’s pink or blue or green, or honey or golden or aubergine. And I’m loving a return to that kind of ‘90s, straight, glossy hair.