It almost feels that not a day goes by without a cultural institution announcing the opening of a fashion-themed exhibition. As recently as a decade ago, many museums looked down on others seeking to raise their profile by capitalising on fashion, but now they’re realising that this is indeed a wonderful way to attract visitors and raise funds.
Such exhibitions generally range from designer retrospectives and photography exhibitions to broader themes, such as the role of technology or the influence of China on fashion. Yet they rarely celebrate the work of those who toil behind the scenes at magazine shoots and runway shows to make the magic happen.
This autumn, however, Somerset House in London is rectifying the omission with an exhibition devoted to one of the industry’s most celebrated hairstylists. Sam McKnight, the Scottish-born hair maven who started his career in the 1970s, has created much-admired hairdos for models such as Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell. He also styled the late Princess Diana, whose famous slicked-back do in a ’90s shoot with Patrick Demarchelier was his brainchild.
Another long-time collaborator of McKnight is photographer Nick Knight, who says, “Sam has total mastery over his craft and combines that with an enthusiasm and commitment to push the boundaries of fashion. The affection, admiration and devotion he has for the models he works with makes his presence on my shoots so valuable.”
One of McKnight’s most high-profile roles is as the go-to hairstylist for all Chanel shows. Every season, he creates incredible hairdos to match the extravaganzas conjured up by Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais and around the world (Lagerfeld also gave McKnight his first acting gig as Mademoiselle Coco Chanel’s butler in a short film for the brand).
The exhibition, which is accompanied by a book of the same title published by Rizzoli, features photographs, magazines, catwalk images, personal pictures, outfits and specially created wigs and hairpieces. It’s a rare insight into a key element of a fashion show or shoot that plays a vital role in the creation of an arresting image.
Hair by Sam McKnight is on at Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, London until March 12.