Before the hordes of his extended fashion family descended on Somerset House last night, Sam McKnight was pacing through the two floors of an exhibition of his life as one of the great sessions hairstylists. He stopped in front of a formal British Vogue portrait of Princess Diana, taken by Patrick Demarchelier in 1990. “I put on the tiara and had to make her hair big for it,” he remembered. “But, oh, God, then we had such an amazing day afterward. We were chatting and she suddenly asked, ‘If you could do anything, what would you do?’ And I said, ‘I’d cut it off!’ And she said, ‘Well, let’s do it now!’”
Thus, Diana, Princess of Wales, got the best slicked-back look of her life, the cut that defined her chic, grown-up, independent years—and her cutoff from her marriage. “I didn’t realize at the time,” McKnight said, “but in retrospect, with everything that was going on in the background, she wanted a change.” McKnight, after that, became Diana’s entrusted hairdresser. As photographer Nick Knight puts it elsewhere in the show, McKnight has that general effect on women when he’s working. “When he goes near the girls, they relax.”
It’s a testament to McKnight’s popularity in the magazine and fashion show milieu he has worked in since 1977—nearly 40 years!—that so many (who are sometimes so difficult) cooperated and gave permission, and that Chanel and Vivienne Westwood lent spectacular clothes to illustrate the interpretive cut and ****** of what a great hairstylist contributes. Straightaway, as you step off the street into the exhibition, you’re plunged into the next best thing to a backstage hair-and-makeup station and the kind of frenetic scene that goes on minutes before Chanel, Fendi,Dries Van Noten, or Balmain shows take to the runway. In place of the mirrors there are videos—say, of Kendall Jenner getting her Balmain hair look at a recent presentation—which have been recorded by GoPros worn by McKnight’s assistants. Every facet and every angle of the transformations—sometimes with four pairs of hands working on one girl’s hair—are captured.
From then on in, it’s easy to see how this exhibition will become a magnet for kids who want to experience the atmosphere of fashion and worship at a temple of a sublime hair alchemist. Shonagh Marshall, the curator at Somerset House, has run the numbers on the hairstylist’s Vogue covers, many of which are displayed on a faux newsstand. “Sam has been involved with 190 Vogue covers, which is more than any one photographer, or anyone else over that time,” she reported.
That’s not bad for a Scottish lad, born the son of a miner in 1955, who made his way to being a central team player with photographers and editors in the high supermodel years. Glorious images of Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington,Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitz abound. “It was a golden era. We were on the road the whole time with Patrick Demarchelier, traveling the world with the same 10 people,” McKnight said, laughing. “We were making it up as we went along, really.”
The massive sweep of the show brings out the important collaborations of his career, with photographers Demarchelier, Knight, Tim Walker, and more; with fashion editors Lucinda Chambers and Edward Enninful; and makeup artists Mary Greenwell and Val Garland. It’s studded with celebrity—Lady Gaga, Tilda Swinton, Kylie Minogue—and honors the spectacular shape-shifting talents of Kate Moss, from her early days as a fresh tousle-haired ’90s teen in love on a beach: “Johnny Depp was there,” McKnight recalled.
There are the moments when McKnight changed models’ fates with short, blonde crops—Jeny Howorth’s in the ’80s and Agyness Deyn’s in the aughts. We see his process, with the hairpieces, wigs, and frizzing techniques integral to creating Westwood and Chanel shows, in both videos and installations masterfully laid out by Michael Howells. Right at the end, there’s a room Howells describes as “Sam the Man,” the walls checkerboarded with pictures of flowers from his garden and the ridiculous varieties of wigs he poses in on his Instagram feed these days. It’s testament to the energy and humor of a talent happily adapted to an industry that is constantly working on the new, in the now; an inspirational treat for all those who remember and for all the many thousands of young eyes that will be opened for the first time by this extravagant journey through one man’s career.Read more at:http://www.marieaustralia.com/long-formal-dresses | www.marieaustralia.com/vintage-formal-dresses