Insider Interviews: Sam McKnight: Session Stylist

With a legendary career spanning four decades, hundreds of magazine covers, countless iconic editorial & backstage looks & an army of loyal celebrity clients, we spoke to Sam to find out where it all began, his standout career moments & the products everyone needs...

By Amy Wilson Wyles

  • Job Title: Session Hair Stylist

  • Location: London

  • Clients/Fans Include: Tilda Swinton, Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett , Chanel & Vivienne Westwood

  • Years in the Industry: Four decades

The Backstory

I got into hairdressing purely by accident. I was training to become a teacher but it wasn’t for me.  Then I started working for friends who owned a salon in Scotland – doing odd jobs around the salon and this is how I started. When I moved to London in the 70s, aged 19, I joined the Molton Brown hair salon on South Molton Street in Mayfair. The opportunity came to work on my first magazine shoot because someone fell ill. I knew it was for me and never looked back.

Being introduced to Princess Diana on the VOGUE shoot I did with Patrick Demarchelier in 1990 was a standout career highlight. I cut her hair short on the shoot and it became an iconic moment. I had the privilege of working with the Princess for several years following this. She was great – lovely, funny and always a complete pleasure to work with.

Working with Karl Lagerfeld and Dame Vivienne Westwood has really defined my career over the years. My relationship with Karl was about respect, understanding and offering each other new challenges every season. We got to really push the boundaries with Chanel and I will be forever thankful to have been a small part of his team, and to have learnt so much from his creative force and kindness.

Opening the exhibition at Somerset House was a truly humbling experience. I am grateful to anyone and everyone who helped to make it happen. When I stand back now and look at it from an objective point of view – seeing all my work – it shows very clearly how I came in at the beginning of the end of the golden era of fashion photography – the 70s/80s/90s. That and launching my own capsule range of dry-styling products!

Cool girl is my signature style. It’s that effortless look, undone yet done at the same time. The trick to cool girl hair is making it look like you haven’t even tried. It’s the antithesis of prim hair.

The Advice

The right hair accessory can make or break a style and over the years they have been central to some of my most famous looks. Here are my top tips for making them an easy to wear style:

1. A small spritz of a texturising spray like EasyUpDo and a little backcomb where you are wearing the accessory will create grip and hold the accessory in place.

2. Hair accessories don’t only have to be HAIR accessories – jewellery works beautifully. Brooches gripped in, necklaces weaved through. If you love it, find a way to wear it. 

3. Keep fresh flowers in the fridge before using them or better yet invest in silk flowers that last a lifetime.

4. A simple band of black velvet ribbon compliments every outfit.  It’s always in my kit.

5. There are no rules! Go big and bold or keep it simple.  Layer enamel brooches next to each other to make a statement or keep it cool with metal hardware .

The Kit

1. Cool Girl: Gives you just enough to create that slightly undone feel – my signature look in a bottle.

2. Modern Hairspray: The perfect multitasker. This hairspray will get you through the whole day but also brushes out if you need it to. 

3. Easy up-Do: This is 20 hair pins in a can, making those effortless looking up-dos easily achievable.

4. Lazy Girl: The ultimate dry-shampoo to give hair volume and longevity between washes. 

5. Cock Grease Hair Pomade: Adds definition, is great for controlling flyaways and hair around the hairline and works beautifully on Afro and coarser hair types. It’s also a secret weapon to effectively aid braiding. 

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