Industry legend Sam McKnight invited us into his studio for a sneak peek into his archive as he talked us through his life in wigs
With a career that spans over 40 years you’d have no problem believing he’d done it all, but session sensation Sam McKnight has also recently added TV star to his portfolio. The hairdressing legend has created iconic looks for some of the top indie and high-fashion brands across the world, not to mention worked on shows for the biggest names in the fashion biz, and he generously invited us into his West London studio to discover a fraction of his life in wigs.
Notably friends with names like Kate Moss, the late Princess Diana and the Hadid sisters, Sam is also renowned for his work and friendship with Dame Vivienne Westwood. Having been collaborators since the early ’90s, he shared more about creative process that inspired the look for one show.
The minimalistic, yet astonishingly long braided wig was created for a 2013 Westwood show. Sam began by setting the scene to highlight how sometimes inspiration can strike rather late in the day: “It can get to 11PM on an evening before a show and there isn’t a final vision because everybody keeps changing their mind. This means you must do what you can to get the creative juices flowing,” he explained.
“Vivienne is big on recycling, and I spotted one of the assistants taking clothes out of the garment bags… So I grabbed one, tore it into strips and incorporated it into very, very long braids.” The fabric also features the Westwood logo which further incorporated the brand into the physical design – which was then exaggerated in length to reach the floor.
“We kept it really simple in the front, so all the drama is in the back!”
One of Sam’s many career highlights also includes his work on the 2019 Fendi show, which was a tribute to the passing of Karl Lagerfeld. Held in front of the Coliseum in Rome one July evening, it celebrated Karl’s 54 years as creative director at the fashion house, with 54 models taking to the runway.
Sam told us how “these little beauties” came to be, after being hit by the idea of matching hair to clothes. “I thought it would be great to create a look from one of the Lagerfeld collections, which became the ’70s pageboy, and every model would have a completely custom-made wig, coloured to match the outfit.”
We learned more about the outfits, which were inspired by Roman marble (‘red-ish’, yellow-green, bottle green, and lots of multi-tonal marble) and Sam explained how this subsequently led to “the various bowl cuts in different lengths and shapes, all cut on the day, backstage, on every model individually.” He adds: “It was quite a spectacular look I must say, it was one of my favourites.”
The final look, from another incredibly prestigious and iconic show, is a wig from the Chanel A/W14 season which was situated in a Chanel supermarket, with Karl Lagerfeld at the helm as creative director. “Karl wanted a big, oversized ponytail and I thought ‘well we can push it more than that,’” Sam explained as he elaborated on the process. “So, we used Chanel couture fabrics: tweed, glitter, ribbon, printed silk, and we braided, twisted, and crimped. The idea was a massive, textured ponytail, all in real hair on every girl.” He continued, “My team spent a good part of a week in the Chanel studio in Paris ripping up rolls of Chanel couture fabrics – much to the chagrin of the ladies at Chanel,” he jokes.
With an abundance of colour inside Chanel’s supermarket runway, Sam rounded up by emphasising the importance of the exaggerated look in order to compete with the set.
As a seasoned professional, and undeniable master of his trade, Sam’s studio hosts many more shelves and drawers, meticulously displaying just a fraction of his archive. Over on Instagram, we also delved into the post-pandemic collaboration with Dries Van Noten – a Gaga number that was recreated for his Somerset House exhibition in 2016. You’ll also see Sam share the “beaded baby” which was intricately created for friend and designer, Ashish Gupta’s fashion collection.
You can see more from Sam in the digital issue of Creative HEAD magazine.