Series Three: Episode Three – Sam McKnight

Global session stylist and official ‘Legend’, Sam McKnight heads into the recording studio to round off The Root of It

In the third and final instalment of The Root of It podcast, presented by Creative HEAD in partnership with Treatwell, multi-award-winning session stylist and product innovator, Sam McKnight, opens up to editor, Amanda Nottage, about opportunities, experiences and stand-out moments across his career

The Root of It hairdressing podcast, guest Sam McKnight

About Sam McKnight

Sam was born in New Cumnock, a mining town in Scotland, into a working-class family. His father was a miner and his mother was employed by the local Co-op shop, and as such, he had a strong working ethic drummed into him from a young age.

When I started [session hairdressing], there were probably half a dozen hairdressers in the world, doing the same jobs with the same photographers for the same magazines. None of us realised it would go on for so long and grow in scale and exposure.Sam McKnight

Initially working a variety of jobs, including window cleaning and van driving, and embarking on a teacher training course, it was a while before Sam found his calling in life: hair! That moment came after he dropped out of college and took a job at a local salon. A move to London followed in the early 70s, and Sam took positions at a couple of salons before arriving at Molton Brown – at the time, one of the city’s leading salons and home to a hub of stylists working the magazine scene. 

During his time at Molton Brown, Sam took on projects for London-based magazines 19 and Honey before landing his first editorial shoot with British Vogue, in 1977. Later, he was introduced to stylists Liz Tilberis (British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar US) and Lucinda Chambers (British Vogue), who both recognised this star on the rise and proved instrumental in Sam subsequently securing high-profile editorial bookings.

New York in the 80s came next for Sam, a period during which his career went stellar. He went on to work with “the big six” supermodels – Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Claudia Schiffer – and with leading fashion houses, including Chanel, Fendi, Balmain, Burberry and Tom Ford, many of whom he still works with to this day.

Sam has also shot with the world’s most prominent photographers, including Mario Testino, Nick Knight and Patrick Demarchelier, and it was during a 1990 British Vogue cover shoot with Patrick that Sam met Diana, Princess of Wales. That fateful meeting would lead to a long-standing working relationship up until Diana’s untimely death, in 1997.

In 2015, Sam was bestowed the title of ‘Legend’ in the Session Stylist category in Creative HEAD’s Most Wanted Awards and in the same year, also received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Scottish Fashion Awards.

A year later, Somerset House launched ‘Hair by Sam McKnight’, a major exhibition celebrating his illustrious career. Never before had an exhibition of this kind taken place, looking at hair from a new perspective and heralding its significance both in fashion and culture throughout the decades. In tandem, Sam also released his first book: Hair by Sam McKnight, a hardback anthology of his magazine covers, editorial shoots and personal insights into working at the heart of the fashion industry.

With a tireless and industrious work effort, Sam then launched a range of hair products under the same name, in June 2017. The collection injects fashion, glamour and ease into haircare and styling and has been curated through the culmination of his extensive knowledge and experience within the industry. 

Most recently, in 2019, Sam was honoured with the Isabella Blow Fashion Creator Award to recognise his immeasurable contribution to the fashion industry. 

Hear about Sam’s incredible career journey: the revelations, the learnings, the remarkable people and the highs and lows of the “glamourous” industry he’s fallen in love with, all in The Editor Asks – the third, and final, episode in series three of The Root of It podcast.


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