He needs no introduction—but we’ll give you one anyway.
Sam McKnight is one of the world’s most sought-after and renowned hairstylists. He has worked on the Fendi and CHANEL shows, including ready-to-wear and couture, and was behind the late Princess Diana’s iconic short crop, remaining her personal hairstylist for seven years. Spanning his over four decades in the industry, McKnight also has countless Vogue covers under his belt—over 100 for British Vogue alone.
His latest project has seen McKnight launch a hair styling range, Hair By Sam McKnight, a line-up of four products exclusive to Mecca Cosmetica that pay homage to the beautiful, wearable and effortless hair that has become his signature.
Here he talks to Gritty Pretty about creating iconic looks, working with Karl, and breaking hair rules.
Gritty Pretty (GP): What made you decide to create your own styling range?
Sam McKnight (SM): It was about time, really. Enough talking about other people’s products, enough giving people my own ideas. I’ve always been interested in new things, and I’ve been an ambassador for so many brands. With [Hair by Sam McKnight], we have done it all ourselves; we haven’t gone to a big company and just chosen one off the shelf. We have done everything from scratch, from packaging, to the colours, fragrance and the formulations.
I know our experience, and I know what I think people want. We’re all hairdressers, every single one of us, and we all have something to say. It’s real, it’s honest, and it’s what we use, and what I know gets results and gets results fast.
GP: Would you say these are the four styling products every woman really needs?
SM: They’re a start. It was important that the four we launched with established us with integrity. Other products work, too, but I didn’t want to be the person launching a 25-piece product range—it’s confusing. I thought if we do this, in beautiful colours, and we’ve got something to say, I’m comfortable with that. They go well together, they’re all aerosols, and we have had fun with the packaging, and the names. We’re also bringing a bit of fashion into it. If you look online and in-store, there’s nothing interesting in haircare with colour; it’s all a bit flat. We thought there was room for something interesting.
GP: Let’s talk through each of the products…
SM: All of the products are instant, they’re fast and they eliminate the need to wet hair and put a mousse or gel in, and then dry them through. They’re also brush-out-able—maybe I need to register that word—because they all really do brush out. You can start again.
Lazy Girl is a really amazing dry shampoo. It’s invisible, so it’s quite powerful but it’s really light.
When I’ve done someone’s hair like Kate Moss or Gisele, and it still looks too perfect, Cool Girl will mess it up. Just a few blasts and it will stay. It’s a barely there texturiser.
Modern Hairspray is a multitasker—I can use it for straightening, for curling, and I can use it for volumising. It does many different things.
Easy Up-Do is a strong texturiser. It instantly gives me enough bite so that I can backcomb the hair and it will stay, or it will give lank, silky hair that never stays up some grip and friction against itself. It’s as simple as that. It’s also going down a treat for wedding hair.
GP: We follow you on Instagram—obviously—and know you have your own beautiful rose garden. What made you work with perfumer Lyn Harris for the scents in Hair by Sam McKnight?
SM: We wanted it to smell like a fine fragrance. I never wanted it to feel like it was something that had just made in a big factory and just put on a shelf by some suits with their own boxes to tick. The fragrance had to be bespoke, and it had to be a multi-dimensional scent—not an off-the-shelf cherry flavour—I wanted it to smell really unexpected.
GP: You have had so many career-defining moments. What has been a highlight?
SM: Staying in the course for so many years. I still can’t quite believe it myself. That I’m still here, doing it.
GP: You’re also known for creating iconic hairstyles, Princess Diana’s short haircut being one of them. What was it like in those moments, looking back now?
SM: Everyone is a real person. I never think of those people other than the person that I’ve met. I worked through a lot of different eras, and I guess it’s all about relationships and memories, and that’s all it is in the end. It’s the people. The thing is, you don’t know you’re creating iconic styles in the moment—the iconic status comes in retrospect. I think the people who call things iconic before they’ve done them don’t know what they’re talking about, because it doesn’t work like that. That has been a bit of a perk of old age—seeing some of your work become iconic.
GP: A new haircut or style can be intimidating. What would be your advice to our readers wanting to try something new?
SM: Take a tip from the younger generation. Kids now aren’t stuck in the groove their parents were in. Kids experiment with their look, and even old women aren’t stuck in dying the grey out. You’ve got 50-, 60-, 70-, 80-year-old women with longer hair, breaking all the rules. There’s an older generation and a younger generation who are not afraid, but there are women in the middle that are stuck in the limbo of either ignoring their hair or they’ve become afraid of it.
GP: You have exclusively worked on the CHANEL shows for nine years—they’re known for kick-starting seasonal hair and make-up trends. How collaboratively do you work with Karl Lagerfeld?
SM: It is nine years—you did your homework! It’s amazing. We do it all from a sketch from Karl, and Karl is not looking at trends at all—Karl is just doing the sketch from what he thinks the silhouette should be. He has a knack of having his finger on the button. I’m proud of the fact that we have done those nine years, and we haven’t done the same thing twice. We’ve done about four or five ponytails but they have all been different. CHANEL, from me, demands something more; it commands a look. It’s fantastic for us to be able to do that. And Fendi, too. Whatever Karl touches there’s a magic to it. It has a beautiful theatrical romance to it—CHANEL is selling a dream, a fantasy. And that’s why I got into this industry in the first place.
GP: I’m sure you’re constantly get asked about where you find inspiration. So instead, I’ll ask what keeps your motivated to create great hair?
SM: I think working with people like Karl, Vivienne Westwood, and Dries Van Noten. It’s not difficult to be inspired because you’re surrounded by it. My garden in England because it’s full of colour. And I love doing the shows—being involved in that world has been a constant source of inspiration.
GP: Do you plan on extending Hair By Sam McKnight into haircare?
SM: Yes. But I’m not allowed to talk about it yet…