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Arts Review: Hair by Sam McKnight @ Somerset House


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In celebration of Sam McKnight’s highly influential career, Somerset House is currently presenting a major exhibition of his work.

‘Hair by Sam McKnight’ highlights the hairstylist’s part in creating some of the most iconic fashion images from the last 40 years.

Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton, Vogue Italia, February 2003
© Craig McDean, Courtesy Art + Commerce

During his career, McKnight has worked on over 100 Vogue UK covers and over 190 covers of Vogue internationally. Having worked exclusively in fashion, McKnight is renowned for his accomplished work in the industry.

Curated by Shonagh Marshall and designed by Michael Howells, the exhibition is arranged thematically to consider the multi-layered creative process of McKnight’s work.

Displaying fashion photographs, wigs and hairpieces amongst couture garments and film and audio installations, the exhibition places the complex craft of hairstyling in the wider context of fashion image-making.

The exhibition particularly considers the relationships and collaborations that McKnight has formed and developed during his career. He has worked with the contemporary fashion industry’s leading designers, photographers, make-up artists and stylists.

Photographer Nick Knight has worked closely with Sam McKnight. Praising the hairstylist’s skill and craftsmanship, Knight has said: “Sam is really one of the true greats of hairdressing! He has total mastery over his craft and combines that with an enthusiasm and commitment to push the boundaries of fashion.”

Styling the hair of recognisable women such as Kate Moss, Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga and Princess Diana, McKnight has been instrumental in shaping appearances and identities throughout his career.

“I love working with Sam,” Kate Moss has said. “We laugh all day long.” Her famous ‘done/undone’ hairstyle is one of the many trademark looks created by McKnight. 

Kate Moss, Patrick Demarchelier

Patrick Demarchelier © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

By focusing on McKnight’s career, the exhibition recognises the often-overlooked importance of hair in both public and personal image-making.

An important tool for self-expression, hair can be cut, dyed and styled to reflect certain moods and personalities. Sam McKnight’s ability to create, alter and rethink the projected personas of the women he has worked with shows the great influence that hair can have.

Outside of the fashion industry, hair is a huge part of the appearance and identity of many people. The exhibition is incredibly relatable as it encourages visitors to consider how hair shapes their own image.

Whilst at the exhibition, I became aware of my own reliance on hair for self-expression and self-confidence. Understanding the potential impact of hairstyling, I recognised that my distinctively long, brown, curly hair has (literally) grown to become a huge part of my appearance and my identity.

The exhibition demonstrates how hair affects many of us: it influences how we are perceived, and equally how we perceive others, making it a fundamental aspect of fashion and personal style.

‘Hair by Sam McKnight’ is an informative, in-depth and immersive exhibition, celebrating the exceptional hairstylist and his craft.

‘Hair by Sam McKnight’ is on display at the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House until 12 March 2017   

For more information about the exhibition and to book tickets, visit Somerset House’s website here

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