Legendary Hairstylist Sam McKnight On Creating Beauty, Working With Diana and His Haircare Range - The Gloss Magazine

Legendary Hairstylist Sam McKnight On Creating Beauty, Working With Diana and His Haircare Range

The super-stylist’s range is now at Brown Thomas. Here’s what you need to know …

“It’s all about creating beauty,” says Sam McKnight. The legendary hairstylist needs no introduction – he’s been at the forefront of fashion for decades, working with every star, supermodel and fashion legend you can think of, from Naomi to Kate, Karl to Vivienne. For people my age, though, his name is most instantly synonymous with the moment that Princess Diana appeared on the cover of Vogue, her hair sleek, slicked-back and modern. From then on, we knew his name, and spotted it on every great shoot and catwalk look.

Having spent decades backstage, McKnight has now stepped into the spotlight, with his range of Hair by Sam McKnight styling products and now also shampoos, conditioners and hair masks. McKnight spent a day at Brown Thomas Dundrum this month to launch the range here –?he is full of admiration for the Dundrum store – and we had the pleasure of listening to him talk through the products, and discuss key moments in his career, including an exhibition about his work at Somerset House in 2016. He talked about being backstage when Naomi fell off the giant Westwood heels on the catwalk, and working with Kate Moss on a shoot in St Bart’s, when none of his hair kit arrived and he had to improvise – he found a spray bottle (in a cleaner’s cupboard!) and filled it with sea water, mixed with a bit of suntan lotion –?a quick-thinking moment that pretty well created the idea of “beachy waves” and became the inspiration for his latest styling product, Sundaze Sea Spray. (Check out his tips for under-€30 hair essentials here.)

Rather than promoting his range with “you have bad hair, you need this”, McKnight’s is a positive approach. It’s about enhancing and making the best of what you have, with easy-to-use formulas – a celebration rather than zoning in on problems and amplifying them. “The amazing thing about hair is how transformative it can be,” he notes. “Every woman has at least four looks in them, hair-wise. It’s so easy now with products to change your hair.” His best advice? “Don’t be confined by one look your whole life –?the transformational possibilities for hair are endless. It changes, it grows. You can change your parting, add a fringe, a few layers. A couple of changes can be easy to adapt to, and it’s about making people aware of these possibilities.”


He launched styling products in four textures in 2017. “I wanted more lightweight stylers, that were easy to use and brush-outable. It’s all about layering lightweight products. I don’t believe in ten steps –?in fact the more product you put on, the more you weigh your hair down.” The formulas were in development for around ten years, and he describes the texturisers, such as Cool Girl, as having “changed my way of working”. The entire range is notable for its gorgeous scent, too – this was specially designed by perfumer Lyn Harris, of Perfumer H, inspired by the colours and brilliant flowers of McKnight’s garden on summer afternoons after the rain: it’s “rainy, woody, slightly floral –?I wanted it to be distinct, without being overpowering.” We’re hoping for a hair perfume to come soon …


McKnight has spent a lifetime “being surrounded by amazing people”. He modestly demurs that it’s about being in the right place at the right time, but he has always embraced opportunities. He worked with Vivienne Westwood for 30 years and describes her as “a force of nature”. On working with Princess Diana, he recalls that he was called to do a job with some young royals in London, and then Diana turned up, unexpectedly. “This tall leggy blonde came in – she was lovely … With her hair we moved away from the 80s look – she was ready for a change, so we went for it. It wasn’t that big a change, but it had a big effect, and I couldn’t believe the furore.” The sleek new hairstyle reflected her “becoming independent, her own person”. McKnight was startled to hear that, in a recent documentary featuring tapes of Diana speaking, when asked what had changed things for her, she said “It was when Sam cut my hair”, as it had made her feel empowered and confident. McKnight had never realised that before: “To hear that 30-odd years later, it was just amazing. And it really resonated with me.”


“Without a doubt scalp care is vital – all our haircare is formulated to a skincare level, and it’s really important to clean your scalp as well as your hair. I have psoriasis so I’m really very aware of the scalp and have to be so careful of my scalp, and what I put on it. My favourite thing on a shoot is when the make-up artist doesn’t use foundation all over, just where needed, so you can see the real skin. It’s the same for the scalp.


“I’m not loyal to tools particularly, I use a bit of everything, and I like to try new things. I do like a YS Park brush with boar bristles, or a soft bristle brush like a Mason Pearson. I’m loving all the sustainable combs that are out. Sustainability is really important to me – with the brand we’re not there yet but we’re working on it. For example, we didn’t do the cleansing cloths until we knew they could be compostable. The products have to work and do the job – the main thing for us is performance, and everything else comes after that.”


When it comes to hair condition, McKnight is an advocate of an “inside out” approach. “If you’re not eating right, the hair is the first thing to suffer. A totally vegan diet can be not great for hair either. I think a lot of things are dietary and hormonal and it’s from the inside, rather than topical. For supplements, Nioxin is really good, and Viviscal is good for fine hair, it works. I advise clients to see a trichologist, such as the Philip Kingsley Clinic, if you’re having any issues.”


There are travel sizes of the products available, too, great both for travel and to trial:

Cool Girl Barely There Texture Mist, €14

“Cool Girl is an instant thing that is so quick to use,” says McKnight.

The new Save The Do Heat Protection Style Starter, €32 is like a primer, protecting and prepping hair for any style.

As a finishing cream, Happy Endings Nourishing Balm, €25, which McKnight says he uses on Kate Moss, is a very light care and styler. He uses it to seal split ends, define, defuss and defluff and “take the edge off”.

Modern Hairspray, €28 is McKnight’s “desert island” product –?he demonstrates how versatile it is, spraying it onto a hairbrush to smooth down hair, to create a sleek ballerina shine. “I wouldn’t be without it. It’s heat-protective, and you can use it to curl, straighten and backcomb.”

We know dry shampoo addicts who swear by Lazy Girl (from €14), which has a lovely scent and can be used for styling as well as refreshing hair, giving it a lift.

Hair By Sam McKnight is at Brown Thomas and www.brownthomas.com.


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