Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Wednesday 1st November: HAIR by Sam McKnight at Somerset House

 This time last year I was lucky enough to visit Sam McKnight's home to capture him amongst his multi-colour dahlia layered garden for my book about London.  He was also coincidentally working on his own book at the time but what he didn't let on was that it would coincide with a major retrospective at Somerset House!  Whilst collating and archiving his back catalogue of tear-sheets from magazine shoots, Shonagh Marshall saw the potential in converting the story into an immersive experience.  She has curated a journey thru Sam's world from the weaves and bobby pins of his kit bag thru to the rik-rak crimp he created for Vivienne Westwood and the collaborations that have defined the iconic imagery across his career.  Depending on how much you may already know about this hair-stylist's legacy is immaterial as it is all concisely unveiled, charting his first ever editorial opportunity outside of a salon in 1977 to summons on her majesty's service with Princess Diana in 1990.  The best piece of personal paraphernalia is a letter penned in biro from Buckingham Palace "Sam, the boss needs a haircut when you return".  He won her over with a spellbinding life-changing crop, with which she returned the favour by taking him on royal visits with her around the world. 

Exceptional intimate moments are recorded in personal snapshots of his years spent with supermodels behind the scenes on shoot locations, misleadingly looking like he's on holiday with the girls in their rollers.  This is exactly the point of how Sam has gained such great friendships because he can transform a model straight out of bed at the crack of dawn into the confident character she needs to be infront of the camera.  From their vulnerable and tired shell, he uses the material of hair to reframe their face and cast a spell of invincibility:

"When models work with Sam, you can see that they are in heaven.  they know that they are going to be goddesses in ten minutes, after he has worked his magic"  
Vivienne Westwood

And from these trusting and tight bonds with the girls at the top, he in turn helped out Vivienne when she was emerging by introducing her to Lisa Evangelista & Christy Turlington.  What would the 90's have looked like without them corseted into swathes of taffeta and tartan?!  Together they've made history since first meeting at the London nightclub Kinky Gerlinky.  Just one of the prolific relationships in his portfolio of collaborators including Chanel who leant a collection for the show.  There is a whole section dedicated to his creative partnerships with backdrops and anecdotes from the likes of photographers Tim Walker & Patrick Demarchelier to makeup artists Val Garland & Mary Greenwell.  I'm guessing his strongest tie of all is with Nick Knight whose portrait of Kate Moss has become the cover of the book which is now the published compendium of all his work.  It's the loose tousled hair that has forever defined her effortless character of cool, where he's always been just out of shot with a can of spray and comb. 

If you have watched the recent BBC documentary about Vogue, you will notice that Sam is on set in every single shoot that the camera crew turn up to.  The photographers, stylists and commissioners switch but he is always on the tools with the tongs and curlers.  He must literally be the busiest man in the business and for this reason the exhibition is bursting with content.  One of my favourite things is the wallpaper made of patterns from his Instagram.  A glimpse into his extra-curricular green-fingered love of preening and photographing the blooms that he grows in his garden.  I feel very privileged to have been able to see this haven in first person but now every person can have a peek at his real life with this show.  Just make sure to read every annotation to learn how he took a long-haired Agyness Deyn and cropped and bleached the look we all took for granted as her own and do a double-take at this other cropped elfin beauty to see its Kylie Minogue! 
Visit HAIR by Sam McKnight at Somerset House until 12th March and pick up a copy of his book (and my own which features his garden tips) in the Rizzoli book shop!

Find out about the Late openings of the exhibition until 20.00, with talks and tours here and head over to SHOWStudio for their Sam McKnight specials to honour the show.

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