A great exhibition should be perceptive enriching and perspective changing; ‘Hair by Sam Mcknight’, held at Somerset House, did not disappoint in fulfilling these criteria. Hairstyling and art are two domains that are typically perceived as distinct, with the former often being relegated to a mere craft. ‘Hair by Sam Mcknight’, however, showcased the creative agency involved within styling hair and the many emotional and technical complexities that surround it, proving that being a hair stylist involves so much more than simply a pair of scissors and a head of hair.
The display was divided into numerous themes which contributed in promoting the multifarious nature of hairstyling. What became apparent upon observing the display was the sheer number of clients Mcknight’s career had spanned. From pop royalty, to catwalk royalty, to British royalty, McKnight’s career encompassed a range of famous figures, from Lady Gaga to Kate Moss and Princess Diana to name just a mere handful. Featured within the display were an assortment of photographs and wigs of the hair styles that he had created for them. The striking wigs and quirky pastel pink locks that Lady Gaga wore for her music video ‘Born this way’ (2011), the trademark tousled tresses that were a fundamental part of Kate Moss’s modelling career, and the elegant cropped hairstyle that so comfortably melded with Princess Diana’s air of grace and class. The inclusion of such recognisable figures and their hair styles effectively illustrated the significance of hair in building and creating an identifiable character.
Mcknight’s career was not only exhibited from the forefront but also from behind the scenes, shedding an intimate light on the interactions that he had with all of his clients. Snapshots from backstage showed Mcknight conversing and relaxing with many of the models that he has worked with, demonstrating that the styling of hair can elicit a great bond between stylist and styled.
Amongst the focus on Mcknight’s interactions with his clients were numerous features outlining the complexity of styling hair itself, as a structure that can be moulded to support an array of artistic visions. Film installations were displayed of hair in movement, modelled by Bjork and Lily Donaldson, which successfully illustrated the many creative approaches that can be taken to photographing and filming hair.
Most notable were the groups of mannequins that exhibited an assortment of Mcknight’s designs for Vivienne Westwood and Chanel, allowing visitors to be physically immersed with the visible textures and colours of his designs. Fiery, bouffant hairstyles that embodied the classic, modern and outlandish were contrasted with more understated boho-esque styles, both of which were a feast for the eyes and illustrated the artistic versatility of hair.
‘Hair by Sam Mcknight’ is pivotal in transcending typical associations with hairstyling and the assumption that it is simply the physical crafting of a material, enabling visitors to understand that the process is deeply personal and can have a range of creative possibilities that can be appreciated by all.
The exhibition is running in the Enbankment Galleries at Somserset House from 2nd November 2016- 12th March 2017
Article by Libby Festorazzi