The Extroverted Wardrobe of Hairstylist Sam McKnight

Sam McKnight and Kate Moss(Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Spanning Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons, the legendary coiffeur talks to Osman Ahmed about why it’s time to send his collection to auction

Looking at Sam McKnight, who can often be found whipping up a coiffed confection backstage at a fashion show or tinkering with a wig on the set of a Vogue shoot, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this Scottish hairdresser wouldn’t be anything other than discreet-chic and minimal. Today, he’s most likely seen in a grey sweater, polo top and jeans – more practical than peacockery. That wasn’t always the case, though. As an upcoming charity sale at Kerry Taylor Auctions shows, McKnight has always been an extroverted dresser with a collection of some of the most celebrated Concorde-era designers of the 80s and 90s.

“I was thin, young and clothes looked great on me,” laughs McKnight, who has worked for Vogue, the Supers, Karl Lagerfeld and even the late Princess of Wales during his long, illustrious career. “Back then, I was nightclubbing every night and I needed a new outfit every week. We were all super into fashion and fashion was small and niche. We were part of the birth of fashion as we know it.” 

Most of his collection up for sale comprises of never-before-seen Vivienne Westwood suits, notable for their elongated silhouettes and bright graphics. Technically, they’re completely unique. “I worked with Vivienne so I would see all of the women’s fabrics and get her to make men’s suits from them,” says McKnight. “The last time I wore the pinstripe bondage suit was Kate Moss’ 30th birthday at Claridges, which was themed to The Beautiful and the Damned. I didn’t take the jacket off. So many people were eyeing it up!”

“It’s the perfect time capsule of what the stylish dandy was wearing in the mid-1990s – and at that time, if you had the outrageous taste you may not have had the money or the sense of adventure,” says Kerry Taylor, the fashion auctioneer overseeing the sale. “Working so closely with the designers and having relationships with them, it meant Sam was able to acquire and wear this incredible group of clothes. Not many people had the daring, the dash and the cash – he had all three.” 

It wasn’t just Westwood that McKnight wore. Other designers in his wardrobe include Jean Paul Gaultier, Katherine Hamnett, Comme des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, and slightly more ‘classic’ offerings by Tom Ford for Gucci, Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme and Giorgio Armani.

“It was clothes from when high fashion wasn’t so mass,” says McKnight. “They really were rare or scarce, and much more special.” What encouraged him to put them up for sale was that he was noticing that the clothes were coming back into fashion, and could have a second life. “I’ve been watching collections and thinking, ‘This reminds me of something I’ve got’,” he explains. He also wanted to raise money for two charities that are close to his heart.

Beauty Banks provides hygiene and grooming products to food banks across the UK. “They are canvasing all the big companies for basic hygiene products and are delivering it themselves to food banks across the country,” says McKnight. The second charity came at the suggestion of Westwood herself. Cool Earth works to halt rainforest deforestation and its effect on climate change. “I felt like it was full circle for her, too, from then to now.”

Kerry Taylor’s ‘Passion for Fashion’ auction will take place on June 18, 2018. Head here for more information and here to find out more about Beauty Banks.

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