My Life In Hair: Sam McKnight
My Life In Hair: Sam McKnight

My Life In Hair: Sam McKnight

Sam McKnight MBE is one of the world’s most renowned hairstylists. As well as creating some of the most memorable editorial and runway looks, he’s also worked with icons like Princess Diana, Kate Moss, Jodie Comer and Cate Blanchett. Here, he shares his career highlights, the tools he’s never without and his best hair hacks.
By Rebecca Hull

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I started out at teacher training college. I really wasn’t enjoying it and knew my twin passions were music and fashion. I had a friend who owned a hair salon in Scotland – where I’m from – and there was a nightclub and a restaurant in the same building. To me, at that time, it was the most glamorous place in town. I used to do a bit of DJing there and had a go at being a waiter – but I wasn’t good at the latter. I started to sweep hair and drive the van for my friend’s salon and slowly I got into cutting and styling. I loved it and knew it was something I wanted to continue with. Fast forward a few years later and I moved to London to start work at one of the hottest salons in town – Molton Brown

You quickly learn to take advantage of every opportunity. I am a big believer in saying yes if you want to succeed – you need to be keen in a competitive environment. If you’re not, someone else will be. I learnt this early on and it’s the one thing I’d pass onto others looking to embark on a similar career. Saying yes gives you more choices. Don’t just say no because of the money or the hours. 

Listening is key. This is my other piece of career advice – especially in the hair world. It’s not all about you, so don’t take things so personally. You’re working with a team of people and often it’s about collaboration – as well as speaking when needed, you also have to listen to what people are saying. 

I’m lucky that my career has been full of highs. That includes working with Princess Diana for seven years, as well as Vivienne Westwood and Karl Lagerfeld. I’m really proud to have been a part of the supermodel era – that was a very fun time creating all those different looks and styles. Another highlight was launching my own brand – Hair By Sam McKnight – and recently, I was honoured with an MBE. My mum would have been thrilled.

Princess Diana was a dream client. I’m often asked what it was like working with her – she was so disarming and enchanting, you fell in love with her instantly. She was one of those women that had an incredible presence and intoxicating charisma. She was just so cool. I also like working with up-and-coming models who are just starting to find their way in the world, working hard and, just like the rest of us, trying to do it the best they can. Many of them have become life-long friends. In this job, you spend a lot of time with clients and sometimes in quite intense situations. It’s like having a second family.  

I am a BIG BELIEVER IN SAYING YES IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED – you need to be keen in a competitive environment. If you’re not, someone else will be.


Kate Moss showed me a good hair tip once. After we’d styled her hair, she twisted it up on the top of her head before securing it with a soft clip so it didn’t mark. She left it to set while she had her make-up done and once we took it out, it had softened into a very loose kink with a little volume and texture at the roots. Trust me, it looks so good.

My kit is an amalgamation of things. I’ve picked up products and tools in pharmacies and hair shops from all around the world and still have them in my kit today. Every city has a dedicated professional hair and beauty store which my team and I love to have a good nosey in. There’s a little street in Paris – Le Passage de L’Industrie – where there are some amazing hair shops. I get my best combs from there for €2. In London, we often go to Pak's and Sally’s for various kit staples. 

The right brushes are the key to good hair. It’s important to invest in ones that don’t snag or pull. Some of my favourites are YS Park, Mason & Pearson and Denman. It doesn’t always need to be fancy or expensive. I love my brush that looks like a toothbrush from YS Park. It’s made from wood and has natural bristles – it’s amazing for smoothing fly-aways. Another kit essential is an Airtex Net. I use these to protect the hair when styling, but also to flatten and smooth it when time is short. 

Launching my own range was a no-brainer. I’ve been a hairstylist for over 40 years – I know what works and how to create great hair. I’d spent years consulting for other brands and wanted to launch my own line for a long time. When I finally found the right moment, Hair By Sam McKnight was born. Each product has a powerful, sensory impact, and the packaging and colours are inspired by my garden (another passion). The fine fragrances were created by Perfumer H. I’m always being asked to launch a dedicated fragrance, so watch this space. 

My Modern Hairspray is a go-to. If I could pick just one product from the range to keep with me day to day, it would be this. It’s a game-changer as it does a bit of everything and works on all hair types. It offers heat protection, and adds a little bit of grit and texture – plus, it’s easy to brush out. I couldn’t work without it.

Everyone should try the Cool Girl Barely There Texture Mist. It does depend on your hair texture as to the result you’ll get, but it’s one of our bestsellers and works so well to boost shine. I also love our Cool Girl Superlift which launched last year and has been a real success – it’s great for enhancing volume and holding the hair in place. 


DOUBLE CLEANSING IS KEY. By this I mean shampooing your hair twice. Do this if you washed your hair over a day ago and LIVE IN A CITY WHERE THERE’S LOTS OF POLLUTION.

Dry shampoo is another of my favourite products. It’s so versatile, but often people use it incorrectly. Try applying some dry shampoo to a soft bristle brush before sweeping it through heavy hairlines or fringes. It’ll give strands an instant refresh. If you’re using dry shampoo all over, my best tip is to brush hair through after spraying it in, then give it a quick blast with a cold hairdryer to remove any residue. Also, don’t underestimate the power of tipping your head upside down and misting in some root volumiser for instant bounce and volume. Even flipping your parting to the other side will lift it at the roots – I often do this backstage and on shoots. 

The first hair product I ever tried was a mousse. In the late 70s, it was ground-breaking. As for my first hair memory, it was probably bleaching my hair as a teenager. I coloured the ends with felt tip pens – not a good look.

A golden hair rule everyone should follow is double cleansing. By this I mean shampooing your hair twice – you only need to do this if you washed your hair over a day ago and have been working out or live in a city where there’s lots of pollution. But I also advise rinsing out your shampoo and conditioner thoroughly. A lot of people don’t, and it can leave hair looking lank and dull – not to mention give you an itchy scalp. Another hair rule is to invest in a good treatment or mask. You don’t need to use it daily, but once or twice a week is great for general hair maintenance. 

I also believe in trying new things. Don’t be afraid to – it doesn’t have to be a drastic chop or a complete colour overhaul. It could just be playing with your natural texture or switching up the products you normally use. Get some ideas from social media. You won’t know unless you try it. What’s the worst that can happen? You brush it out and start again. 

Finally, good hair is all about the prep. For instance, if you’re after lasting volume, hold off using a treatment until the next day so it doesn’t go too silky. Meanwhile, those wanting a sleeker look should nourish, de-frizz and boost shine ahead of creating any slicked-back style. This is where a treatment is worth using. It’s about planning ahead and forming a routine around your look. 


For more hair tips & tutorials, follow @SamMcKnight1 & visit


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