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The Interview: Hairstylist Sam McKnight on 40 years of London Fashion Week

Sophie Smith
16 February 2024

As fashion enthusiasts gather in London to witness the latest trends, a whirlwind of organised chaos is happening behind the scenes to perfectly prepare each model for the runway.

Legendary hairstylist Sam McKnight is very familiar with this experience, having been involved with London Fashion Week for pretty much the entirety of its 40-year history.

In this interview with, McKnight speaks about his early memories of London Fashion Week, the behind the scenes buzz, how he prepares for a show, and how trends have changed.

Sam McKnight

Sam McKnight is one of the most highly-regarded hairstylists in the global fashion industry and has worked with major names from Burberry to Chanel, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

He began his career working as an assistant at a local hairdressers in Scotland before moving to London in the early 1970s and securing a position at British brand Molton Brown.

McKnight's career now spans over four decades of catwalks, editorials and advertising campaigns. Among these achievements is his extensive history with London Fashion Week. A seasoned professional when it comes to backstage beauty, he has styled the tresses of countless models for a variety of top brands and designers.

"I remember working on the very first London Fashion Week that was organised by Lynne Franks, who was my first agent at the time in the mid-1980s. And if I remember correctly, I think the first one was a Katharine Hamnett show," reveals McKnight.

"We did a kind of James Bond Miss Money Penny hairdo for that first Katherine Hammett show. We set the wigs on rolled-up magazines, so the girls had these 60s flick-ups with headbands."

Since these early days, McKnight has brought his styling expertise to an abundance of London Fashion Week events and, as a result, has a whole host of memories to show for it.

"Ashish always has fun, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing what he is up to each season. One season we created oversized and exaggerated wigs, while another season he wanted joy, sixties and sexy, which led to voluminous shapes adorned with neon-hued braids as headbands," McKnight reminisces.

"I also created neon-netted hair pieces for Matthew Williamson one season and loved Antonio Berardi’s circus extravaganza and Richard Quinn’s SS24 beautiful sculpted waves."


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A post shared by Sam McKnight MBE (@sammcknight1)

From 1960s flick-ups to neon styles, McKnight has witnessed the evolution of British fashion and beauty over the years through his work with London Fashion Week. Not only has he observed various trends, but he has also inspired some himself.

"London is always a hotbed of creativity; designers are never afraid to push the boundaries, which trickles down and affects fashion and beauty. It’s always interesting to see how fashion and beauty are interpreted and how they evolve," he says.

"I appreciate trends as a great way to inspire and help people discover something new. When I’m coming up with a look for a runway show or a new campaign, there is never a thought process of whether this is a trend or will be a trend - that tends to appear after my work is done."

It's not only trends that have shifted over the years but also the behind the scenes environment of fashion week shows. "Back then, it would have been 15 models and 3 assistants, and now it’s 50 models upwards and 25 assistants or more, adds McKnight. "At first it was very small, almost like a trade show, and now it's a huge public extravaganza, organised chaos."

Well, this "organised chaos" is something McKnight is still very much involved with - working with Annie’s Ibiza, 16Arlington and Richard Quinn over this LFW weekend.

It's not his first time collaborating with these brands, having also created looks for Annie’s Ibiza, 16Arlington and Richard Quinn for SS24. From high-end glamour with a London street-style twist to a sleek braided chignon inspired by the class and elaborateness of Victoriana, McKnight once again worked his magic last season to deliver an abundance of runway-ready looks with his team. now eagerly awaits to see what his latest styles have in store for AW24.

So, how does McKnight prepare? "Sometimes it's instant, sometimes it's decided the night before, or sometimes it's planned a week or two in advance, depending on the look and if you are preparing wigs or hair pieces," he reveals.

"It also depends on the show, the number of models, and the look me and my team are creating. You arrive approximately three hours before a show and work incredibly quickly to get anything from 30 to 100 models ready to walk the runway. Backstage is fast-paced, and we all have to work as a team, from hair to makeup to nails. And the models also have time to rehearse on the runway. Then it’s all over, and it’s onto the next show!"

Despite working under the brief of each brand or designer, McKnight reveals that the backstage beauty teams still have creative freedom. "I generally have a lot of freedom. It’s a collaborative process with the designer, stylist, makeup artist and nail artist. We have the freedom to interpret the designer's ideas in our own way. It's a positive creative process," he adds.

With the 40th anniversary edition of London Fashion Week now underway, the community is celebrating its past, present and future - something McKnight is very much a part of. " Happy Birthday LFW!" he says. "I'm so proud to have been with you all the way, and here’s to 40 more."

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