Hair By Sam McKnight: A Glossy Exhibition At Somerset House

Hair by Sam McKnight, Somerset House ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 91 months ago

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Last Updated 02 November 2016

Hair By Sam McKnight: A Glossy Exhibition At Somerset House Hair by Sam McKnight, Somerset House 3
This forest scene combines the outfits of Vivienne Westwood with the hair stylings of Same McKnight.

We've had plenty of fashion exhibitions lately including Vulgar at Barbican and Vogue at National Portrait Gallery, but as far as we know this is the first exhibition solely about hair and its role in fashion.

Sam McKnight has been styling hair for the last 40 years and while he may have not much of his own left, much like the author of this article, he's been responsible for styling celebrities the world over from Lady Diana to Lady Gaga.

Karlie Kloss is just one of many famous persons styled by McKnight.

But is this unique show a cut above the rest or a tangled mess?

The first impression is that the production values are superb. We start off with combs artistically presented in a glass case, before moving to a backstage area with mirrors surrounded by light bulbs — a clever way of pulling us into McKnight's world.

These combs are presented artistically.

McKnight's hair styles have graced the cover of over 190 editions of Vogue magazine and they are presented stylishly in racks behind glass.

McKnight's 190 Vogue covers make an appearance.

The exhibition has two fantastic set pieces. A dark forest is populated with mannequins sporting Vivienne Westwood's outfits and McKnight styled hair.

At the other end of the colour spectrum is a pink showcase featuring Chanel designs. Both staged sections look superb.

The Chanel set piece is the other show stopper here.Image courtesy Somerset House.

The only let down is a selection of photographs with Sam McKnight posing next to all the people he's styled. It's reminiscent of those pizza restaurants which display images of the owner with celebrities who have dined there. We're not convinced that's an effective customer engagement strategy for restaurants, and it's definitely not a good look for an exhibition.

The backstage are with mirrors surrounded by light bulbs is a nice touch. Image courtesy Somerset House.

Aside from this slip up, the rest of the exhibition is presented beautifully, retaining a sense of gloss. It never tries to be too cerebral, avoiding the temptation to present hair styling as something deeper and more psychological than simply making people look good or stand out.

But therein lies our issue with this show. It looks spectacular and certainly raises our admiration for McKnight's craft, but there's no depth to this show and we can't see anybody spending a substantial amount of time with the exhibition, nor being inspired by it.

The topic of hair styling is superficial by its very nature, and we can't really see what more the curator could have done with this exhibition. Fashionistas will find a lot to like, but for everyone else, it's likely to be little more than an interesting diversion.

Hair by Sam McKnight is on at Somerset House, Embankment Galleries until 12 March 2017. Tickets are £13, concessions £10.50.