Practical Bravery: SAM MCKNIGHT MBE





In this episode we dive into the textured world of style AND substance, where creativity meets a profound sense of purpose. How do our expressions of style reflect broader cultural, economic, and personal shifts? How does the aesthetic we choose broadcast our identities and our values to the world?

This episode takes us on a journey through the life and legacy of a creative industries pioneer who’s been shaping the public personas of icons across the globe with nothing but a pair of scissors and a flair for transformation.

From working class boy with a Bowie obssession to the style sculptor of Princess Diana, Lady Gaga, Kate Moss at their most iconic. What does social mobility look like at the very top of high fashion? And what is it like to move from creating the faces behind brands, to becoming one yourself?

This is The Possibility Club, and our special guest is the hairdresser’s hairdresser, Sam McKnight MBE.

Key quotes:

One of the most important image makers of the late 20th and early 21st century — New York Times on Sam McKnight

“What I know is, people want their hair to look good. Having your hair looking good is an incredible mood booster. It’s a simple, relatively inexpensive way of making yourself feel better.”   

“We said from the beginning we want to bring some joy into the hair care world, which we have done. And I get lots of joy from that in return.”

“That generation of the sixties is when social mobility became possible, really.”

“When David Bowie exploded in colour, that was the start of it for me.”

“My friends had a hairdressing salon. I took a Saturday job there and then very quickly I’d left teacher training college and started training as a hairdresser. I didn’t want to be a teacher.”

“I’ve always taken risks and that goes back to being a teenager. I like to think that I’ve carried that through to my sixties. I’ve always been a risk taker.”

“It was pretty brave, to leave a secure job in the salon in Molton Brown, the best salon in London — before it was hand-wash it was the top London salon, in South Bolton Street — it was the shit, it was the place to be, and I left that in 1980 to be by myself, doing this thing called ‘photo shoots’ and two years later I was in New York working for American Vogue.”

“There are much more opportunities now but there are much more people going after those opportunities.”

“There needs to be a revaluation put on the values of what we bring. You have to train for years to be a good hairdresser. You can’t just turn up with a hairdryer.”

“The exhibition gave me power in myself that I hadn’t really tapped into before. To see it all in front of me, all the people I’d met.”

“The creative industries are very attached to emotions. Not only does music, fashion and beauty bring in billions to this country, which is not recognised properly, but they reach people’s emotions. Your music, your makeup, your clothes, it sparks people’s emotions. When you’re working with people on a photoshoot, you’re touching them.”

“Usually I’m meeting people when they’re very young and forming themselves. You build very, very strong bonds with people and there’s a huge emotion attached to it. It’s a very special relationship.”

“She doesn’t turn out of bed as ‘Kate Moss’ at six o’clock in the morning, there’s a whole process of becoming Kate Moss, becoming Princess Di, becoming Lady Gaga.”

“I listened to Coldplay on the radio a couple of years ago now, it was touted as the first sustainable tour and Chris Martin was amazing, he was saying, look we’re a fifty piece troupe that’s going on big jets all over America, we’re not sustainable. But we are thinking about it, and we’re doing everything we can in the small ways to have less of a footprint. And I thought, that is really inspiring because it’s hard!”

“Now this is where the Internet is really incredible and positive, is people doing their own hair and posting the videos. There was a couple of decades when kids weren’t really doing much with their hair — and that’s completely and utterly changed. And I find that really inspiring, I love that the Internet has made that possible.”

“I’m a great collaborator but in the end it’s instinctive as well and I need to be happy with it.”

“I don’t really have to please anyone but myself.”

This episode was recorded in March 2024

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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