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Image / Style / Beauty

Hairstylist Sam McKnight on his iconic Princess Diana haircut and how she’d dress now


By Holly O'Neill
01st Jul 2021
Hairstylist Sam McKnight on his iconic Princess Diana haircut and how she’d dress now

Princess Diana said that the haircut Sam gave her was what sparked her confidence to change her life in the early 1990s.

Having worked on hundreds of international Vogue covers and been Princess Diana’s personal hairstylist for seven years, it makes perfect sense that British Vogue would ask hairstylist Sam McKnight to recreate his former client’s hairstyle on Emma Corrin (who plays Diana in the latest series of The Crown) for British Vogue’s October 2020 cover.

Sam McKnight, whose CV also includes Kate Moss’ bedhead, every Chanel fashion show and the best texture spray on the market, told British Vogue that at first, recreating Diana’s hair “felt weird” but “to be honest, Emma iwa playing Diana before I even met her, so it felt fine. We took a nod to the photos of Diana [in that period] and made a little pastiche of it.”

Meeting Diana

In 1990, Sam McKnight met Princess Diana on a Vogue shoot and gave her the cut that defined her look and inspired a generation of women to flock to their hairdressers for the same. “At the end of the shoot she asked me what I’d do to her hair if I could do anything I wanted,” Sam McKnight told British Vogue, and I said, ‘well, I’d just cut it all off and start again,’ because it was 1990. There was a sharpening up of those really maximalist silhouettes from the ’80s coming, and a much leaner, almost androgynous power dressing had appeared on the scene. I said, ‘Cut it off, get rid of the ’80s frou-frou and start again with a minimal, short haircut.’ Which is what we did.”

This haircut was seminal in how Diana saw herself going forward. “Someone sent me a television clip of her, around the time of the Andrew Morton book, where the interviewer asked her what sparked her confidence to change in the early ’90s, and she actually said that it was Sam, who cut her hair. I melted,” said McKnight.

Diana in 2021

In celebration of what would be her 60th birthday, Sam was asked how he thought Diana would dress now. Noting that she was committed to keeping healthy and focused on her wellbeing over her appearance, Sam envisions that Diana would have stuck to the unfussy yet incredibly chic white-shirt-and-jeans look we came to look. “She loved her sportswear for the gym” too, notes Sam, clearly ahead of her time with the athleisure looks.

And of course, the OG when to came to recycling royals, there are probably plenty of her early 1990s outfits she would have held on to. “Some of those fabulous pastel Versace suits or Catherine Walker dresses might have made a reappearance for sustainability’s sake!”