How to get 90s supermodel hair without it ageing you
“There’s a return to that big 90s supermodel swish,” says legendary hair stylist Sam McKnight, who has just returned from the recent run of fashion week shows.
For those who don’t know McKnight, he rose to fame in the 1990s working with OG supermodels Cindy, Christy, Naomi, Linda and Kate on fashion campaigns and catwalk shows.
If anyone is responsible for the soft, heightened hair of the times, it’s him, due in part to his role in the style transformation of Diana, Princess of Wales, which began with a Vogue cover shoot in 1990. The defining image of a beaming Diana wearing a black polo neck and her contemporary textured crop is iconic.
It is what McKnight does best – high-end glamour with an innate sense of ease – and it’s the look I’m here for today. I’ve been invited to McKnight’s west London studio for the launch of his new hair styling product, Cool Girl Volume Foam. Foam is another word for mousse, though I suspect he’d rather I didn’t bring that up (crunchy olden-day mousses have long been cancelled).
McKnight, who earlier this month was awarded an MBE for services to fashion and beauty, having been named in the King’s New Year Honours List, was classically trained at Molton Brown in the 1980s, where he learnt the hard way.
“We weren’t allowed to use hairdryers, brushes or tools. Everything was done with a towel and our fingers,” he says as he runs his hands through my hair in strong sweeping motions, magically manoeuvring it into the soft, voluminous shape he’s known for.
Thinning hair is a hot topic for many women my age; data from retailer Space NK, whose customers are in a similar life stage to my own, suggests searches for “volume” have risen by 30 per cent year on year. Mine isn’t drastically fine, but it isn’t as buoyant as it once was so I’m open to a spruce up, especially when Sam McKnight is asking.
Besides, although though hair-loss solutions are improving, there’s nothing as feelgood as instantly thicker hair, even if it washes out at the end of the night. Usually I settle for dry shampoo, which I apply to my roots to swell the strands and give them bed-head oomph, but lately I’ve been in the mood for something more upscale, and it seems I’m not alone.
The signs are everywhere – on the young and not so. Jennifer Coolidge’s showgirl hair at the Oscars was surprisingly appealing. Pamela Anderson, Adele, Amanda Seyfried, Rihanna and Cate Blanchett have all been seen with elevated hairdos of late. I’ve been getting away without so much as a mist of hairspray for far too long, it’s high time I put in some effort.
Caveat: by effort, I mean 20 minutes max. The last time I put mousse through my hair was back in the 90s, so how do the foams of today compare to mousses of yesterday?
A good one is not sticky or crunchy. Roots should have a risen, soufflé-like quality, but the hair itself is soft to the touch. No product these days can get away with looks alone – it must add to the hair’s condition, not take away from it.
McKnight tells me that his new foam includes conditioning agents such as provitamin B5, nourishing hibiscus and fire tulip flower extracts and water-soluble high-grade active polymers to protect during heat styling and smooth the hair for shine.
“OK, go for it,” I instruct McKnight after he eases my trepidation (if you hit adolescence in the 80s, it’s hard to disassociate from the sticky volumisers of the past). I’ve had my hair done by McKnight before. I know what I’m getting. Modern, timeless and easy to achieve with very few products or tools. In other words, the type of hairstyle every woman wants.
The end result is bouncy, big hair that has a cashmere softness to it (those who bleach their hair will know what I mean). I feel empowered but youthful, a formidable combination. And I promise, it was so painless to achieve.
Foam, dry, roll
Wash your hair as usual, then apply a volumising product to the roots. This can be a spray or foam, depending on your preference. Comb through to de-tangle and blow-dry with a round brush, aiming for as smooth a finish as possible.
Next, take medium sections, spray with a texture spray and roll in Velcro rollers all over if you have time, or just on the top section if not. This really helps the hair keep its lift and create the bounciness you see on celebrities. Do your make-up while the rollers take effect – if you’re really dedicated, apply a heated bonnet.
Brush and toss
Take out the rollers and brush the hair smooth with a bristle brush, one that won’t disrupt the hair shaft. The Mason Pearson Popular is the best and McKnight’s preferred model, but Kent has good, less expensive alternatives.
Spray to hold
A light hairspray or texture mist that brushes out easily can help with flyaways and give a light hold. McKnight used his fingers to coax my hair into shape, asking me to toss my head upside down a few times in between to add life.
Get the look:
From left: Supersonic hairdryer, £359.99, Dyson; Cool Girl Barely There Texture Mist, £27, Hair by Sam McKnight; Cool Girl Volume Foam, £32, Hair by Sam McKnight; Brush, £115, Mason Pearson at Harrods; Velcro Roller Kit & Clips, £12, Mermade Hair.
Hair: Sam McKnight
Make-up: Liz Pugh