Backstage

  • Dennis Lanni
  • 'I made it my goal to find the mysteries, the nuances about not just 'doing hair,' but doing tricks,' says Dennis.
  • Dennis' signature style: texture-oriented
  • 'If something bad happens, you don’t just go home and get drunk and say, 'My career is over,'' says Dennis. 'You keep going.'
  • Dennis says his work is 'always a little off.'
  • An editorial look styled by Dennis
  • Texture in polish in Dennis' updo
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Dennis Lanni

It started back in the '90s for Dennis Lanni, who perhaps had the most fortunate break of all time. While meeting with an agent in Paris, Julien d'Ys and Yanic walked into the office. Dennis took a chance, asked if he could assist on a show or two, and it wasn't long before he was on the backstage team for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. That experience, plus connections with photographers like Terry Richardson, helped make him a respected name in the styling industry...then and now.

This month, Dennis takes us back to the supermodel dynasty, explores his mullet-making years with Terry and sets his sights on a new dream team for editorial work. The key to success through all of it, he says? Having "the attitude that you’re going to create history."


What was your big break?


I bought a ticket to go to Paris in ‘92 and stayed in a cheap hotel and went to meet with an agent. Julien d’Ys and Yanic happened to be there at the same time. I was just a kid, so I asked if I could assist on some shows. Julien told me to come along with him.

At the time, he was working with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and styling for Karl’s other line. Julien was doing a lot of Baroque stuff…gelling, salt sprays, thickening sprays, salt and clay…and this was a whole different world for me. It’s almost like cooking: The same people can use the same ingredients and get different results. I made it my goal to find the mysteries, the nuances about not just “doing hair,” but doing tricks.

So you were the American in Paris?


At the time, America wasn’t so looked down upon…an American could go to Paris and be accepted super quickly. Those were the happy Coca-Cola years. They took a shine to me and kept asking me back for more shows for three years, and from there, I went to work with an agency (Atlantis) in New York.

What do you think about when you work?


It’s like creating characters. Every time I work with a model, an actress or my sister, I’m trying to create something subtle and under the radar…but very character-oriented.

What’s your signature style?


A little off. Texture-oriented.

What’s been your favorite shoot to date?


I worked on the 2010 Pirelli calendar with Terry Richardson, and that was probably the highlight of my career. I felt like I made a mark. We shot it on a beach in Brazil…there was something with the ocean, the oils…we created a very primitive mood.

What’s it like working with Terry Richardson?


Terry was one of the first photographers who gave me a break. I met him in ‘92 when he was just starting to get identified as someone who had potential. We did a lot of mullets. No one was doing that in ’93 or ’94. We shot an early Katherine Hamnett ad…that was one of my first campaigns.

Back in the day, we’d walk into someplace, and it’d just set him off. It was almost like an early relationship with your boyfriend. “Oh, you wanna go there? Let’s go.” We were playing with borrowed money, and we were gambling with images.

What’s your best advice for breaking into editorial?


Identify someone you respect, and emulate that person. Be your version of that person. You need a hero, or many.

Who’s your hero?


Julien. He was somebody I looked up to. And Oribe. When I stated in the ‘90s, he was another person from another planet. The timing of all of those people…it was miraculous. I just thought, “Where do these people come from?” Yanic, Odile…these people were pushing it. Guido was another breath of fresh air. They were creating images that are part of fashion history. It wasn’t just a stereotype on Saturday Night Live of what hairdressers are.

What about all of the iconic photographers around that time?


Photography was becoming special then. People started knowing who Avedon was, even though he was big since the ‘70s…people started respecting what had happened in the early days and doing it in a new way.

And the models?


The models…today we have these girls with their blank expressions. Back then, they brought a mood and a drama and a comedy. They were like actresses who could tell a story. People like Gisele and Kate Moss created a supermodel dynasty. But Lara Stone is a major one now.

Do you have a favorite model?


They’re all my favorite. I’m interested in what my version of each girl could be.

Your dream collaboration?


I would love to work with Inez and Vinoodh. They capture their subjects so well. It creates an amazing mood and doesn’t seem overdone.

How is working for print different than working for runway?


It’s about different levels. With runway, you go in and talk to the designer, and you realize these people have been working on their clothing for a year. It’s an intense collaboration when it’s done right. You’re going to perform a play in front of a live audience. You don’t really even need the hair to be so perfect because when the girls are moving, the hair has to move, as well. I love still shots, but movement is better.

Runway is great because it’s playing live. Everything is quicker. You have to really know what you’re doing, and there’s a lot of pressure…some girls show up 15 minutes before the show starts, and it’s wild. After you go back to print after the shows, your hands are doing things you didn’t even know they could do because you’ve learned all these tricks. You have this Jedi telepathy thing.

What does a good stylist have in a show kit?


All different sizes of curling irons, flatirons, a blow dryer, baby powder, dry shampoo, hairspray, oils, hair glue and extension cords. Those things, and the attitude that you’re going to create history.

What inspires you?


Music…it brings my head around to different time periods. I love Bob Dylan, Slayer…music that has its own identity. When I start playing with wigs in my garage, I always have a soundtrack.

What are you currently reading?


I read a lot of biographies: Gram Parsons, Benjamin Franklin, Harry Truman. I want to know what someone did in their life if they’re important enough to have a book about them.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?


If something bad happens, you don’t just go home and get drunk and say, “My career is over.” You keep going.

What’s your current state of mind?


I’m in New York and headed to California. It’s hailing outside, and I’m a little nervous.

- JILL HILBRENNER
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