A Conversation with

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抮e 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扽s 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抯 other line. Julien was doing a lot of Baroque stuff単elling, salt sprays, thickening sprays, salt and clay卆nd this was a whole different world for me. It抯 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 揹oing hair, but doing tricks.

So you were the American in Paris?
At the time, America wasn抰 so looked down upon卆n 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抯 like creating characters. Every time I work with a model, an actress or my sister, I抦 trying to create something subtle and under the radar卋ut very character-oriented.

What抯 your signature style?
A little off. Texture-oriented.

What抯 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卼here was something with the ocean, the oils厀e created a very primitive mood.

What抯 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卼hat was one of my first campaigns.

Back in the day, we抎 walk into someplace, and it抎 just set him off. It was almost like an early relationship with your boyfriend. 揙h, you wanna go there? Let抯 go. We were playing with borrowed money, and we were gambling with images.

What抯 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抯 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卛t was miraculous. I just thought, 揥here do these people come from? Yanic, Odile卼hese people were pushing it. Guido was another breath of fresh air. They were creating images that are part of fashion history. It wasn抰 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卲eople started respecting what had happened in the early days and doing it in a new way.

And the models?
The models卼oday 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抮e all my favorite. I抦 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抰 seem overdone.

How is working for print different than working for runway?
It抯 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抯 an intense collaboration when it抯 done right. You抮e going to perform a play in front of a live audience. You don抰 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抯 playing live. Everything is quicker. You have to really know what you抮e doing, and there抯 a lot of pressure卻ome girls show up 15 minutes before the show starts, and it抯 wild. After you go back to print after the shows, your hands are doing things you didn抰 even know they could do because you抳e 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抮e going to create history.

What inspires you?
Music卛t brings my head around to different time periods. I love Bob Dylan, Slayer卪usic 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抮e important enough to have a book about them.

What抯 the biggest thing you抳e learned over the course of your career?
If something bad happens, you don抰 just go home and get drunk and say, 揗y career is over. You keep going.

What抯 your current state of mind?
I抦 in New York and headed to California. It抯 hailing outside, and I抦 a little nervous.

- JILL HILBRENNER

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