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Seasoned hair stylist Dennis Lanni has decades of experience under his belt, and yet still manages to create original and innovative hair looks today. A bottomless well of ideas, often inspired by a personal collection of random objects that tickled his fancy over the years, Lanni’s style is sculptural and tastefully over the top. It is abundantly clear that Lanni takes pride in being a hair stylist, loves seeing the same enthusiasm in those around him, and is serious about working hard while still maintaining a somewhat whimsical lightheartedness that comes through in his work.

Photograph by Hong Jang Hyun

When did you know you wanted to be a hairstylist? I grew up in an Italian-American home, my family came from Napoli and settled in 1964 in the Hoboken area. My father was a barber and quickly became successful in that area, so I grew up in a barber shop and was always surrounded by combs, scissors, electric buzzers, straight razors. In a way these were my toys. I loved the smells of the barber shop and the chairs that spun around. My dad was my first hair hero for sure.

What does hair mean to you? I started to come of age in the 70s and I have fond memories of all the girlfriends I had, with their hair identities of the time having left a mark on me. Then becoming a teen in the 80s has left impressions of the moods and characters that lived inside my mind. There is not one style that does not have its place — all hair speaks to me in one way or another.

Photograph by Chris Clinton

When and how did you start making hair sculptures? I have always been fascinated by shapes and symmetry, whether it was a car, cartoons, or a structure of some kind. My mum was a seamstress and in our home we had an old Singer treadle sewing machine — a beautiful piece. I remember boxes of thread of every colour that me and my sister would get into and create webs of thread all over our basement. Then we would entertain ourselves by trying to crawl through the room without snapping the threads. To me this is my earliest memory of sculptures. Right off the bat when I was doing hair I would take strong 80s hairsprays and create blocks out of hair in my fathers barbershop that I swept up. Sometimes I would go outside and light these on fire and then start all over again the next day.

Photograph by Chris Clinton
Photograph by Chris Clinton
“I feel lucky to still be able to do what I love to do, which is to create images that make you laugh, think, haunt, enchant and take you to another place other than the news of the day”
Dennis Lanni
Photograph by Hong Jang Hyun

Where do ideas for objects to use in your hair sculptures come from? I always loved antique shops, thrift stores and yard sales so I have a collection of things that are all over my home just sitting there and doing nothing. I remember trying to incorporate these things into works that would be unique and original; after doing hair for so long you look to inspire yourself over and over again, or you may lose interest in the very thing you love to do.

Are the hair sculptures headpieces that you prepare, or are they built into the model’s hair? Some things I have prepared beforehand, but most of my work is on the spot inspiration that hits me differently each time I have an opportunity to create. My favourite musicians, I read, have created their most memorable music on the spot. It’s a sort of magic that happens, and I do not know where it comes from, but I know it exists.

Photograph by Jefferson Hayman

Some recurring themes in your work seem to be plays on texture and silhouette. Straight hair that ends in tiny tight curls, or big smooth hair with in and outward flicking tips. What style or texture of hair interests you the most? Well, we all have our tools of our trades. Mine are curling irons, flat irons, blowdryers, sticky stuff, oily stuff… I am overwhelmed with directions we can take in a creative process. So I stick with my moods, because I can make things happen if I’m left to my own judgement. I try and not look for the current trends, or what someone else is doing. I make things out of comfort in what I know I can do. At my best moments, I feel like I can do anything I want to with hair, but I also don’t want to turn it into a ‘me, me, me’ thing. It’s very challenging to be a presence without overtaking the whole person.

Photograph by Jefferson Hayman
Photograph by Jefferson Hayman

When working within beauty and fashion, how do you keep pushing yourself to avoid settling for accepted beauty standards? I am now close to 50 years of age, and I have many interests besides the fashion business. I collaborate with many different artists. My focus is not in any industry but in how I can be honest with myself and not just do projects because it will elevate my status in the fashion or beauty world. I try to be a humble artisan that loves the craft and I am still a student in so many ways. There are so many things one can learn and in my case, probably not enough time to do them.

Photograph by Chris Clinton

What is your favourite part about working in the hair industry? In my estimation, the hair industry is currently in its golden years stage, almost like music was in the early days. There are so many gifted and talented artists in the hair world that I believe it is in great shape. There are inspiring artists everywhere who are still hungry and learning everyday — honestly, I feel lucky to still be able to do what I love to do, which is to create images that are memorable, that make you laugh, think, haunt, enchant and take you to another place other than the news of the day. Hair is a form of escapism that people need in order to bring them back to their happiest memories of childhood, being a teen, music and laughter and magic and mysticism. Long live the imagination that embraces optimism!


Photography Chris Clinton, Hong Jang Hyun, Jefferson Hayman
Hair Dennis Lanni
Interview Katharina Lina

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