If society’s cultural arbiters ever place hairdos from this era in a museum, Danilo’s creations could fill many a room.
This story first appeared in the November 16, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Few have straddled the worlds of high fashion and Hollywood so successfully. Danilo is the go-to stylist for stars such as Gwen Stefani, Cate Blanchett, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, Christina Aguilera and Natalie Portman. He was a key architect of the look of the supermodel era of the Nineties; he continues to be a top editorial and runway artist, and he’s expanded his sphere to films, creating hairstyles for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Frozen” and “Mars Attacks!” Danilo has pracitcally elevated hairstyling to an art form during a prolific and versatile career. And he’s far from done.
“I have always been able to create a statement in the hair department, but I am different from a lot of hairdressers,” Danilo says. “I have felt that big can be small and small can be big. You don’t have to have the biggest hairdo in the room to make a point.”
Raised in Livermore, Calif., Danilo’s father was a technical photographer at Lawrence Livermore Labs and his mother a nursing executive. On his father’s side, Danilo has Quaker roots, which greatly influenced his work ethic. “We had Quaker values: being very conscious of man and nature, kind, present and capable,” he says. “I was an Eagle Scout, and I was very achievement-oriented.”
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Eager to explore the world, Danilo graduated from high school early and took off for Europe. Upon his return to the U.S., he dipped into modeling before reversing course and enrolling at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in San Francisco. In 1980, Danilo decided to leave the West Coast and move to New York.
There, he met fellow hair superstar Oribe, who recruited Danilo to help open a salon, and named him vice president and art director. The star wattage of Danilo’s client list quickly grew to include Raquel Welch, Dianne Brill, Ivana Trump and Kate Pierson of the B-52’s.
In New York, Danilo plunged into the fashion scene, nabbing gigs with photographers Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Mario Testino and Ellen von Unwerth. Designers clamored to work with him, too, with Danilo booking up to 17 fashion shows a season. In Paris, he worked with Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier, but became perhaps best known for his work with Thierry Mugler. It was at a Westwood show that Danilo was introduced to Gwen Stefani. “I was doing pastel color and ombré in the Nineties. People thought it was creative, adventurous and new. We were making punk chic,” he says. “We were the downtown kids with an edge. We were the wild ones.”
Danilo was creatively wild, but he never lost sight of his Quaker morals. “I wasn’t the classic crazy, drugged, up-all-night hairdresser,” he says. “I took it all seriously.”
In 1999, Procter & Gamble brought on Danilo as a spokesman, a post he occupies to this day. “I ran out of my fancy cream on a Thierry Mugler shoot, and ran to the drugstore for something comparable. The only thing on the shelves was Pantene. It was effective and available at a good price point. It rang a lot of my bells,” says Danilo, who’s had his name on 15 stockkeeping units and is ready for a bigger role. “I’m hungry for more.”
In the Nineties, Danilo started working in film. He has crafted a Martian hairdo for “Mars Attacks!,” gave Julia Roberts her brassy blonde in “Erin Brockovich” and created hairstyles for the animated characters in “Frozen.” He’s worked on numerous TV shows, including being the hairstylist on seasons three and four of “America’s Next Top Model.”
“What I love about movies and music videos is the hair choreography,” Danilo says. “In ‘Frozen,’ it was about reading the script and knowing the moment where the visual would come in.”
With supermodels still at the pinnacle of their popularity, Danilo set his sights on Hollywood, intuiting the age of the actress. Although his agents told him such a move could signal career suicide, he was adamant. “I said, ‘You know what, I don’t care,’” he recalls.
Danilo was prescient. The pendulum swung, and Danilo nurtured long-term relationships with the actresses he was tied to. He also fortified his connection to Stefani, the client he is most associated with, giving her countless hairstyles from elaborate braids and sleek ponytails to knotted rolls and blue tips.
Contemplating future endeavors, Danilo suggests more movies and product development as possibilities. Regardless of what platform he chooses, it’s a good bet his inventions will be standouts. “A lot of people have flowed through this industry. They come. They go. I’m one of the ones who has stuck around,” he says. “I don’t ever tire of the artistry of playing and creating, and doing something new and different.”