A SPACE Pick, DanTee

Meet Dan. A New York hair artist with a passion for the Philippines, and a plan to rock the image for Manila professionals. He’ll be at A SPACE Greenbelt this week for A SPACE Pick*.

*A SPACE Pick is an invite-only event to introduce new entrepreneurs to a select audience for feedback. The aim is to help improve pitches and give a sneak preview of a new venture to an interested group (more…)

Dan Tee: Talking about Hair in Manila

“For Dan in his teens: a choice between a four-year scholarship playing tennis and a free-fall gamble as a practicing New York artist-cum-hairstylist was the choice – the latter clearly won. “When you take anything to a high level, that makes it art, be it being a doctor or playing basketball. Sports, being a good lawyer; whatever you do, you’ve got to have style. You’ve got to turn it into an art form,” Dan says with a mindless chin-scratch, his German-American headlight eyes piercing with purpose, his speech close to a whisper but with the weight of gospel.

PICK DanTeeMore than two decades on, he’s turned this calling from Something He Does to Something He Does Really Well. And after a protracted grappling with the idea of going solo, after honing his chops in various stints for globally-known hair rockstars, he’s now ready. And he’s doing it in Manila, with whose people and culture he’s had a long love affair with, from being among the first hairstylists to hire Filipino models in the ‘90s, to being invited to mount a DIY-style mini-tour with his band five years ago.

“Even though I initially came to Manila to play music, I ended up doing a hair show. All along, people didn’t know that I was an artistic director [for hair brands] in New York,” Dan shares with a nervous chuckle. An artist in a specific field, after all, does benefit from being a student of more than one discipline. A guitar player and lyricist, Dan’s stabs at indie rock have taken him around New York City, the world’s peerless hub for art, culture, and fashion, in much the same manner hair has. The son of an exacting German businessman specializing in air-conditioning and refrigeration but does fine charcoal sketches on the side, Dan believes in multiplicity, in breathing in everything the world has to offer in generous bursts. The music he brought flew over well, but his hair work soared even higher. After hosting a workshop-seminar where he gave Filipino women makeovers, more doors opened for him here. “They saw new looks, they saw new cuts; and from there I met the people behind Toni & Guy: Cherry Reyes and Cris Cone. They said, ‘No, don’t go home yet. Stay. Would you consider this industry here?’ Eventually I became their International Artistic Director for the Philippines.”

Dan’s ascent was quick but organic. Here was a man in a dog-eat-dog trade who didn’t pounce on opportunity like a hawk, who chose to live life, its glories and failures, to the fullest: cutting hair by day, playing music and sculpting at night. His stunning potential didn’t go unnoticed: after attending the Capri Hair Institute in New Jersey for his initial license, he went under the wing of Colombian mentor Alvaro Gonzales at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in New York, where he would do a five-year stint. He was nineteen, a little insane, but also insanely creative, crashing cars but also changing lives with the cuts he was giving people. Afterwards came a string of stellar residencies: as in-house educator for the Irvine Rusk line of hair products and devices; as stylist for British hair giant Jingles, specializing in wedding, banquet, and other formal looks; as stylist for “dry-cut king” John Sahag of The John Sahag Workhop, the modern master whose revolutionary methods endeared him to the stars (he did Demi Moore’s iconic cut for Ghost, among other ‘dos); also as hair artist for Canadian institute Aveda and Estée Lauder brand Bumble and Bumble. Later on, when he was already in Manila, he secured tenure as International Artistic Director for three of the biggest hair brands: Toni & Guy, who developed a system loosely adopted from their stint as Vidal Sassoon students; leading Parisian brand Franck Provost; and Hong Kong hair star Louis Phillip Kee. Every step of the way, Dan’s New Yorker eye has served as both ballast and guiding star. “Being from a specific place produces a specific form of art. New York fashioned my eye for beauty, my ear for music. Your art really depends on what you see when you step out of the door in the morning,” he beams.

PICK DanTeeThis much is clear: Dan Tee practices hair as both art and science, that is, with equal parts rhyme and reason. His training makes its way to his cutting hands, but so does his penchant for multiple disciplines: his method a cross between a spirited blues jam and thorough architecture. In his cuts the collective spirits of masters like Sassoon and Sahag are evident, but so are his days sculpting at the Visual Arts Center of New York City, where he practiced said craft on white Italian alabaster, giving glorious form to what is otherwise an nondescript slab of stone. In some ways the process is also a dance, an area which Dan also took a stab at in his teens, being permitted entry into the legendary nightclub Studio 54 despite being barely legal, excelling in freestyle. “I really wanted to do my art because I still wasn’t sure if hair was my thing. But hair kept calling me back, and I kept answering the call. It hooked me,” he recalls his twenties two decades down the road. And now this fascinating history, his remarkable vision, will finally see the light of day as his own brand—Dan Tee’s Hair Architects—will be unveiled in Manila. “There’s a gap that’s necessary to fill. It’s needed because of the hair types that are not easy to do, that need a trained, skilled stylist to be able to handle, and do on an international level,” he explains while also expressing disbelief and concern at how the Philippines does not appear to treat hair as seriously as back home, where close to five years’ worth of schooling, training, and apprenticeship, not to mention formal licensing, is needed before actual practice. 

And also there is the question of world trends vis-à-vis an ever-vacillating local culture, one that’s adaptive but also rooted in tradition and classicism. “It’s not just the city or the landscape that’s changing so much, so are the people,” Dan says, expressing extreme interest in working on Filipino hair in particular on account of its unique character. “I always found it to be interesting in regard to texture, for one thing. You have a bit of a mix: the hair feels like there’s some Latin movements in there, but also some Malay. Also, it’s not as straight as Japanese or Korean hair; it’s not quite as poke-y, and the texture is really diverse, from thin to thick,” he says, tracing imaginary lines in the air, almost appearing like he’s caressing the empty space in front of him where a full head of hair should be. “You need people to bring it, to demonstrate it, and put it in front of them; and then it becomes something that people would want. If it’s not even here, they wouldn’t know, right?” he adds, whipping out another music analogy in the process, comparing hearing about a world-trending cut to actually having it on you, saying, “It’s one thing to hear a soundtrack, it’s another thing to hear it live. You want to see it in concert. You want to see it on yourself and not just on someone else. That’s what we’re getting ready to do.”

Dan has both seen and been it: an architect and ambassador for not just doing hair but doing it extremely well, with the eye, hand, and heart doing an immaculate dance. He believes in the transformative powers of hair, in the idea of looking good translating to feeling good, and how that in turn leads to success. He seeks to bring Manhattan to Manila in terms of hair expertise. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just going to kill people’s hair. You’re going to make them look like they don’t want to step out of the house, and that’s a terrible thing to do to a woman,” he jokes, adding, “She’s going to have to stay online, without a camera, or wearing some kind of headgear.” It has been a good two hours of Dan talking hair with this writer—an improbable feat, akin to Elvis Costello’s famous quip comparing writing about music to “dancing about architecture,” referenced in the title for this piece—but this dramatic affinity remains anchored on real lives, real experiences. “We can bring a lot of healing to people’s lives, when we make them feel better by making them look better. That’s what we’re passionate about over at Dan Tee’s Hair Architects, and that’s what we always say: ‘Your image is our passion.’”    

Words: Aldus Santos — Photography: Mai Evangelista — Model: CC

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