Our ongoing Q&A series features Leonor Greyl superfans who share our passion for luxurious, healthy hair. We talk about their career paths, philosophy, styling secrets, and more.
One look at Gianluca Mandelli’s Instagram and you know this is an artist at the top of the game, not just his own. Bad Bunny, Lenny Kravitz, Karolina Kurkova, Camila Cabello, Maye Musk, John Legend—his model list reads like a who’s who in fashion and culture. How did a ragazzo from Lake Como with no particular exposure to hair styling as a kid become one of the top hair artists in the world? It’s a journey of opportunities taken, hard work, and a creative sensibility that never stops seeking inspiration, wherever he finds himself.
Leonor Greyl: What was your path to becoming a hair artist?
Gianluca Mandelli: I was working with my father in Italy, in his textiles company. It was not really my thing. A friend whose father was a clothes buyer invited me to my first Giorgio Armani show in Milan when I was 19. My friend’s father was good friends with one of the best hairstylists in Milan, Aldo Coppola, who was the main hairstylist for the show. We went backstage to say hi afterwards. He asked what I did and if I had ever thought of doing hair. I told him no, it had never crossed my mind. He invited me to visit him at his salon if I was interested.
A couple months later I was in Milan and decided to drop in and say hello. He asked me to help him out, so I started, and I liked the whole vibe. Two months later I went back to my father and I told him I had found what I wanted to do. He said, “Are you crazy?”
After a year of helping Aldo on weekends, he invited me to assist on a photo shoot. Back then, magazines like Bazaar Italia or Italian Elle would reach out to hair salons to do hair for photo shoots because agencies didn’t handle that. I was lucky to be put in the middle of that environment, out of the blue. It’s very different from a hair salon, because you have the elements working against you: rain, wind, humidity. The hair’s porosity changes, the hair is moving. You only learn that with experience on set. It requires different products and techniques and expertise.
I moved to Milan and started doing magazines like Elle and Grazie, and my mother showed my dad pictures of what I was doing. A year and a half later I asked my dad if he was proud of me and he said he was.
LG: What brought you to New York and then Miami?
GM: After a couple of years in Milan, I had an opportunity to go to Paris. I felt I wanted to explore more than just Milan, and I researched and decided on Paris. It was the best decision I ever made, because Paris helped me become an artist—I was exposed to the shows and so much more.
I was in Paris for five years and it was fantastic. I met creatives and artists I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t moved there. Paris and London are the two cities where creativity is at its best. Subways, streets, cafes—you see so much. You are picking up things because beauty is all around you. The minute you leave your door, cross the street, you see something and get inspired.
I then moved to Germany for five years, and Barcelona for three. After going back and forth between Spain and New York City for two years, I finally moved to New York. I had met an agent who told me he had lots of clients—Bloomingdale, Saks, Macy’s—that wanted to book me now that I’d built up a really good portfolio. It was scary and the last thing I wanted to do, initially. It was very different than going from one country in Europe to another. But it was the time to do it.
Before COVID I was always a snowbird; I lived in New York and came down to Miami in the winter, where there were a lot of photoshoots. COVID hit, and I decided to stay in Miami for the summer, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I finally had time to unplug. I had gotten my dog four months before, so I thought this was the best situation, staying here and enjoying the sunrise and doing nothing. But after projecting this laidback energy out there, I became busier than ever. So now I go to New York for a couple of days, do my work, and then come back to Miami. I’ve reached a level in my career where I can do this. I like the lifestyle where it’s easier, and I feel better here.
I’m so grateful for the United States and everything it has done for me. After ten years, I just became a citizen two months ago. But I still keep myself up-to-date by travel. To stay on top of the wave, you have to work for it. You have to constantly evolve, to travel. So I decided to go back to Europe in July. As an artist you need to constantly feed that side of you where you are stimulated, and I have been working a lot with a lot of celebrities. But somehow my creative side is telling me I need to go to Europe for a little while, maybe till October—do the shows, have a little vacation, be stimulated by the European vibe. See how people dress, do their hair. I’m going to come back with new ideas and it is going to be totally positive.
LG: Do you have a styling philosophy?
GM: Yes, I do. For me, it’s called effortless. I do believe that every hair has its beauty, and I’m not the type of person that believes in the blowout. For certain soirées or events, yes, but my work is always researching new textures, forms, and shapes. Each time I create a look, it’s the expression of how I feel. It is like if you are a sculptor, you are sculpting something. When you are in search of a certain texture or form, it’s not about doing a blowout. You are searching for that sculpture that in that specific moment is also how you feel. People in the business understand it. My philosophy is that hair is not just hair. It’s an expression of how you feel, and you show it through the hair style you are doing.
LG: What is your signature look for summer?
GM: From the point of view of creativity, it is going to be interesting this year, because it’s going to be way too hot. Women don’t want their hair on their neck, where it becomes sweaty and sticks. What I think is going to happen is people are going to come up with creative ideas for updos, messy buns, or messy ponytails. Even braids, which are back in style. I love the idea of braids. Not just typical ones, but very Scandinavian ones. Different shapes, texture, form, lots of variety.
LG: How did you discover Leonor Greyl products?
GM: Daniela Gozlan, a makeup artist whom I work with quite often, had the Huile de Magnolia on set, and she used it on the model. When I smelled it, I was totally intoxicated. I asked her, “What is this?” I put some in the palm of my hand and felt the texture—I always feel products in my hands, never put them directly into the hair. I felt it, and the texture was wonderful. So I went to check the Leonor Greyl website and I saw the mousse and styling cream and other things, and I reached out and asked for some samples, and it has been great, one of the best things ever. I’ve been really happy with the product line.
LG: What are your go-to LG products?
GM: I love the Mousse au Lotus Volumatrice. You normally use mousse on wet hair to do a blowout. I use it for a wet look. You can use a little, let it dry naturally, use a bandeau, and then use a little spray, like Algues et Fleurs or Laque Souple. Or you can use a lot and get the slick-back look, and it stays and is beautiful.
I use Éclat Naturel for a beach wave. I put it on wet hair, then braid and then diffuse. When it’s dry, I remove the braids and the texture is incredible. It’s like a beach wave that you can’t do with a curling iron. I like to find different ways to use the products and what is possible with each one.
Another one is the Serum de Soie Sublimateur. It’s great on damaged hair. I use it a lot on highlighted hair, which can be very dry. It helps to nourish the hair shaft, gives protein back to the hair. Hair looks more lush, more expensive. For something more sleek or posh, I use the serum and a little bit of mousse on the roots. Magnolia oil is also amazing, for a shiny look that makes dry hands better.
LG: What’s your favorite hair accessory?
GM: I love a simple hair cuff. For the upcoming summer heat, that would be a plus. It’s fun to play with ways to put hair up. I get asked a lot about how to keep hair off the face. A hair band is easy but ugly. Maybe add a flower on one side or something to make it more pretty.
Accessories are very in right now. In Paris they are using Chanel brooches in the hair. People keep asking me what to do with their hair in the heat. Put it up!
LG: What is your favorite place to travel?
GM: I love Paris. I was there recently and I just like it so much. There is something about it that they only have in Paris. It has the energy, the creativity. It also has the great designers: Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, YSL, you can’t beat it. You have this culture that you don’t have in any other city at the moment.
LG: Your Instagram feed periodically features one particularly mesmerizing set of blue eyes. Can you tell us more about your beautiful Siberian Husky, Coby?
GM: My dog is my life. He’s the most beautiful thing that happened to me after I lost my mother, who passed away at 97. I was very close to her. Six months later, I said to myself, maybe I should get a dog. Just like that, from one day to the next. I went searching and wanted a wolf, and Coby came up on a website of a breeder. When I saw it, I knew it was meant to be.
I went there the next day and when I saw him it reminded me of the love and nurturing my mom used to give me, and I said to myself I have to give that to him. It helped me to go through the grief of losing the person that I loved the most. I’m tremendously attached to him. Besides the care and unconditional love, it’s been the best thing that ever happened. And it helped me a lot to put myself back on my feet. To regroup. During COVID, for four months I was only with him, and I saw the most beautiful sunrises thanks to him waking me up so early.
LG: Any closing thoughts?
GM: At the end of the day, I don’t see as many colleagues as I used to see in studios or on set or traveling. I don’t have any idea where they went, and it is interesting to see that some people changed careers. But I’m still here and better than ever. The energy is very grounding, like you did something really right. You have been honest with the people around you. I never took anything for granted, or tried to use or manipulate anyone for my purposes. If you are true to yourself, that’s the best way to be. That’s what you will get back. I’m still here today after 33 years.
LG: Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow Gianluca (and Coby!) on Instagram: @gianlucamandelli1