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LIFE AS AN 'ECO-STYLIST'
By Gina Piccalo
Los Angeles Times
December 6, 2002
Danny Seo, the 25-year-old Martha Stewart of the organic set, speaks softly,
but in that rapid-fire tongue so characteristically New York. He rattles off
the eco-friendly elements of his ensemble, which he has worn to an important
eco-friendly gala in Los Angeles populated by newly eco-friendly
celebrities. "This," he says, pointing to his delicate wrist, "is a
solar-powered watch. I'm wearing vegetarian shoes from England -- Paul
McCartney loves these." His tie, he says, was picked from a clothing
designer's trash bin. But the outfit is just the beginning: "It's all about
Seo, the erstwhile teenage environmental activist who won a place in Oprah
Winfrey's heart after writing several books on organic and altruistic living
(including one with Deepak Chopra), is leaving the East Coast, repositioning
himself as an "environmental lifestyle consultant" and moving to Los
Angeles. Here, he's working every angle, pitching himself as TV-show host,
starlet fashion stylist and celebrity companion. Where better to establish
oneself as the last word in the latest fad?
"A lot of trends start at the upper-income levels," says Seo. "What I don't
want to do is start mainstream and work my way up. It goes the other way
Although ripe for ridicule, Seo's new job title is sure to give pause to a
certain group of Angelenos, those animal lovers who refuse to eat "anything
with a face" but live in that black leather coat, or those who drive
gas-guzzling SUVs while nobly purchasing biodegradable detergents. Seo
believes he can dissolve that guilt and confusion. "I find resources," he
This slight-framed, bespectacled young man with the fresh face of an
adolescent will realign your complicated world, from fashion (non-animal
leather and recycled cashmere) to home design (freshwater swimming pools and
recycled hardwood floors) to altruism, entertaining, kids, cooking and
(pesticide-free) gardening -- all in an ecologically conscious way. Of
course, this kind of expertise isn't cheap. Seo's styling fee starts at
At the Environmental Media Awards on Nov. 20 -- an event that honored
actress Blythe Danner for recycling, living in a solar-powered home and
driving an electric SUV, among other things -- Seo works the room of
activists, organic chefs and actresses.
Sometime-actress Anna Getty (stepdaughter to J. Paul III) wears one of Seo's
hand-picked pieces, a recycled black cowl-neck dress shot with fine silver
Lurex stripes. Her dark hair is slicked back in a tight ponytail, revealing
a tan and flawless face. Peripherally, she resembles one of Andy Warhol's
wealthy satellites, circa Studio 54.
In the last two years, Getty and her friend actress Amy Smart have started
recycling and using biodegradable detergents. Smart has a freshwater pool.
They eat "mostly vegetarian and do yoga," Getty says. "There's a whole way
Seo's approach is important, Getty believes, because "if we don't start
taking care of the world, we're going to be in trouble." Besides, she adds,
fashion needs a fresh look. She pulls at the delicate fabric of her dress.
"My friends looked at this and said, 'Oh my God! That's so "Dynasty"!' And
I'm like, 'That's the point!' "
Seo became image-savvy during adolescence. Born on Earth Day 1977, by age 17
he was a media darling, featured in Newsweek for his youth activism group
Earth 2000, a national network that spearheaded worldwide-environmental
awareness campaigns. At age 19, he wrote "Generation React: Activism for
Beginners" (Ballantine Books, 1997), an autobiographical take on his
approach to altruism that landed him on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." At age 21,
People magazine named Seo one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the
During time off from a day job writing for Vegetarian Times, Seo wrote two
additional books, including "Be the Difference" (New Society Pub, 2001) with
would-be business partner Deepak Chopra. (Their plans for a "personal
growth" Web site crumbled with the dot-com downfall.)
Renovated parents' home
But the real catalyst for his West Coast debut was his renovation of the
Reading, Pa., home of his anesthesiologist father and stay-at-home mother,
using organic and recycled materials. Based on that experience, he wrote
"Conscious Style Home: Eco-Friendly Living for the 21st Century" (St.
Martin's, 2001). The book made the rounds in Hollywood when Kevin Spacey's
publicist sent it to all her clients for Christmas.
Today, Seo earns $15,000 per appearance on the lecture circuit. He also
appears in South Korean TV ads as an official spokesman for Samsung, a deal
he justifies with: "It allowed me to make a sizable donation to a campaign
in South Korea to ban dog meat."
Now, Seo is carefully planning his transformation from activist author to
eco-stylist to the stars. He's interviewing talent agencies here, and
seriously considering signing with Cloutier, which reps celebrity stylist
Phillip Bloch. He's also in negotiations with Hearst Entertainment, which is
part owner of the A&E and Lifetime Television cable channels. When the ink
dries, he'll develop a " 'Mister Rogers' for grown-ups" that targets the
active and under-30 demographic. His ideal audience, he says, spends Friday
nights out and Saturday mornings on its couches, watching Seo's friendly
face, chatting brightly about a "Tajmopolitan," a cocktail made with spices
and vodka distilled from organic potatoes. Or perhaps he'll offer a lesson
on how to transform an empty Altoids tin into "an aromatherapy energy candle
perfect for traveling."
To ensure that he meets the right types of people, Seo has spent a third of
the last year living in the W Hotel in Westwood, courting publicists,
dressing celebrities for public appearances and calling up old friends like
Amy Smart and Santa Monica local Tracey Ullman. He's also on the lookout for
celebrities to profile in Organic Style. The year-old New York magazine
hired him recently as an editor at large to "add glitz" to its pages, he
says. One such feature details model Shalom Harlow's use of loose pebbles on
her bathroom floor "as an homage to reflexology," Seo says.
"He really exemplifies the new definition of organic," Editor in Chief Peggy
Northrop says, "that it's about being seductive and incorporating organics
into your life in a stylish way .... He lives that life."
Seo started styling clients last year when the magazine's founder, Maria
Rodale, asked him to find an environmentally aware celebrity for the
September 2001 debut issue. He called friend Debbie Levin, executive
director of the Environmental Media Assn., who referred him to Smart. Two
months later, Smart asked him to dress her for the association's gala in Los
"At first, I thought it was a joke.... It's glorified shopping," Seo says.
"All I do is say, 'Try this on. It looks great!'"
Smart introduced him to her friend actress Ali Larter. During Thanksgiving
week, Seo was busy searching Manhattan for "nonconflict" diamonds -- stones
that have not been mined to fund wars -- to drape on her for a party.
Other celebrities came to know Seo through their managers, publicists or
chance encounters at charity events. Eventually, he was dressing and
consulting with actress Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy), as well as
Alicia Silverstone and the Backstreet Boys' Kevin Richardson. At a recent
Chicago charity dinner hosted by Richardson, Seo persuaded the performer to
serve all-organic wine and "make an issue out of it."
Here in L.A., Seo has been reconsidering the ubiquitous gift bag. "It's
counterproductive," he says. A charity event is "all about selflessness, and
people are complaining about not getting a bag." He hopes someday to
encourage a few celebrity friends to "save everything they get for free for
a year, and then I want to do a Hollywood yard sale," he says. "I've just
been thinking about this for a week."
Back at the Environmental Media Assn. awards, indie filmmaker Asher Levin
walks in with a small entourage of willowy young women. The bushy-haired
blond carries himself with the immodesty of a 22-year-old singer in a rock
band -- which he is, for Whitestarr.
"Look!" says Seo, "he's wearing one of my jackets!"
"Does it look OK?" asks Levin, touching the deconstructed piece.
"Very cool," nods Seo, looking it over. "Very cool."
Levin, whose mother is the environmental group's executive director, seems
relieved. Later, he explains his affinity for Seo's taste: "It's really
And for the lifestyle guru of the moment, maybe that's enough.
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