Santa Rosa resident Vanessa Colombo is a mother, Tubbs fire survivor and a whizbang hair and makeup stylist.
To some of those in her inner circle, however, she’s known as “Hollywood Vanessa.”
This flashy nickname refers to Colombo’s career as a hair-and-makeup specialist for many of the hit movies and TV shows that have been filmed over the last few years in and around Sonoma County. Since 2017, she’s worked on “13 Reasons Why,” “Bumblebee,” “Wine Country” and “Venom 2,” to name a few. She’s styled hair and makeup for several commercials, as well.
When Colombo isn’t working with celebrities and actors, she runs her own business, hairdressing and doing makeup for women all over the Bay Area. The 39-year-old, who is Black, dresses all kinds of hair for all kinds of people, but specializes in styling members of the local Black community.
“I got into this business to make people feel good about themselves,” she said recently. “My main goal is that they feel comfortable and beautiful.”
Colombo grew up in Petaluma, attended Casa Grande High School for one year before moving to Pennsylvania with her father, and returned to Sonoma County in 1999. After five years working sales in the home warranty business, she decided to go to beauty school at age 25.
She sharpened her craft at local salons including Joe Hamer Salon in Petaluma and Salon Luxe in Santa Rosa.
In 2015, she went out on her own.
One of her first solo clients in the Santa Rosa area was Letitia Hanke, CEO of ARS Roofing. Hanke asked Colombo to remove her relaxer, which essentially straightens curly hair, and cut her hair. For Black women, this is an incredibly personal request. Some refer to it as “the big chop.” Colombo was moved.
“Cutting a woman of color’s hair whose hair does not grow fast, especially if they’ve never worn their natural hair — it’s a really big deal,” Colombo said. “She cried. I cried. It was life changing.”
Colombo got connected with “13 Reasons Why” in 2017. She started as an intern in the hair department and joined the stagehand union, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 16, two weeks after that. Then she went full-time, cutting hair, styling actors, fixing hairdos before cameras started rolling, and loving every minute of it.
Still, it was hard work. Most days ran at least 12 hours, if not more. First calls usually were before 5 a.m.
She had been working on the show for a few weeks when she went back to her home in Coffey Park one breezy October evening. That night she, her husband, Brent, and her then-6-year-old son lost everything in the Tubbs fire.
What followed were days of sadness, anger and grief. Colombo’s coworkers set up a GoFundMe for her and reassured her that her job would be waiting for her when she was ready to go back to work.
“My love for ’13 Reasons’ came from that,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d have done without them.”
The next season — Season 3 — Colombo’s career with “13 Reasons” skyrocketed. Show producers introduced a new character named Annie, played by the British actor Grace Saif. The 25-year-old Saif is Black and wanted to work with a stylist whom she felt she could trust with her textured hair. Colombo happily accepted the assignment.
Over the course of the season, the women became friends. Every morning, as Colombo took down Saif’s hair and got her ready for the day on set, the two would talk about the importance of hair to Black girls.
“It was so important to her that the message she wanted to convey was that you don’t have to straighten your hair or wear a wig,” Colombo said. “You can be beautiful and wear your natural hair. You don’t have to conform to what people think is beautiful. I think we really accomplished that.”
Daniel Curet, a hairstylist who served as the department head on the show, agreed.
“It meant the world to me that (Colombo) was so versatile,” said Curet, who is based in Los Angeles and is now working to become a real estate agent.
Curet cited one look that Colombo did for Saif as “genius,” and said it stole a scene filmed at a prom.
“The two of them came up with this idea for (Saif) to wear a wig that was all braids down to the middle of her back,” he remembered. “It was incredible. A show-stopper for sure. For (Colombo), it was just another look. But I’ll never forget it.”
Colombo stayed with “13 Reasons” for the fourth and final season, then moved on to other projects. She worked on “Bumblebee,” the Transformers film, doing hair in 111-degree heat in the Marin Headlands. Next she traveled to Oakville to work on “Wine Country,” and laughed her way through styling a cast that included Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Ana Gasteyer.
Most of the time Colombo would work on the actors’ actual hair. Sometimes she would style a wig that an actor or her stunt double would wear.
(In that scene at the end where all the women roll down a hill, their stunt doubles are wearing wigs.)
Her most recent gig was styling hair for the cast of “Venom 2,” which wrapped up in late February, just a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic began. At last check that movie was scheduled to be released in June 2021.
Work has been slow for Colombo in recent months, due to COVID-19. It’s not Colombo’s fault; the entertainment industry is almost entirely shut down. She filmed a commercial for Albertson’s earlier this year and has picked up other small jobs here and there. When major filming starts up again, undoubtedly Hollywood Vanessa will be back on set.
In the meantime, Colombo is focusing on her private clients, including taking on new clients. She most often makes house calls. Every time she dresses hair, she wears two face masks and puts on a face shield for extra protection.
She also spends about an hour sanitizing her equipment before and after each appointment.
One of her most recent gigs was styling Hanke for an appearance on “The Kelly Clarkson Show;” Hanke went on (via Zoom) to talk about her work with the LIME Foundation, which teaches vulnerable community members new skills to help them get jobs. Hanke said Colombo created the perfect look.
“(Clarkson) doesn’t wear any makeup anymore, so I didn’t want to be overdone,” Hanke said. “Vanessa did a great job of styling my hair and makeup in a way that looked natural and didn’t seem too much. I never have to give her much direction, she just knows how to come in and bring out the natural beauty in everyone.”
For Colombo, reviews like this mean everything — maybe even more than a credit at the end of a movie or show.
“Clients who have been with me from the beginning are more than clients; they’re like family,” she said. “In some cases, these are people who knew me since before I was pregnant with my son, knew me through the fire, and now know me afterward. Those kinds of connections are important in life.”