Real Women Doing Real Things: Celebrity Manicurist Deborah Lippmann

When it comes to celebrity manicurists Deborah Lippmann is always top of mind; we’re talking Lady Gaga, Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian West, Gwyneth and so many more. Not to mention the fact that her nail polish and product line is top quality in the business, with some of my favorite nail polish shades!  Here’s what Deborah has to say about her career and what inspires her…

When did you get your “big break” as a manicurist?
I have always loved everything about nails, but I actually started out my working career as a jazz singer. I moved to New York to pursue singing (which I still do today), but quickly realized I needed to do something in the interim to pay the bills, so I pursued my second love of the beauty industry and went to cosmetology school. While there, I decided to specialize in nails, which allowed me to sit during the day and stand at night in heels, singing! When I was working my first job at Frederic Fekkai, Martha Stewart sat in my chair and had a manicure with me. She told me that I was extremely talented and I was flabbergasted – it was a big deal to me that she was even in my salon chair! A little while after that, Allure sent a reporter in undercover and called the salon afterwards to let them know I was going to be included in “The Directory,” a section of the nation’s top industry spa/salon/stylist pros. It all happened within a year – I was blown away! After that, an agent called and said that they wanted to represent me as a manicurist. I eventually had to make a decision to leave my day job and dedicate my time entirely to freelance, which was a really big deal because I didn’t know when my next job was coming or when I’d get paid, but I haven’t looked back since! I love schlepping to a set with my suitcase and the creativity of being backstage, working in tandem with makeup artists and stylists. In the world of freelance, I get to work with different amazing people every, which has helped to unleash my creativity. I’m constantly excited by the next opportunity to try something new.
What was the process of creating your nail polish line? When did you have the “aha” moment when you knew you wanted your own line?
When I moved to New York, I was really working with the who’s who of women. And realized as I held hands with these women that they really didn’t understand nail care. From ’93 to ’98, I really started realizing that these luxury women who shop at Bergdorf’s or Barney’s didn’t understand nail care but couldn’t go buy a polish remover or a cuticle remover. They couldn’t get a polish that wore really well. Those were all things that were circling around in my brain for a long time. There was a need in the luxury space that would make their lives easier. They could buy a polish at Bergdorf’s but then have to go to Sally or Rite -Aid to get a nail file or cuticle stick. How do we make this woman’s life easier? How does she take care of her own nails when she can’t get in a salon to see somebody?

Ingredients then became a big goal. And so was being able to offer a much more luxurious formula. When I launched in 1999 in Barney’s or Sephora or wherever, there wasn’t a full nail brand that was available. You could go to Chanel and buy their fabulous colors, or Dior or YSL, but you couldn’t buy a base coat, topcoat, cuticle remover, buffer, file, polish remover. It was about making an entire line. You can wear my polishes without my base topcoat, but they work better together. I had this opportunity to create a formula that was really as close to nontoxic as it can be. And things have come a really, really long way in the 15 years that I’ve been in business. It was important to remove ingredients that were potentially harmful ingredients to someone’s body; it was also important for the formula to be long wearing. It was one of the challenge and still one of the challenges today.

As a female entrepreneur, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned to-date?
When I started the brand, I didn’t have my own home computer—this was in 1997, when I started really researching it. My brother was my roommate. He did have my home computer, but he couldn’t google nail polish manufacturers or anything. And I remember Sue Devitt (she was a makeup artist who worked on a lot of photo shoots with me) giving me the first manufacturer of bottles, called Arrowpack in Queens or somewhere. She was the first person to give me a name, and they were a glass manufacturer. They gave me the name of some people who made caps. I didn’t realize you got your bottle from somewhere and the cap from somewhere else. Then, those people gave me the name of five or 10 people who made boxes, so I called those 10 people, and those people gave me other names, and my Rolodex started growing from there. You couldn’t look them up online, because they didn’t have websites! Then, I found out there were trade shows, like CosmoProf, available in a bunch of different cities; there, you can find a zillion different people. It took some talking to get my nail polish manufacturers to take me as a client.

What inspires you creatively?
Everything…everywhere.  My inspiration is also always changing – it goes along with the trends, what I see around me,  people i’m with, music that I am listening to. Music is powerful for me and takes me to my most emotional places. My darkest places. My happiest places. It requires me to go so deep inside, in a way that nothing else does, that allows my creativity to come out, unharnessed. As far as color inspiration, that comes from everywhere in life. No matter what the inspiration, it is always very personal, that is always the most important thing for me.

For more info on Deborah and her product line, visit her website HERE.

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