Having the chance to sit down and chat with nail-legend Deborah Lippmann was a dream come true. We've been fans of her hyper-pigmented polishes and luxe glitter lacquers since she introduced her namesake line in 1999. We were lucky enough to catch Deborah for an interview on the heels of one of the New York Fashion Week shows she created the runway nail look for. After a tour of Deborah Lippmann HQ (and a preview of soon-to-be-released polishes), we sat down to talk about her career and her love of nails.
Deborah Lippmann photographed at her Manhattan headquarters.
What led you to work in nails? Was there a moment in your life when you knew you wanted to be a manicurist?
I was a nail biter as a kid. I had been singing and performing since I was a child, and in college I got my first paid performing job. I got to the rehearsal and was wearing this big, glamorous Vegas-style costume. I picked up the microphone with my sad, bitten nails and that was it. The next day, the director took me for my first set of artificial nails. I went from feeling ashamed to feeling amazing and absolutely loving my new look. I wore artificial nails for years after that.
After getting my degree in music and working for a few years, I realized I wasn't making a ton of money as a jazz singer. If I wanted to make decent money, I had to perform at a lot of weddings and bar mizvahs, and while I truly do love performing at a great wedding or bar mitzvah, it was not something I wanted to do every day. I couldn't wait tables—I literally dropped pasta on someone's head! So I went to beauty school and I specialized in nails because I could sit down during the day and still be able to stand on my heels at night and sing. I love makeup and hair, too, but nails made the most sense for me.
Fashion Week souvenirs: backstage passes from two of the shows Deborah created nail looks for during New York Fashion Week.
How did you enter the world of editorial nails?
When I first moved to New York, I was working at a huge salon with multiple floors. It was very competitive for manicurists. I then moved to Frederic Fekkai, which was in Bergdorf Goodman at the time. Back then it was the place to be. I had so many incredible clients—women who were in fashion, or who were editors. Bobbi Brown was actually one of my clients, too. She had just launched her line of lipsticks at Bergdorf and she would sometimes come up to the salon to do makeup. That's how new her brand was. She told Allure about me and they came in and had a manicure with me and put me in their beauty directory. Then celebrities read about me and word of mouth was picking up. Before I knew it, I left the salon to work in editorial and fashion full time and that's still where I am today.
An iconic Guy Bourdin image graces the cover of a book in Deborah's library.
Did you know you wanted to start a polish line? What led you to that?
I saw an opening in the market. I was working in fashion, doing nails on set a lot, and I had to mix colors on the spot. I remember the day I was working with Polly Mellen and she asked for a very specific yellow. I had to mix something right there and came up with a color that was interesting and off-beat and that's been my thing—that I don't always make the expected colors.
Do you have a favorite polish?
They're all my children so it's hard to pick a favorite color! Lately, I'm wearing a lot of All About That Base. It's a gorgeous base coat that allows you to see your natural nail but makes it look even better. It's like a CC cream for nails.
You're famous for your saturated glitter polishes. How did you get this idea?
Honestly, it's something I never thought I would be famous for. I made a color called Superstar that was born out of my obsession with all things rose gold. Superstar is actually a chocolate brown base and darker than rose gold but I just loved it. It was the first very full coverage shimmer I did. Working in fashion, you get a lot of requests for red or nude nails but I really wanted to do something different. My next glitter was Happy Birthday. It's a clear base with multi-color glitter. I created it during the recession—it was a dark time and I wanted to do something cheerful. The idea behind it was that the glitter landed where it landed and there was no wrong way to do it. It's ok if a few pieces of glitter land on one finger and more on another—that's how it's supposed to be. But I never thought it would have taken off like it did. It was the beginning of the glitter revolution. Glitter is a little bit of happy. Your hands are in front of your face all day long and you can feel good about seeing them and having them look beautiful.
What do you love the most about being a manicurist?
I love makeup and hair, but I love the intimacy of doing nails—of sitting and holding hands with someone for half an hour or so and talking to them. In my wedding, there were three or four women I met in my chair—women I had as clients and who I came to know very well because they came to see me weekly. I don't even sit with my husband for half an hour and talk while holding hands! It's a very beautiful art that manicurists get to do.
Glitter, glitter everywhere. A favorite pair of Kate Spade shoes highlight Deborah's love of glitter.