Confessions of a NYFW Manicurist

I’m the business 36 years, and I’ve done Fashion Week maybe 24. I originally went to school to be a dress designer, so I have a real passion for the industry. I worked as a fabric designer for a few years and loved it, but I was a single mom at the time, and I couldn’t really support myself, so I kind of fell into the industry that I’m in now, by default. But it’s a perfect fit for me.

This Fashion Week, so far, I’m doing Zimmermann and Ralph Lauren. I was with Marc Jacobs for about 15 years, Marc by Marc, Miu Miu, Calvin Klein, Versus by Versace, and a lot of designers that are no longer in business. I think I might’ve done Zac Posen. There’s just been so many through the years.

There’s always a snafu, and you just kinda have to go with it. One time I had a sponsor, which means there’s a company product that you have to promote. I had 60 models to do with a new color that wasn’t out yet … and they didn’t bring me the polish! Either it was in prototype or something got messed up, but an hour before the show, I had one bottle of polish, between myself and five assistants, for 60 models!

I did what I could with the bottle I had, and then I ran around and mixed colors to get similar shade for my four assistants. I used all different polishes from different brands–a little pink from this bottle, a little gray from that bottle, a little green–until I got as close a match as possible. We just worked like mad.

Backstage there’s a lot of press, and you have to hold up the nail polish bottle to show what you used for pictures. This was my sponsor, so it had to be in the correct company’s bottle! I had to empty out bottles of red or green or blue, clean them out and then pour in the quickly–put–together shade as best as I could in the empty bottle! . I won’t lie to you, I stopped breathing. But if I hadn’t figured it out, I probably never would’ve worked for that company again.

The main thing is that you have to be calm, and you have to work well with the hair and the makeup people, because you’re all in it together. You’re in a very close space backstage and everyone is under a lot of stress to get the clothes done and ready on time. Literally you are on top of them, and you are banging into them and then there’s press in the back, and they’re coming with their cameras and their camera bags, and they’re interviewing, and the girls are trying to eat, and they’re getting their hair pulled or burnt or, and they’re poking at their makeup, and they just had their makeup removed, and they’re tired.

There was one job where one of the supermodels–and I say supermodel–she just refused to have her nails done. She was one of the big, big stars and whether she had just had it or she was tired, there was nothing I could do to convince her. I said, “Can I come back in a little while, can I get you a cup of tea, are you hungry? I really need to get it done.” Who knows why? You know, we all have our stuff. As a last resort I had to go find the designer–it was Donatella Versace–and have her come over and talk to her. And I hated to do that. But Donatella is warm and wonderful and such a terrific person–they had a conversation and she came around. The nails are part of the uniform. You can’t have one girl with hot pink nail polish, as she was wearing, walking down the runway when everyone else is wearing black. She was opening the show–she was an integral part of the whole look.

When you get to watch the show before everyone else, and you know what’s going on, I can’t tell you the thrill it gives me to be a part of it! It is very exciting to see how each designer has a vision–whether this season it’s all about the fabric, or all about a belt, or a new hemline. And these girls are young girls from sometimes the Midwest, a small town, and then all of a sudden they become thoroughbreds! The energy of the crowd and the energy of the girls, and the locales, and the venues, the music, the sets–it’s theater. It’s amazing, what they do today. But when I first started, we used to do it in the showroom.

The hours are ridiculous. Not just for me, for hair, for makeup, for the designers and their teams. Some shows I have to be there at six, sometimes five in the morning, and I’m up at three. Then other shows, you’re there until 10:30 or 11:00 at night. Then, in between, you have print jobs, because everyone is in town, all the models, and the photographers. I’ll work until maybe ten or eleven, drive home, and then maybe the next day I’ll have to get up at three. I stay fit so I can do the job. It’s a hard week, but very rewarding.

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