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Celebrity Manicurists: They’re Just Like Us

Practically every time an actor or musician is photographed for a magazine or works on film, they get their hair, makeup, and nails professionally done. So who are these nail technicians who are slaving away behind the scenes? And more important, how can you become one of them?

Practically every time an actor or musician is photographed for a magazine or works on film, they get their hair, makeup, and nails professionally done. So who are these nail technicians who are slaving away behind the scenes? And more important, how can you become one of them? We rounded up 14 of the busiest nail techs in the entertainment industry to get their take on what they do — and as it turns out, they’re just like us.

We asked each these questions. There responses correspond with the numbers.

  1. Do you work for an agency?
  2. How did you get started?
  3. What is your pay per day while working with celebs?
  4. What types of jobs do you get sent on?
  5. What is your most memorable celebrity experience?
  6. What is your worst celebrity experience?
  7. Advice for techs in small towns?

Deborah Lippmann, New York City

  1. The Wall Group
  2. I started making a name for myself as a singer. I love music but I had to pay the bills so I became a manicurist. I am a beauty junkie.
  3. No comment
  4. Everything from print ads and editorial, to TV, commercials, movies, awards shows, and regular maintenance.
  5. Holding hands with George Clooney.
  6. I’m not telling.
  7. You have to move where the work is — like the west coast (L.A.) or the east coast (New York City). But, if you have to stay where you are, you should become friends with the best hotel concierge in town. This way they will let you know who is in town, as well as who is coming into town.

Elsbeth, Orange, Calif.

  1. I get some celebrity-related assignments through a business affiliation with an agency but I also obtain “star”-related and other assignments via a number of sources not involving an agency. I also maintain my own direct contact with a number of celebrity clients.
  2. Over the years I have worked on photo shoots for several beauty product manufacturers and I was able to build up a creative portfolio. One day, I was approached by an agent who had watched me doing theme-related nail art at a celebrity event in L.A.
  3. I get fair market value for my talent; talent that is judged by the quality of my work!
  4. Print ads, editorial work for magazines, TV, commercials, movies, awards shows, regular maintenance.
  5. The most rewarding experiences are when a celebrity continues to request my services.
  6. None with the celebrities. It’s the traffic I’m fighting when driving to locations/sets in L.A. and surrounding areas that tends to be a pain.
  7. One way is to get in contact with local photographers and offer to do manicures for the shoots. You can use that work to start building up a portfolio that can be sent out to agents.

Tom Bachik, Murrieta, Calif.

  1. The Cloutier Agency
  2. On a photo shoot for Creative Nail Design I was approached by the makeup artist who wanted to know who my agency was. OK, I thought, you guys are way too “L.A.” You can get an agent for nails? And I was opened to a whole world I never knew existed — a world of photo shoots and videos for rock stars, supermodels, and movie stars.
  3. Pay rate usually varies depending on the type of job. Editorial pays the least in exchange for getting your name credited in the story. The rate increases depending on the client and the job, rounding out with advertising gigs paying the most.
  4. I pretty much have done it all — editorial, covers, catalog, advertising, TV, commercials, shows, movies, celebrity events, music videos, album covers, and house calls.
  5. I received a call that Vincent Longo was having a launch party for his new makeup line and needed vanities for the guests at the party. I boarded a private chartered jet with about 100 vanities (hair, makeup, massage people), press people, agency people, and celebrities, and was flown to Cannes for the weekend. We worked one day — I only did two mani/pedis. Dinner was held at an old castle up on a hilltop and everything was top notch. After dinner people gathered in a small outdoor theater. I walked down just before ceremonies began and sat on the edge of the stage thinking they were going to talk about makeup. Was I ever in for a surprise. Sting came out to sing with Bono, Aretha Franklin, Ricky Martin, and Jonny Lang. And here I was chilling on stage and close enough to touch any one of them just because I do nails.
  6. For confidentiality reasons I’m afraid I have to decline an answer. Of course it doesn’t make US Weekly or In Touch magazines very happy.
  7. Move to a big town? Just kidding. Seriously, though, you will find more work in the larger metropolitan areas. So if you’re not willing to relocate you need to be willing to commute. With three kids in tow, for me, it’s more important to live out of the city in a smaller town where I want to raise my family and then travel to and from the city for work.
  8. If you don’t have a large metro area nearby, look to your local papers and radio stations. I know of techs who do the nails for the advertising and columns in the local paper as well as special guest features on local radio. It may not be as glamorous, but it can still give you another avenue to promote your knowledge and talents, as well as getting you out from behind the chair every once in a while.

Carla Kay, Los Angeles

  1. The Cloutier Agency
  2. was lucky enough to have a client who was an editor and she told me about doing agency work. I did not know at the time this even existed. She set the appointment up for me and a month later I got a call for my first job
  3. My pay fluctuates depending on the job. The agency is in charge of billing.
  4. My job varies a lot. I have worked with “Entertainment Tonight” on camera. I have been on the Dr. Phil show for a makeover segment. I work with musicians at recording studios and behind the scenes at concerts. I make celebrity house calls, work on movie sets, fashion shoots, at award show suites, etc.
  5. I have so many memorable experiences with what I do it would be hard to pinpoint my most favorite. I am very lucky to be able to do what I do and work with the people I do.
  6. No comment.
  7. For people who are in small towns, you would have to branch out into the bigger cities in your area and find out if there are agencies for this kind of work.

Skyy Hadley, Hoboken, N.J.

  1. I was with an agency for a short period, but mostly I book jobs with celebrities through word of mouth. People who I’ve worked with in the past pass my name along. I’ve also gotten more jobs through video shoots.
  2. I started doing nails in college — and I always loved it! It was my passion for making people feel good that made me decide to branch into this segment of the industry.
  3. The normal pay for my services while working with celebs starts at around $250.
  4. I get sent on and called for all types of jobs (print, ads, editorial, TV, commercials, movies, award shows, regular maintenance, etc.). I have even been called to the hospital to do a private manicure and pedicure for a client at her bedside.
  5. My most memorable celebrity experience was when I met Isaac Hayes and Johnnie Cochran. They were legends to my parents.
  6. My worst celebrity experience was when Mariska Hargitay did not remember my name. I bent over backwards for her and took her whenever she wanted to come in so it was disheartening that she didn’t remember my name.
  7. Stay true to your work and never lose your identity when it comes to doing a manicure or pedicure.

Libbie Simpkins, Los Angeles

  1. The Celestine Agency
  2. I had been doing nails in Virginia for 10 years when I moved to Los Angeles. I thought it would be great to take my career to the next level and pursue the entertainment industry. Through meeting the right people, with time and effort, it came true.
  3. Depending on the job, I make anywhere from $150 to $2,000 a day.
  4. I get sent on jobs for everything from print ads, editorials, TV, commercials, movies, award shows, and house calls.
  5. I have worked with Charlize Theron so much. From advertising, print, commercials, and award shows, I feel like she is a friend as well as a client. I even went to her birthday party one year. She is a gem.
  6. I really don’t have any bad experiences; I have had a wonderful time.
  7. I am from a small town I would say you can do anything you set your mind to and you can take this business as far as you want to go! Don’t give up! It’s a wonderful career.

Maisie Dunbar, Silver Spring, Md.

  1. I work with an agency called Ken Barboza Associates in New York City. However after freelancing for many years, I have built a reputation so I also get a lot of calls on my own.
  2. I was referred to my agent by Essence Magazine. I realized early on in my nail career that I wanted to do something in the realm of fashion and nails. I got blessed with Ken.
  3. It ranges from $250 per day for editorial to $3,000 per day depending on the advertising agency and specific job. 
  4. I have done a little bit of everything, from events to print and television work.
  5. The Super Bowl gospel celebration when I was told by Patti LaBelle and Pastor Winans that I was a missionary with my hands.
  6. After 13 years of freelancing, I have to say I don’t have any terrible experiences to talk about.
  7. Try to hook up with local photographer and offer to do nails for test shots. I wish I had that opportunity back then!

Beth Fricke, West Hollywood, Calif.

  1. Artists by Timothy Priano
  2. I did nails to get myself through college. After several years of producing commercials and music videos, I took a break, came back to nails and realized how much I loved it!
  3. It completely depends on the situation, anywhere from $0-$2,000.
  4. I do mostly print work for editorial or advertising, some award shows and press junket prep, and an occasional commercial.
  5. Modeling is really an art and it’s so cool to watch with the right person. Christina Ricci, Kate Beckinsale, Renata, and Tatiana Usova are all great.
  6. It’s not as fun when the talent is sick or not feeling well. They totally pull it off, but it’s hard to see them in pain.
  7. I do mostly print work for editorial or advertising, some award shows and press junket prep, and an occasional commercial.
  8. Know what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for it. But be prepared for rejection; it’s part of the business.

Kelvin St. Pham, Los Angeles

  1. I’ve worked with different agencies in Los Angeles for many years. I’m currently supporting my own agency, St. K Agency. We help nail techs get bookings with different agencies.
  2. I was at the Sundance Film Festival several years ago with Creative Nail Design. I met an agent from Fred Segal Agency, and the rest is history.
  3. The average is about $300-$600 and up per day. This is before the agencies take their 15%.
  4. I’ve done them all — print, ads, editorial, TV, commercials, movies, awards shows, and regular maintenance. My favorite type of job is special events, like the Sundance Film Festival. Photo shoots are always fun to do too.
  5. It would have to be Paula Abdul from “American Idol” I was at her house doing her nails for the show. It always took a long time to do her nails. This one particular night was no different; I was there with her stylist and assistant. I didn’t finish with her nails until around 3 a.m. She invited us to stay overnight. We stayed up until dawn talking about life. She invited me, my kids, and my mom to come watch “American Idol.”
  6. I got a call for a photo shoot with Christina Aguilera and photographer David LaChapelle. The nail tech at the photo shoot had to leave, so they wanted me to take over. When I got to the shoot, everyone was waiting around to get inside this house in the Hollywood Hills, which was the location of the shoot. By the time the shoot begin, it was late, and everyone was tired and behind schedule.
  7. Start with any local talent agencies in your town or in bigger towns nearby. And if you come out to L.A., call me at St. K Agency.

Jenna Hipp, Los Angeles

  1. The Celestine Agency
  2. I have been involved in the fashion industry since I was 15.1 started as a model then began working as a makeup artist when I was 18.1 met the celebrity nail guru of the universe, Lisa Postma. We met on set a few times and by her good graces, she took me under her wing and taught me the tricks of the trade. It’s not always easy to have faith in yourself, and it was her encouragement and faith in me that got me through the tough times.
  3. More than waiting tables. That’s all I’ll say.
  4. I have been so lucky to have worked in all types of capacities. I have had the pleasure of working on the 2007 Guess campaign, Dooney & Bourke, and Old Navy. Magazines I’ve worked with include Vogue, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Seventeen. I’ve also worked with celebrities for the SAG awards and the Golden Globes. Sometimes, I even get a call in the middle of the afternoon: “Hey Jenna, we need you to go to Eva Longoria’s house right now. She has an important event tonight.” What can I say? My life is amazing. I am so thankful every day.
  5. A few months ago, I was working with Self magazine shooting Emily Procter from “CSI.” We had a lot of time together and just started talking about my growing up with my dad in Hawaii. He was a missionary, so I grew up on a missionary base in Maui. Together, we lived in a shack that was 7x13 feet and we even shared a bunk bed! Anyway, after all the stories, Emily thought my dad was so cool she wanted to call him up! My dad is such a huge fan of the show, so for her to call him at work was such a great gift for him. Now and always, I will hold a special place in my heart for Emily because she made my dad so happy.
  6. I’m not going to say who it was but when I arrived at the location of the photo shoot, it turned out to be the celebrity’s home. Her husband comes out to the driveway in his bathrobe and literally yells at me in front of everyone, “She doesn’t want a manicure! Go away! Get out of here!” Needless to say, I was a little shocked, but the good thing is I got the whole Saturday off and I still got paid!
  7. I know it seems like a dream that is so hard to obtain, but it is possible! The best thing to do is source out every good photographer you can find and offer your nail services for their upcoming photo shoots. Building a strong portfolio takes a lot of hustling and hard work (usually for free and trade for the pictures) but it’s necessary if you are trying to get an agent. Remember, an agent is there to sell you, so if you don’t have any professional photos to present, they would have no way to effectively do their job.

Roxanne Valinotti, New York City

  1. Working for Creative Nail Design allows me the opportunity to travel around the world working special celebrity events and sharing via education. I, along with Creative, am represented by the best beauty PR firm, Red PR, based in New York.
  2. I’ve always had an admiration for beauty, art, and fashion. My passion for nails is my creative outlet. Working with top fashion designers and celebrities allows me to elevate the state of the nail industry by sharing trends and skills I have acquired through education. It’s a perfect balance.
  3. No comment
  4. Creative Nail Design has hosted beauty lounges and private appointments for many special events such as the Oscars, Sundance Film Festival, Grammys, daytime Emmys, and more, all of which I have been a part of. I have mostly worked on editorial shoots for beauty and trade magazines and Creative beauty shots for ads. I’ve also done television on a few occasions.
  5. Working with celebs is always a pleasure and I feel blessed to have the opportunity every time! They are people after all, just like the rest of us!
  6. Fortunately I have had great experiences and no real- “diva” moments I’m always professional, provide a truly exceptional sen/ice, and just have fun! The hard part is doing killer nails in usually a short amount of time and not always under the most comfortable circumstances!
  7. Start by making a portfolio by taking pictures of your work. Contact agencies in your area and ask to set up an appointment. Flexibility is a must! Small towns are a bit more difficult since most agencies and shoots are in larger cities, so plan on travelling. And you know what? That’s not such a bad way to see the world!

Lisa Postma, Los Angeles

  1. The Celestine Agency
  2. I started working at Paramount Studios, where I had my own dressing room to work with everyone on the studio lot. I found Celestine Agency, and have worked only with celebrities for the last 10 years.
  3. I do not give this information out.
  4. I work on all types of jobs — editorials, fashion, commercials, award shows, and print ads.
  5. My last favourite job was doing Ellen DeGeneres. She was the greatest; and to top it off, she sent the best thank you card after the shoot, which never happens.
  6. I don’t want to mention names, but I once had to wait four hours for the talent to get to the photo shoot.
  7. It’s really hard to get your foot in the door, but nothing is impossible. For me, I really wanted it, so I took all types of jobs and just kept on asking questions until I figured it out.

Kristi Marie Jones, Los Angeles

  1. The Cloutier Agency
  2. I was working in a salon in Beverly Hills about 13 years ago when a new client came in for a mani/pedi. She was so impressed, she said, “This is the best mani/pedi ever. I am a makeup artist with the Cloutier Agency; they are the best I am going to let them know about you.” She put me in contact with them and that was it I found out later how difficult it actually is to even get an interview with them. I was very fortunate to have met the right person at the right time.
  3. The rate can vary depending on the situation from $ 150 a day to $ 1,500 a day.
  4. I get sent out on all types of jobs — film, commercial, print, etc.
  5. They are all interesting and memorable in their own way. Not to sound jaded, but it does become old hat after a while because they really are just like you and me.
  6. No comment.
  7. Cherish the clients you have in whatever town you live in. It doesn’t matter what the person who sits in front of you does for a living. What matters is how you do your job that counts at the end of the day.

Melissa Bozant, Westchester, Calif.

  1. Art Mix Beauty
  2. I was working at Connie Steven’s Garden Sanctuary. One day Connie asked me if I had an agent. When I told her I didn’t, she gave me a few names and I looked up the agencies and went to apply.
  3. Editorial rates vary, but it averages about $250-$300.
  4. I do all kinds of work from Gucci, Motorola, K-Mart, or Target, to award shows like the Grammy Awards, the Emmys, and the Oscar suites.
  5. Working with Jessica Simpson for her “I Do” wedding book and album cover was exciting. I got to go to New York and be a part of the family dinner. Being treated like part of the family was awesome; it’s something I will never forget.
  6. I was called to do a Martha Stewart for a K-Mart Christmas commercial. I cannot tell you how rude she was I could not wait to leave.
  7. You must know how to do everything — just in case. I love working behind the scenes. We have to be well-trained in all areas: acrylics, pink-and-whites, gels, and definitely nail art. You need a bio, an updated resume, and professional pictures of your work. Create relationships with photographers and do test shoots to get started. Create your own personal press kit. MySpace is a great way to start a website. I get so many hits from other makeup artists and hairstylists that need my services. It’s a great networking tool.

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