Jennifer Lopez’s Manicurist Talks The Business of Celebrity Nails

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Red carpets are best known for their killer gowns, stunning hair, and shoes to die for. However, over the years, the attention has strayed away from the threads and glam and more to the paint and polish on the a-lister’s hands. “I’m so nervous and I’ve got so much anxiety about my nails, what are we gonna do for my nails?!” actress Zooey Deschanel told celebrity manicurist and judge of Oxygen’s Nail’d It Tom Bachik before a recent red carpet. Tom says nails have become a huge focus point for celeb red carpet looks. No longer is it all about the dress.

Tom has worked with all of today’s biggest stars including Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Jennifer Aniston. Never having envisioned himself working in the nail industry, he actually got the idea from his cousin in the early ’90s while living in LA as a stuggling graphic designer with a pregnant wife. “At the time, nail art was a trend. Like people were getting their nails airbrushed, full-on Hawaiian scenes and graphic patterns all done with an airbrush. And then a lightbulbs went off because I had actually taught my mom’s manicurist how to airbrush,” Tom says.

Below, Tom dishes on what it’s like being a celebrity manicurist, and just how much stars are paying for their nails.

How did you get your big break?
Tom Bachik: I did a shoot with the amazing makeup artist Francesca Tolot. We were doing a very avant garde fashion week lookbook for nails. We were getting really creative with our looks and she’s like, ’Your work is really good. You need an agent,’ so she introduced me to the Cloutier Agency who I’m still with today.

Do you have to travel a lot for your clients?
I used to travel much much more. Industries evolve and budgets change. I can be a little more flexible with what I do, which allows me to actually work with my clients before they leave.

With American Idol, we’d go and travel all over the country for tryouts and we’d get Jennifer ready before the shoot because we’d change up everything in her look, from hair to makeup to nail color for every single show.

How often do you have to change up J.Lo’s nail for American Idol?
We kind of fudge it a little bit. I will actually go to her the night before and we’ll do a double manicure. I’ll do a base color, so one of the colors she’ll wear I’ll do in a gel polish, then we’ll polish a second color over the top of it which matches the first outfit. That night, the makeup artist can take the color off and she has a gel polish underneath. So she’ll have two different looks in one setting.

How much are celebrities spending for a red carpet look?
It depends. A lot of times the celebs will [pay] on their own and, I can only speak for myself, I’ll give a much reduced rate. It’s a special moment and I get excited to be part of that experience. For me, red carpets are not about the money.

Which celeb would you say have amazing nails?
Jennifer Lopez, of course, Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Rihanna just because it’s part of their look, it’s who they are, and it’s in their personality. Actresses are a little more simple and classic in their styles so when it is nail art it’s more of just an accent or two.

What makes a great manicure?
A great manicure is more than just a polish. It’s about consistent nail shape and meticulous cuticles and well-hydrated skin. Like if the cuticles are dry and cracked and the hands look dry, it doesn’t matter how good the polish looks, it’s gonna look unfinished.

What goes into creating a look for a music video?
I’m fortunate enough to work with certain clients on a regular basis. I know their nail sizes, and I pre-make the look if possible. For example, for Jennifer Lopez’s ’I Luh Ya Papi’ video, the direction was vintage Versace. I got in touch with the stylist and she sent me photos of potential outfits for the video. So then I go through and start researching vintage Versace and other designers from that period from early-to-mid ’70s and then start putting different looks together. I’ll spend a couple of days on one set of nails.

With your clients working all over the world, do you ever get crazy last minute request?
Yeah. That happens more in New York but I’ve been flown to Chile out of nowhere when someone had a broken nail. Or there are times where it’s Fashion Week and Victoria Beckham’s in New York, so it’s like boom, hop on a jet, and get there

How do you approach your relationships with your clients?
I’ve found when you start working with the A-list celebrities and people that are so busy doing so much, their glam team becomes family. It’s about trust and the team that gives them the confidence and security. You’re getting ready to go onstage in front of a million people or you’re shooting a TV show and the pressure and stress is so high, so you can’t really leave it up to whoever to get ready. Our job as the glam team is to make them feel relaxed, motivated, and prepared.

Would you credit your success more to who you are as a person or your work?
There’s a lot of really great nail techs out there, don’t get me wrong. I’ve honed my skills and I’ve worked my butt off for the past 20 years. But at the end of the day, the ones I found that stay around and become part of these teams are great people on top of it. We’re amazing support and motivation for the celebrities we work with.

Tom has a pretty cool job traveling the world doing celebrity’s nails, but check out the video where VH1 staff members weigh in on other celebrity team jobs.

Are there celebs you want to still work with?
I’ve been blessed to pretty much work with everyone, but I always love working with up-and-comers too because they’re fresh and they’re excited and they’re always willing to try new things and push their personality. I’ve worked with Ariana Grande back in her Nickelodeon days before her singing really took off. She’s a cutie.

Any pet peeves?
My biggest pet peeves are the pickers. The ones who get nervous and start picking at the sides or chewing on the nail and it looks cute and all but then when I get the nails I’m like, “What are you doing?! Work with me here!” And they’re like, “C’mon Tom, make them perfect again.”

What’s in your nail kit?
My kit has your basic stuff like nail polish remover, the colors I use, and a quick dry top coat.

What are some of your favorite brands?
Dazzle Dry is not a very known brand, it’s a small, single-lady-owned company, but it’s an amazing product and it works great with any polish line.

What about polish colors?
L’Oreal Paris has my favorite colors, and not because I’m paid to say that, but literally because we’ve worked together and the formulas have changed and updated. They have an awesome patented brush with a rounded tip that follows the shape of the cuticle, and then it’s a wide flat brush that kind of mirrors the contours of the nail. When you apply it, you get perfect application and the right amount of polish comes off every time.

Right now, we’re having a lot of fun with new technology, and this probably leads into some of the trend stuff, but it’s texture. Not only matte and gloss, but there’s satin finishes and multi-dimensional metallic effects. There’s even matte metallic glitter effects. Textures that almost look like a suede or patent leather, like super high gloss with a roughness to it so polish is in a good season.

Talk to us about your work with L’Oréal.
I’ve been working off and on doing shoots with L’Oreal. A number of my clients from Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, all were becoming L’Oreal spokespeople. I was approached by L’Oreal to come on and work with them out of Paris on a Global level. That is a dream come true. You can’t get any bigger than that. Now I’m the Global Nail Designer.

What nail trends do you predict for the upcoming red carpets?
I find trends on the red carpet have started to become more classic in nature. We’re gonna see full coverage nudes, not so much ’60s but more like ’70s. I wanna say fancier colors like camels and creams. but we’re also gonna see a lot of red.

For those who step out and do nail art it will be on a finger or two. The nail art we do see is gonna be simple, clean, and classic.

Any past or present nail trends you hate or hated?
A popular trend now that’s just not my thing is duck feet nails or duck bill nails, where the nail gets wider the longer it gets. So it starts off thin at the cuticle and instead of being elegant and slendering, it gets wider and almost looks like a duck foot.

In the early ’90s the big thing was acrylic nails. Pink and white. Everyone wanted the French manicure as bright as possible. It was so exaggerated it was excess. There was no way that was real. At that time that was seen as like, “Wow she’s got money and she takes care of herself.” Now if you’re wearing that it’s more like, “Oh she’s a stripper.” [Laughs.]

[Photo: Cloutier Remix]