Beauty Boss: How Deborah Lippmann Hits the High Notes in Manicures and Music
Purple Rain. Single Ladies. It's Raining Men. Those are just three of Deborah Lippmann's many, many nail polish shades—but did you ever stop and wonder why all of her bottles are named after songs? Before the nail mogul was creating manis for Oscar-winning celebrities and owning New York Fashion Week, she was studying opera and performing as a professional jazz singer. After a director noticed her nail biting habit and asked her to wear fake nails, her obsession with the art began. "I used my body different. I used my hands different. I felt more like a girl. I felt finished because my hands were in front of my face all the time," she explains. From there, Lippmann went on to study cosmetology, moved to New York City, and landed her first big break at the Frederic Fekkai salon inside Bergdorf Goodman. Major success followed, needless to say. Since then, she's become the nail artist to the stars, launched an empire of lacquer and nail care products, and developed a beloved and effective "waterless" manicure. Check out our chat below for more on Lippmann's beauty boss status.
You have created and used so many nail polishes. To this day, what is your favorite type of manicure to give?
Every now and then, to be honest, I like to do an artificial nail. I used to do artificial nails for years. Now there are acrylics or gel extensions. I love doing the extensions because you feel like you’ve really changed a person’s hand and it’s an art, but my claim to fame is a perfect, natural manicure. Perfect cuticle, perfect shape. I used to sweat whenever anyone sat in my chair that I would do it wrong or miss the side of the nail or not do a good job.
Do you do your own nails?
I do my own nails. It drives me crazy to have someone else do my nails. I just don’t find it pleasurable. If I go to a salon, I end up taking the file away from them and saying, “Do you mind if I do this part?” They all laugh at me. I like them filed a certain way, and I have sensitive nails because I try every product that’s on the market. So my nails are particularly sensitive because of that. Give me a massage, give me a facial, give me a head scrub—I’m all in! But finger nails is not pleasurable for me to have someone else's help.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Never in a million years would I have ever thought that this is a direction that I’d be going and that it would become successful. All the names of my colors are song titles, and because of that, this weekend I’m going to Miraval in Tucson and I’m going to be singing and I have three records! It’s not because I’m a recording artist. It’s because of my nail polish. So that is something that I am really, really proud of, but I’m mostly proud that I’ve been able to build this business with my husband and my brother.
You’ve been able to live both of your dreams!
I’ve been able to live both of my dreams! I also had Martha Stewart and Cher help me with my packaging and my formula.
What’s next for your brand?
I’m always working with the labs to try to find natural polish that stays on long and stays shiny and gives that gel effect, which is why we tested out new formula last year, which is called Gel Lab Pro ($20; nordstrom.com). It’s just in a few colors right now, but it’s so incredibly successful that we are gradually adding more and more colors to that range. We are working on some really, really beautiful hand and foot care treatment products.
Do you still get nervous when you're on set or backstage?
Yes, yes! I get nervous very, very often. If you’re ever not nervous, it’s time to move on—that’s how I feel for myself. Even when I’m working with celebrities, who I work with day in and day out, I still get nervous. I want them to look their best walking out the door every time. What gives me the thrill is creating something that’s perfect for a moment and having especially the other people on the team go, “Oh my gosh! It could have been just so simple, but that added detail ties it all together." I get very nervous during fashion week, too. You know, you’re standing with Narcisco Rodriguez! I’m in the room with him, and I have to create a color that’s going to make him happy! It’s nerve-racking! The joke we always say in fashion is our direction will be... "We want the skin dewy yet matte. We want the nails black yet white. We want the hair wet yet dry." It’s a matter of us, the team, putting together what we think we are hearing from the designer and the stylist. We have to give them options—many more than one option. You have to be really thinking ahead, and you have to act like you don’t have a nerve in your body while you’re there.
What's your own beauty routine like?
I started using a lot of vbeauté by Julie Macklowe. It has incredible ingredients. I love her day cream because it’s actually something I can put in my purse and take with me to reapply. It has a SPF in it, and I think is really important. We’re on HSN together, and we’re always trying each other’s products. It’s like, “Oh, I like this one. Oh, I like this one.” My new favorite is that she has these 14-carat gold masks that are beyond the beyond. I do my nails twice a week. I do my pedicures every three weeks.
So what's your favorite nail polish color?
If you were to come into my office and see me standing in front of a rack that had all my colors on it, it would take me just as long as anybody else to decide what to wear. It’s the hardest thing for me to do. I would say the go-to colors—Naked ($18; sephora.com), Modern Love ($18; sephora.com), Single Ladies ($18; nordstrom.com) on my toes. Sometimes I like to do Fashion ($18; nordstrom.com) on my toes and have a really nude toe. It’s hard for me and I can redo my own nails! I can take it off and put it back on in five minutes. It still is as hard for me as it is for the girl standing in front of the color wheel. It really is!