A Conversation with

Essie Weingarten

Nearly 30 years ago, Essie Weingarten boarded a plane to Sin City with a set of 12 custom nail polishes in her luggage. She wanted to start a nail-care revolution, beginning in Nevada抯 den of excess, indulgence and intrigue. Her self-named line of polishes were a hit among the fun-loving crowd, and three manicure-filled decades later, Essie is sold in 95 countries worldwide.

揧our hands make such a statement about who you want to be, says Essie, who chatted with us about picking the perfect colors, building a business empire and selecting a name for an Oribe shade of polish.

You started your company in 1981 after personally showing a small set of colors around Las Vegas. Why did you choose Vegas卆nd how did Sin City react?
Las Vegas is populated with performers, dealers, waitresses, hostesses and vacationers - and having beautiful hands and feet is central to their appearance. I had a gut feeling that my polish would make a real splash there.

At each hotel salon and spa, I left a bottle of polish and note with my contact information. The next thing I knew, the phone calls were coming in, and the rest is history. Amazingly, several of the 12 nail polish shades from the original collection are still popular today, including Baby抯 Breath, Blanc and Bordeaux.

You now have more than 300 colors sold in 250,000 salons and spas in 95 countries. How did you build your empire?
We built the business bottle by bottle. Originally, we were salon-direct, but then we expanded through distributors. Women trusted in it and kept it like a gem in a jewelry box. The cheeky woman-to-woman color names gave me a way to talk to customers and share a laugh with them; women instinctively sense that Essie colors are made by a woman. In 1999, we launched our now-iconic square bottle with our Essie logo elegantly etched into the glass. The distinctive shape really sealed our success.

How do nail-color trends start?
Like many color trends, they originate in fashion, as well as home decor. I begin the process by speaking with leather and suede makers, as well as fabric mills because they are the first people to know about color trends.

Where are the best places to find color inspiration?
I抦 inspired by what I see being worn in the streets of New York, Paris and wherever I travel. I draw inspiration from the runways: the colors, the fabrics卼he overall feeling and look all play a factor when I create collections. At the end of the day, it comes down to trusting my instinct. I抳e been in business for 29 years and think it has served me well so far. I have a keen instinct for what my customers will wear.

Today, it抯 acceptable to wear wilder colors - yellow, green, blue - on the nails, but that wasn抰 always the case. Why are people willing to branch out now?
Cosmetics once were used mostly to conceal perceived 搃mperfections. Now that we define beauty less narrowly, we are more accepting of a broader spectrum of color. There are no more rules when it comes to beauty, and I think that抯 a good thing. Also, there is no more matchy-matchy when it comes to accessories such as shoes and bags, jewelry or manis/pedis, which just makes color more fun. It抯 liberating.

What are some of your favorite nail shades now?
It抯 hard for me to say because they are all my babies, but I am favoring the new mixed, muted gray tones. Mink Muffs, Chinchilly and Playa del Platinum are wonderful colors that have been a sensational hit. On the opposite spectrum, I also love the bold colors such as Lapis of Luxury and Splash of Grenadine from our Resort Collection, and from our Summer Collection, Knockout Pout - a pink with real punch!

What抯 the best way for a hairstylist, whose hands go through a lot each day, to keep a manicure looking fresh?
All the steps in a manicure make a difference in the lasting result卻uch as utilizing a base coat on a clean nail surface, waiting two minutes between all applications and applying a top coat. Applying a top coat every other day helps keep a manicure fresh. Also, hydration is very important, as healthy cuticles help grow strong nails and prevent splitting. I recommend keeping a cuticle treatment like the Essie cuticle pen handy so you can apply as needed during the day.

What colors look great with silver hairdresser shears or a black comb?
Definitely reds, like Essie Clam Bake or Red Nouveau. Red is one of fashion抯 most powerful and strong colors. Red nail polish leaves an impression of confidence and is always in style.

Essie provided personally matched shades of nail polish for Oribe抯 annual event, Backstage Las Vegas. If you were coming up with a few color names for the event, what would they be and why?
I would name a color Tableau Vivant because it reminds me of the popular 19th-century practice. Party hosts would enact elaborately costumed posed scenes for the entertainment of their guests, much like this one. Gilded Rave because it does seem like an over-the-top party from the Gilded Age made into a modern rave party. You know, the more I look at the scene, the more I think it抯 the work of a Mad Genius!

How do you come up with your product names?
We pick a theme based on the season, societal events and fashion trends, and then the names have to fit within that theme. We go through a lot of brainstorming to come up with names before the final ones are chosen. I also have a drawer full of great names that I抳e come up with at all hours of the day and night that are 搊n deck to become polish names. So, when one of them fits into a theme - we put it in the running. There are also many polish names that relate to stories in my life.

If you switched careers and opened a hair salon, what would it look like? What colors would it be? What would the dress code be?
If I were to open a hair salon, I would create a very Zen-like environment, with white wood and stone. It would be very serene with a totally clean, pure ambiance. There would be a separate area for men in dark brown wood with taupe accents like the color of Essie Mink Muffs. The technicians would be dressed like artists, in old-fashioned white smocks embroidered with their name, along with the salon name.

Whom do you admire?
My husband and business partner, Max Sortino. I also admire Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett.

What is your personal luxury?
Travel. It抯 a great way to unwind and rejuvenate. It抯 also very much a creative outlet for me, and I find a lot of inspiration from my travels.

What抯 your favorite Oribe product and why?
I am so impressed with Oribe抯 new product line. The packaging is amazing and the quality superb. My favorite Oribe product is Supershine Moisturizing Cream. It抯 wonderful. It makes my hair feel so soft and adds an incredible amount of shine.

- JILL HILBRENNER

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