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Everything you need to know about the queen of nail polish, Essie Weingarten

Nadine is a TV and film actress, having appeared in Sydney White with Amanda Bynes, Guiding Light, and Game On — an Italian Disney TV series. Learn more at www.nadineavola.com.

Cocktails & Coconuts, Island Hopping and Turquoise & Caicos. We may not be on vacation, but the names of these Essie nail polishes can send us to a place just as far away.

woman with nail polish

Maybe it's their clever names or the dreamy, delicious hues that make us so attracted to Essie colors, but one thing is for sure: Essie nail colors are a huge hit.

The company has released over 900 colors to date, and last year the creamy, light blue polish Bikini So Teeny became the number-one-selling trend nail color of all time.

Steel-ing the scene

That achievement confirms that nail polish has evolved from its '80s cliques of ladylike mauves or racy reds to a beloved spectrum of colors that allow us to wear our emotions on our fingers. Someone who helped make this happen? You guessed it: Essie — Essie Weingarten, that is, founder of Essie Cosmetics. "I remember wondering, as a kid, why can't I paint my nails blue?" she recalls.

As a special treat, her mother began taking her to the beauty salon for manicures when she was 6 years old. Years later, Essie embarked on her rebellion against the "limited and quite boring" nail colors available to women at the time. In 1981, she launched her first set of 12 colors in Las Vegas hotel salons. This collection included several shades that are still on shelves today, like Blanc, Bordeaux and Baby's Breath, a soft white that she created for a natural-looking French manicure.

My private jet to success

Then, it was, well, Smooth Sailing from there. A year after that first launch, Essie's company hit the international market, beginning in Japan, England and France and then quickly achieved other successes:

  • 1985: Essie introduces its square bottle design, setting it apart from other brands
  • 1989: Queen Elizabeth requests Ballet Slippers, the only nail color she would wear
  • 1996: Essie receives Allure Magazine's first Best of Beauty Awards for Best Nail Polish Colors
  • 2005: Essie works with Platinum Guild International to create one of the most expensive nail polishes, I Do
  • 2010: Essie is sold to L'Oreal USA, but Weingarten still remains the global creative director
  • 2011: Princess Kate Middleton chooses the color Allure for her wedding day

Berry naughty names

"I always say, 'If the color fits, wear it.' Because if it's pleasing to the eye, it's pleasing to the soul," Weingarten says.

Some of Essie’s best-selling colors include: Mademoiselle, Ballet Slippers (of course), Sugar Daddy and Wicked. "I like to have fun with names," Weingarten says. With inspirations everywhere, she always carries her Mont Blanc notebook with her to jot down ideas when the lightning strikes. "... I just let my personality influence the color names... and the naughtier the better... the number-one-selling red last holiday season (2011) was Size Matters. Come on! I told the team, 'I don’t know what you're thinking about, I was thinking about diamonds!'"

The Essie team comes out with six new colors every season, each collection with its very own tagline. This summer's set begs the question, "Want to stay haute in the heat?", complete with colors like Urban Jungle, Roarrrrange, and Ruffles & Feathers. Weingarten reveals, "I can never do enough blues and greens. People go wild. Why? It makes us happy; it's the sea and the sky."

No butler please

Surprisingly, Weingarten never does her own nails. Instead, she has been going to the same manicurist for 20 years and pencils in her nail appointment for every Friday at 5 p.m. She wakes up as early as 5:30 a.m. each morning and works as late at 9 p.m. every night.

What’s more? "I don’t have a personal assistant," she says. Weingarten prefers to answer the phone herself, on the first ring. "When your company grows, it can become impersonal. Personal touch is important."

True to her word, Weingarten is always extending her hand. "If I have appointments in the city, I always make a point of popping into random salons to say, 'Hi; I’m Essie.' And they say, 'Manicure? Pedicure?' And I say, 'No. I’m Essie.'"

Nine A-list shades

In an interview with StyleList, Weingarten revealed her top nine favorite colors, which are:

  1. Allure
  2. Ballet Slippers
  3. Mademoiselle
  4. Marshmallow
  5. Chinchilly
  6. Wicked
  7. Mint Candy Apple
  8. Downtown Brown
  9. Size Matters

Tips for adore-a-ball nails

Thinking outside the bottle? Weingarten recommends three subtle color combos for just the right touch. Try one coat of Ballet Slippers with Mademoiselle, Blushing Bride with Sugar Daddy, or Vanity Fairest with Aurora. She also offers these expert tips:

  • Treat your nails like jewels, and don't ever use them as tools.
  • The more you cut your cuticles, the more they grow; opt to push them back instead.
  • Keep a bottle of cuticle oil by your nightstand or at your desk.
  • Always use a base coat.
  • For Essie polish, wait two minutes before applying each successive coat.
  • For a strong finish, complete your manicure with a glossy topcoat.

"People say, 'Why nails?' and I say, 'Number one, it's an affordable luxury. We still make women feel good for very little money. Number two, it takes any old outfit and makes it new, and three, you can talk about it for days.' For women, it's better than any psychiatrist."

Photo credit: BLOOMimage/Getty Images
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