It’s the perfect red—not too blue, not too yellow. It’s the kind that exudes confidence when it pops against your latte’s white cup on your morning commute; the kind that you wear on your wedding day; the kind that speaks to the type of woman you are before you open your mouth.
“Big Apple Red:” Suzi Weiss-Fischmann’s—the cofounder, brand ambassador, and creative visionary behind OPI Products—favorite shade of all of the iconic colors she’s created. (She also gave a nod to “I’m Not Really a Waitress,” her biography’s namesake, which was published last year.)
These are only two of the hundreds of quintessential shades that Suzi has created. “Bubble Bath,” “You Don’t Know Jacques!,” “Cajun Shrimp,” “Lincoln Park After Dark”—odds are that if they’re not your go-to shades, you’ve at the very least heard a coworker talking about one of them and more than likely smiled at the name. (Don’t tell me you couldn’t picture the color of “Cajun Shrimp” even if you’ve never caught a glimpse of the shade.)
Nail polish wasn’t always so cheeky—before she started her career, you would have picked out a shade like “Mauve 23” rather than “Taupe-less Beach”—and you can thank Suzi for the change. When she was working at her brother-in-law’s dental supply company in LA after immigrating to the United States just before she turned 13, she realized that the chemistry of making dentures was similar to that of acrylic nails that were in salons everywhere—and OPI was born.
“It was hard work; I worked seven days a week,” Suzi said. “Because my brother-in-law stayed in the dental business, because we didn’t know if we would ever be successful in OPI, I was filling the bottles [and] invoicing—it was very small, but we started literally from the ground up. No task was too small.”
The relationships between nail technicians and consumers are the backbone of the professional nail industry. In today’s digital age, nail services rely on personal interaction. While I might do a passable job painting my nails at home, the experience I have at a salon is elevated by the conversation, the expertise, and the power of human touch. While we’re unable to go out and get our nails done right now, I encourage you to show your favorite salon or nail tech some love in the comments!
The idea for rebranding the nail industry came from waiting in a line at Starbucks. Suzi saw the personalization of people’s coffee orders and thought that women should get the same experience in the beauty industry.
“Starbucks was getting really popular, and I was going in to get a coffee,” Suzi said. “And I only knew coffee was black coffee, and you put something white in it. And all the sudden I was standing in line and people started asking for foam, low foam, one shot, two shots, and I realized that there is an experience in coffee—it made drinking coffee and sitting in a cafe personal. It wasn’t just coffee, it was your coffee.”
I only knew coffee was black coffee, and you put something white in it. And all the sudden I was standing in line and people started asking for foam, low foam, one shot, two shots, and I realized that there is an experience in coffee—it made drinking coffee and sitting in a cafe personal. It wasn’t just coffee, it was your coffee.
From there, nail polish became a personal experience for women, instead of one that only existed to appeal to the masses.
“Nail colors are such an amazing way to self-express. You can really show your personality and mood with the colors you’re wearing on your nails,” she said.
The colors you know and love were created with a labor of love. The colors and famous names are born from much deliberation and consideration and a pinch of intuition. Suzi explained that each shade has around a dozen similar options, and the final one is chosen based on Suzi’s instinct. The names are a group effort and take about six people and eight hours to decide on. The shades are chosen by trend predictors around two years before each season, and seasonal collections are inspired by different locations and artists around the world.
“We have seasonal collections two times a year that are based on a geographical location. Two things we love at OPI are to eat and to travel—in that order,” Suzi said. “As far as collaborations, we really wanted to make the OPI brand a lifestyle brand. I wanted it to be more than nail polish, I wanted—whether you’re driving a Ford Mustang or listening to your favorite artist—I wanted OPI to be everywhere.”
I’ve always had an unshakeable belief in the transformative power of color, which I trace to growing up under a Communist system that suppressed individuality and freedom of expression. Color has always given me joy and hope. Now more than ever, I’m turning to color to lift my spirits! What makes you feel happy during stressful or challenging times? Inspo via @hannahlourobinson
Suzi’s goal is for women around the world, of any age and walk of life, to be able to find a shade they love in each collection.
Nail colors are such an amazing way to self-express. You can really show your personality and mood with the colors you’re wearing on your nails.
“My muses were my daughter and my mom—women from age 10 to 90,” Suzi said. “I wanted to speak to all women of all ages, because nail color is something you can always put on your nails. You can wear it to school or the board room, and you can be anybody you want to be with that instant gratification of getting your nails done.”
OPI’s journey has been a long one, and as women have transitioned, so have they. Once social media came around and people began to be able to showcase their nails for the Internet to see, OPI went from being an American brand to a worldwide one.
“It was no longer the American woman; it was the global woman we were speaking to,” Suzi said. “The growth of nail art is definitely due to social media. It has fueled and helped to grow the category enormously.”
As a woman in an industry dominated by male buyers and business-owners–especially decades ago when the company first began—Suzi’s journey hasn’t been without challenges.
I wanted to speak to all women of all ages, because nail color is something you can always put on your nails. You can wear it to school or the board room, and you can be anybody you want to be with that instant gratification of getting your nails done.
“My greatest challenge was that the professional beauty industry was a man’s world, and just to be taken seriously was difficult. I still have my accent, and sometimes people thought I was a joke. I think to overcome some of those challenges you have to persevere,” Suzi said.
Hence the advice she says she would give her younger self if she could: have more self-confidence.
With Valentine's Day happening later this week, I've been thinking a lot about how building a brand is a bit like being in love. It takes an irrational devotion and a willing partner. One of the secrets to my success is that I didn’t go at it alone, but instead found a valuable counterpoint in my brother-in-law and the other co-founder of OPI. Two people who can complement each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses allows you to focus on what you do best, which for me was the creative aspects — like color creation, trends, and marketing and advertising strategies.
My greatest challenge was that the professional beauty industry was a man’s world, and just to be taken seriously was difficult. I still have my accent, and sometimes people thought I was a joke. I think to overcome some of those challenges you have to persevere.
Of course, Suzi has mastered the at-home manicure that we all can only dream of, but she shared her insider tips: apply a base coat, two coats of polish, and a top coat—and make sure you pay extra attention to the tips of your nails, to avoid chipping from things like typing. She swears by applying an additional topcoat three days after your manicure to keep it extra shiny and long-lasting. And if you really want to emulate her, make sure the polish is two coats of “Big Apple Red.”
I’m Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time
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