With almost three decades of experience under his belt, Tom Bachik (also known as the celebrity '"MANicurist" or "The Rad Manicurist") has become one of the industry's most premiere nail artists. His roster includes just about every A-lister you can imagine like Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, and Victoria Beckham. There's nary a music video or an editorial spread his work has been featured in that you haven't seen. The hype surrounding Bachik comes two-fold from both his innovative application techniques and designers and how he subverts the expectations of a "typical" manicurist.
The SoCal-raised skateboarding father of three has had a career trajectory that's been achieved by anything less than hard work. From slogging through two shoots a day for a hundred bucks a piece to becoming Chanel's first contract manicurist and beyond, hear Bachik relay his career highs and lows up ahead.
You are the king of nails. You have worked with every A-list celebrity from Beyoncé to Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, Victoria Beckham. But I read that you actually started your career as a graphic designer and had plans to be a custom airbrush artist. So how did you go from that to nails?
Tom Bachik: I think it's just a natural transition. Most people who start off in that career end up in nails. Honestly, it was a complete accident. I mean, I say accident, but I think it was definitely meant to be. I went to school for graphic design with the intention of, as you said, opening up an airbrush studio. I love depth and dimension, and layers in art. I loved the medium of being able to create highlights and shadows and really look like you can see into the art. But I'm not the best time-management business person in the sense that somebody would bring me a helmet and I would interview them and get an idea of their background. And then I would create this whole visual of who they were onto the helmet. A week later, the helmet would be finished and they're going crazy, and I'm like, "That’ll be 100 bucks." My wife's like, "That took you over a week to do and the paints were $200." Not the greatest margin. Come 1993, Liz and I were getting ready to have our first child, so the whole "starving artists" thing? Not so conducive for raising a family. My cousin was actually going to school to cut hair and we were at dinner one night. We were talking about getting a new president, about recession. My cousin was like, "You know during times of recession, alcohol and beauty both increase. People want to look good and they want to feel good." So I was like, "Hmm, well I don't know much about alcohol other than its effects, but beauty is awesome. But I don't have a year and a half to go back to school for hair and makeup." And he was like, "No—nails, nails." He's like, "There are these two cousins that came to school. They graduated, they opened up their own salon down in Balboa. Each was only working three days a week. One would work the first three days, one the second, and they were each bringing in over six figures a year." And in a place like Bakersfield, California, that was pretty extraordinary. My wife's eyes glazed over and dollar signs appeared, and she's like, "You're gonna do nails and you're gonna work six days a week."
What is it like to walk on to a Beyonce music video and know that you're responsible for the nails?
TB: I'm gonna be honest with you. You start off nervous, but when you work with clients like Beyoncé, like J.Lo, like Victoria [Beckham], when you work with these A-listers that have done so much in their career, they are honestly the least nervous people to be around. They're so endearing, they make you part of the team, they're bringing you on for a reason. Don't get me wrong—there are expectations you've got to perform, there's reasons you're there, but at the same time, they respect you. They are grateful for what you bring. When Beyoncé is like, “Oh my God, thank you so much, these look incredible. How do you always make each nail so even? All the tips are the same.” They would be so impressed, and it was things that, for me, at the time, we're just normal because that's how I was doing nails. It really gets rid of that nervousness. Probably my first moment where I was starstruck was a little bit after Jenny [McCarthy]. I got the call to do Britney Spears for the cover of Rolling Stone with Matthew Ralston. I was like, "Whoa, iconic, everything." She's a young Britney and she shows up, she's got friends with her, their cell phones, they're texting each other and laughing. Gel polish didn't exist at the time, so you have polish one hand, and they're laughing, and then she reaches into a purse and grabs something, and I was like "*Gasp* I have to redo this hand." Then she goes over here and she plays with their hair because she's cute. And then I realize celebrities are people, right? I just totally thought, "She's a young girl, this is what young girls do. You can't even be upset about it—this is what it is." So you get that empathy. That was when I just realized they're people and they do what people do. And yes, what they've done puts them into the public’s eye, but it doesn't change who they are. I'm just not a starstruck person. At that time I was, but that kind of solidified. It's like we're all here to do our thing and they want me to work with them.
You are the the first nail artist that Chanel ever had on the team. How did thast come about because I for Chanel to decide to create a position for someone is amazing.
TB: That is definitely one of my highlights in my career. You have to go through the valleys to get to the peaks. Because [my] product line went south, I had to start focusing on the agency. The things that were readily available were editorials, beauty stories, some covers, but they paid in credits basically. They paid you like 100 bucks. So you could literally make way more than that working in a salon. But this is what I had and this is where my focus was. If I could do two a day, I would. We would do a shoot in the morning, we find a shoot that, oh, they're doing a sunset, great, I'll be there. I need to pay the bills, I got to put food on the table now. But because of that, six months later, you have six covers out. Quite a book I had. At one time I could walk into the airport and I would have six covers that I did the nails on. Not to mention the stories inside. There would be a dozen fashion stories. Because of that people took notice—people in the consumer world, the professionals, they don't know, they don't care.
I received a call from Chanel saying, "Hey, are you doing anyone for the Oscars?" I'm like, "Yeah," which came about because when you start working with different people and for different magazines, pretty soon they're booking you for other things. Things just all of a sudden start to snowball. [Chanel] said, "Well, we're coming out pre-Oscars and we'd love to take you to breakfast." We go to breakfast, and I brought my manicuring kit, and her name was Kim Meyer, who was with Chanel at the time. She sat down, we started talking. She's so lovely and amazing. We just hit it off. So we're talking just about everything, and I'm like, "Hey, do you want a manicure?" I opened up my kit and while we're having breakfast, I'm buffing out her nails and everything. Later, she told me that was the coolest experience, to be there having breakfast and be having my nails done by Tom Bachik. She said, "So I want to tell you companies like us have a team that monitors these credits, and depending on where your credits are, they're worth different values. So if it's a cover credit, it's worth X, if it's a story, if it’s a back cover, etc. You have an extremely high value, and we would love if you would be interested in a contract with Chanel." I was like, "Hmm, let me think. Yes. Yes, I would." I didn't even have to think about it. Just the iconicness of Chanel to approach me and say "We'd love to put you under contract." And then to say that "You're the first one to ever have a contract" was just unbelievable and mind-blowing. When you have that behind you, the sky's the limit.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring Gossip Girl's costume designer Eric Daman.