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The Nail Polish Whisperer

Whenever we spy OPI’s rainbow of shades in the salon, the first question that comes to mind is, Who comes up with those pun-a-rific polish names? That would be Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, the brand's Executive VP and Artistic Director, who has created and named every shade since 1989 (that’s a whole lot of puns). The Hungarian-born color genius took OPI from dental supply company to nail industry heavyweight, focusing on geography-specific collections and high-profile celebrity collaborations. Read on for a bit of OPI history (and don’t miss our video tutorial featuring the brand’s innovative sheer tints!).

OPI began as a small dental supply company—how did that shift into the nail formulas?

Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there were nails called acrylics; it’s a very similar chemistry to making dentures. We were familiar with the technology because of the dental industry, so we met a young chemist and we changed the formula: We put together a liquid and a powder, and an adhesive agent, and we put a rubber band around it. That’s where the idea for acrylic nails came from—we called it the "rubber band special."

I started the company with my brother-in-law George Shaeffer—he drove the car and I got out and dropped these “rubber band specials” at every nail salon; two weeks later we went back and everyone loved the formula.

What were the nail trends in the ‘80s?

In the ‘80s everyone had those long talons. There were nail salons popping up in Los Angeles at every corner and everyone was getting their nails done. It really surpassed any socioeconomic level.

How many colors did you launch with?

We started out with 30 shades, and some are still in the line like Coney Island Cotton Candy, Cajun Shrimp. Since 1989, I’ve created every shade by myself.

How do you find the inspiration for the colors?

Usually I look at trend books from Paris and Milan and the country that we choose as inspiration for the season. I was just in Brazil in November to introduce the most recent collection. [It’s a] very diverse country— very beautiful nature and very hot, sexy women for sure! And everybody wears nail color. It’s a great country for inspiration.

OPI is well known for its names, how do you come up with them?

I create the shades, and then there are about six of us who sit in a room. It takes about six to eight hours, and we create 12 shades. Two things we love at OPI: to travel and to eat…maybe the other way around! A lot of colors are named after food, and when there’s collaboration, it could be song titles, lyrics, or just the personality of the celebrity.

How did the new Gwen Stefani collaboration come about?

I approached her. I love her. She’s a woman, a mom, and I think she’s a great role model to all women. I love her music and I love her style, for sure.

Do you have any recent favorite shades?

I always say my favorite is the one that sells the most [laughs].

And which is that?

The number one shade has been I’m Not Really A Waitress, which came from the Hollywood collection. Probably 15 years old, it’s a great candy apple red and has won many awards from many magazines. But You Don’t Know Jacques, which came from the France collection, and Lincoln Park After Dark, which came from the Chicago collection, are probably in the top five colors. These were iconic colors that were really ahead of their time. Who would’ve thought that gray would be such a fashion color?

When you were eight, what did you want to be when you grew up?

To be honest, I grew up in a Communist country—I’m Hungarian—so when I was eight, it wasn’t the easiest time to think about what I would want to be. But I always loved fashion, I always loved color, I always loved decorating. Even when I was growing up, I would save up money to buy like one outfit.

What's a big change that you've seen in the nail industry in the past five years?

Technology has really evolved in nails—all the glitters, the shimmers, almost like pieces of jewelry on your nails. And the good thing is you can change it as often as you like; nobody is committed. It [also] became acceptable to wear all these funky colors—maybe not blue lips, but blue nails look amazing. Suddenly with] the downturned economy in 2008, women were looking for that small luxury or small thing they can do on a regular basis. Maybe it wasn’t a vacation, but going to get your nails done once a week was more affordable.

Which polish are you wearing today?

Red from holiday called Big Apple Red. I always tell women, when you put nail polish on, you get to look at your nails all day. It’s not like I have to get up to a mirror [like I do with my face]—I can see my nails all the time and they make me feel good.

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