In this installment of The Nail Files, I had the opportunity to interview Kimmie Kyees a celebrity manicurist with an insane roster of clients. To name just a few; Rhianna (including her Umbrella video), Kelis, Jenna Jameson, Paris Hilton and Jennifer Hudson on the night of her Golden Globe win!
So when I first saw pictures of Rhianna on the Grammy red carpet, I just had to know about that shocking neon orange shade on her tips and who did it. Thanks to my friends at China Glaze who hooked me up with the 411. The shade – China Glaze Japanese Koi. The artist – Kimmie. Naturally I had to track her down and get the scoop on her background, career and favorite products.
Why did you decide to become a manicurist?
I wore long fake nails and back when I was 16, while on a Sally’s beauty shop run for my manicurist, I said to my friend Kayla, “I could probably just buy the stuff and do my nails myself.â€ She bet me that I couldn’t so, a small purchase of Alpha 9 nail products later and I was on my way to winning!
Kayla was my guinea pig; she endured torture and wore those hideous â€œjust learningâ€ nails for me. Then my best friend Sacha decided to go to cosmetology school and dragged me with her! We worked in 2 different day spas for over 7 years back in Ohio. So the license and career I owe to Sacha, my passion and drive come from Kayla for making that bet with me!
I see you’re a fellow Buckeye, what prompted you to make the move to California?
My youngest sister Tiffany lived in LA and sheâ€™d say how much fun it would be if I moved there but I always had a boyfriend and loved working with my best friend and clients. One day there was no more boyfriend and my best friend got married so it was now or never. I can do nails anywhere so I figured if I hate it Iâ€™ll just move back to Ohio!
Editorâ€˜s note: Regardless of Kimmieâ€˜s previous Ohio address, she is a UofM Wolverine fan at heart. This Buckeye fan agrees to peacefully co-exist.
Tackling the entertainment and editorial world is quite a challenge. What pushed you to make that leap and how did you break into the industry?
I was working full-time for Burke Williams Day Spa and part-time at the Mondrian Hotel Spa Agua when I was introduced to Mobile Spas by fellow nail tech Debbie Love. It was a slow start but the flexible schedule and better pay were worth it. One mobile job could pay nearly as much as a whole day at the spa. So I took the leap of faith, quit my jobs and prayed that I would stay busy freelancing.
Opportunities started presenting themselves and I met manicurist Melissa Bozant. She taught me about portfolios and the importance of keeping records about the celebrities I worked on and photographers I worked with. That helped get me on my way and by the end of last year I had my own agent.
You have quite a large celebrity clientele. What is the biggest challenge in working with celebrities? And who do you feel are the biggest risk-takers in terms of nail fashion?
Hands down Rihanna is the biggest risk taker. She looks for the brightest, most fun colors! She always finds one in what I call my â€œ80′s Party Bag!â€ It’s a bag full of neons and â€œplugged inâ€ shades; mostly China Glaze or Color Club.
Working with celebrities was not something I originally wanted to do. I thought theyâ€™d be fickle and too irregular with their constant traveling. It wasn’t until I met Kelis that I changed my mind. If celebs love you they could be in town for 4 hours and find a way to get an appointment! It’s so flattering.
Back in the early freelance days I got a message from Jenna Jameson, I couldn’t believe it. I had to listen twice and had no idea how she got my phone number. She thought we worked together on a FHM shoot even though I hadnâ€™t worked for FHM at that time. I just went with it and set an appointment. Iâ€™ve worked with her for a couple years now and she has become a really great friend! Turns out I worked on a Playboy commercial with her makeup artist, Michelle, a few months earlier. She had my card so when Jenna asked her about a manicurist, she recommended me.
The only challenge with celebs is that their schedules change, things run late or they have to cancel last minute but once you have a good relationship itâ€™s easy to deal with and you adjust your schedule. Also it is very important to know your boundaries with celebrities. They are in the public eye and you are working with them privately. They invite you into their home so you have to build and earn their trust.
Where nail fashionistas are concerned you can’t get much hotter than Rihanna. How did you connect with her and where does the inspiration for her nail looks come from?
I met Rihanna the morning of the 2007 Grammys at LaMontrose hotel in West Hollywood. She loves to be bold and different and make a statement with her nails. Rihanna is so gorgeous with a unique, fashion forward style that it only makes sense that she wouldn’t be wearing the traditional french manicure everyday. I recently got the new Essie bright yellow (Shorty Pants) and as soon as I saw it I knew she was gonna love it. It’s such a great color! Three days later when I did her nails, that was her choice.
As a freelance artist you have to be a traveling nail salon. How do you cart all your products from location to location and how much polish do you carry for most jobs?
I have a Fred Segal Samsonite rolling suitcase! It’s a beautiful perfect monster. I carry approx 125 bottles of nail polish bagged according to color; reds, pinks, lights, darks, gold & silvers, purples & blues and of course the 80′s bag. Aside from the obvious mani/pedi supplies, I bring magazines, an ipod and speakers, candy, a table, a stool for myself, a fuzzy bath mat and so much more!
Your 5 favorite polish shades?
I like so many colors I would feel bad choosing just five
What do you think are the big mistakes us amateur at-home manicurists make?
SANITATION and remembering to bring a lamp. Sometimes clients like the dark so my $10 Ikea desk lamp is my best friend.
What is the best nail tip or trick that most people don’t know about?
Using EZBOND by EZFlow before applying base coat – it preps the nail so the polish lasts forever!
Do you see any big nail trends emerging? What nail looks need to just pack up and move on?
For a while the reverse French but with Summer coming, brighter colors are big again. Neons are in full force and smokin hot! Though I like all the trends – they all seem to come back eventually. Even chipped nails make a statement. I always say dark, black nails are high fashion runway when they are fresh and new. Once they chip youâ€™re an edgy, grunge rock star!
How do you unwind at the end of a crazy day?
At the end of my crazy days, which from time to time actually don’t end til the sun has come up, I like to see what my TIVO has waiting for me.
What was the last polish shade you had on your tips? your toes? Or do you never have time to do your own nails?
My toes are Bizerk Turq from Color Club. I gave it to Rihanna to take on tour. I try not to have “naked toes” but my hands are a different story. My left hand has a pink pinky, two different shades of yellow on the ring and middle fingers and a green pointer! I never polish my nails, they are display pallets for my clients. People always get a good laugh at my â€œcrazy nailsâ€ look.
Share with us a great nail moment from your career.
Most recently it was being with Rihanna at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards watching her first Grammy win! It was also my one year anniversary of working with her so that was super exciting. I was so happy for her. When she came back to the dressing room we all exploded into applause and began calling her â€œGrammy Award Winning Artist Rihanna!â€ Her whole group is like a family and they truly care about her. We all get along and work very well together so it was quite a celebration!
Thank you Kimmie for such an incredible interview. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and learn more about your life as a celebrity manicurist. For more information on Kimmie check out her website, http://www.kimmieknails.com/.