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The Nail Files – Ji Baek of Rescue Beauty Lounge

the nail files, all lacquered upJi Baek has been a beauty rebel since childhood when she would smuggle clothes and makeup out of the house and away from her conservative parents’ watchful eyes. She continues to buck the standard in the beauty industry as the founder of Rescue Beauty Lounge, the first nail focused luxury salon in New York City.

Originally, Ji was on the path to becoming a professional viola player. An injury cut that dream short, eventually leading her to the male dominated world of restaurant management. It was during those endless days in painful heels that the concept for Rescue Beauty Lounge came to fruition. With pedicures being the only reprieve for her aching feet, Ji was disgruntled with the nail options in NYC. Having to choose from dirty, cheap nail shops (I call them “chop shops”) or upscale salons where nails aren’t a priority, she set her sights on giving Manhattan women a hygienic, pampering destination that specializes in hands and feet.

ji baek, rescue beauty loungeI had the pleasure of meeting Ji at her Gansevoort St. location during my last trip to the city. Tucked in amongst the designer showrooms and trendy eateries is a very unassuming building with no visible signage, just a call box that lists Rescue Beauty Lounge. Up on the 2nd floor, I found Ji waiting for me. A most welcoming host, Ji is insanely chic and beautiful. She’s one of those women that probably takes five minutes to pull together an outfit that the rest of us would spend hours pondering. Wearing a layered gray ensemble and killer black leather boots with a perfectly placed slouchy knit cap resting upon her wavy black tresses, she’s the picture of effortless style (I’d show you but Ji’s camera shy).

Learn more about Ji, get the deets on my visit and see pics of the latest additions to my RBL arsenal after the jump.


rescue beauty lounge, manicure, pedicure, salon, spaMy first impression of Rescue was of its clean, modern design, amazing skylight (what a find for NYC!) and of course, the polish. Ji says fate brought her to that space and well she must have amazing luck to find such a locale. With an obvious talent for interior design, Ji chose a muted, cool toned palette to outfit her salon. Very soothing.

Before proceeding to the “lounge” I made a stop at the polish display to decide on a color for my mani-pedi. I was like a kid in a candy store, perusing all the shades I’d been dying to see in person. When you see them, all lined up on crisp, white, minimalist shelves, it’s overwhelming. Needless to say, it was not an easy choice but I selected Dead Calm, a shade at the top of my lemming list.

Dead Calm in hand, I took up residence in one of the intimate lounges (pictured left) to receive my services. Each space is appointed with comfy couches and surrounded by high walls, providing peace and privacy. A few minutes later, Ji joined me for a chat and a fresh mani of No More War to replace her 9 day-old, but still acceptable, Teal tips.

Ji comes across very laid back and calm. Like she doesn’t have a care in the world. She’s not one of those chatty, mile-a-minute talkers (like me). She’s more reserved, with a twinkle in her eye that makes you think she is a keeper of great secrets. Though I will say that she’s very forthright when it comes to discussing the industry, her work ethic and style and personal passions. Here’s a bit of what I learned about Ji.

ji baek, rescue beauty loungeJi is a punk at heart
As a teen she was restricted from any permanent beauty transformations due to her involvement in orchestra. As a former flautist, I know the pain of wearing those hideous black and white uniforms for concerts. It really is enough to make you want to dye your hair pink (something Ji would love to do someday). So she would don punk clothes and wear outrageous makeup as a way to express herself.

Her hair was once short and blonde
Can you imagine? That gorgeous mane cut off and bleached blonde? I guess we all go there once.

She is a hands on owner.
Ji works seven days a week. She didn’t grow her business to just sit back and drink in the success. You can usually find her at one of RBL’s two Manhattan locations.

Ji hand mixes new colors right in the salon
That’s right kids. On any given day you might find Ji at the front desk, mixing polishes, working on her next creation.

There is no RBL Warehouse
You heard me. When all of you go crazy, ordering new collections, they pull stock from right in house and package on site. Spending all weekend getting your orders out if necessary.

She’s a perfectionist
Every polish that joins the RBL lineup must withstand Ji’s rigorous testing. She will send a shade back to production over and over until it meets her standards. Each lacquer must last nine days when used with her treatment system and be perfectly pigmented, requiring only two coats.

Her inherent love of fashion influences the RBL collections
No More War, Teal, Yellow Fever, Recycle, Starfish Patrick, Bikini Bottom, Chinoise… they’re all straight from the runways. Ji takes inspiration from her favorite designers and translates it to nails.
rescue beauty lounge, lanvin, louis vuitton, burberry, spongebob square pantsChinoise is a man magnet and the perfect intro to bold nail color
One of Ji’s long time clients works in a law firm, opting for safe, office appropriate colors. Hearing that she had a date, Ji convinced her to step outside her comfort zone and try Chinoise, a sexy red. Not only did it impress the man but her client has been experimenting with the rainbow of RBL shades ever since.

Polish names can have multiple meanings
Ji revealed that some shade names aren’t as literal as they appear. While No More War is certainly a statement about our current political state, she says that Teal isn’t just a color descriptor. That it also references a state of calm.

Black Russian is ReVamp
We can put that question to bed, once and for all. For legal reasons it was renamed Black Russian.

Ji does what she wants, on her timeline
You’ll never see a RBL collection rushed in order to meet magazine deadlines. Ji refuses to conform to traditional release dates or industry standards. If that means releasing just one polish or giving us a double whammy with two fall collections, so be it. She answers only to herself.

She doesn’t pay attention to the competition
Not wanting to be influenced by other nails brands, Ji isolates herself from what they are doing.

Ji works hard and vacations even harder
With RBL being her main focus, Ji doesn’t have a ton of downtime. So when she takes a vacay, it’s for serious. We’re talking total relaxation. There’s no snorkeling trips or hiking excursions involved. In fact, she hardly ventures off property. A fave destination of her and the hubby, Cancun’s luxury resorts.

She’s childless by choice
Much like the boyfriend and I, Ji and her husband have made the decision to be child-free. And we both wish people would stop telling us we’ll change our mind. It’s not always different when it’s yours.

Now what kind of nail polish fanatic would I be if I didn’t bring home some RBL goodness to share with you. Here are my latest additions.

Square Pants – the perfect banana pudding yellow. It’s intended to be more sheer but I used three coats.
rescue beauty lounge, square pants, squarepants, nail polish, nail lacquer, nail color, colourDead Calm – my new favorite blue. My 2008 wish of discovering the perfect blue creme came true when I met Dead Calm.
rescue beauty lounge, dead calm, squarepants, nail polish, nail lacquer, nail color, colourChinoise – how could I not select “man magnet” red? Ji’s right, the boyfriend loved it. He digs red polish so I knew he’d be a sucker for this one.
rescue beauty lounge, chinoise, squarepants, nail polish, nail lacquer, nail color, colourIn addition to the polishes, I snagged Rescue’s treatment system, it makes the polish wear like iron, and Citrus Vert hand lotion. If you love citrus scents, you’ll DIE over this. Though I forgot to pick up a copy of Ji’s book so I plan to get one while I’m in NYC next week.

I want to give a heartfelt thanks to Ji Baek for inviting me into her lovely world of polish. Be sure to visit RescueBeauty.com to satisfy all your RBL lemmings.

images: Ji Baek, Rescue Beauty Lounge, All Lacquered Up, Style.com

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  1. stylelist- Fall 2010 Nail Polish Trend: Gray Is The New Neutral | August 24, 2010
  1. itsV-MONEY! says:

    What a wonderful article! Ji Baek sounds so fascinating, and those colors! I’ll admit it, I’m completely falling for Rescue Beauty Lounge.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a treat – an inside peak of lovely Ji & RBL! I can't wait to visit the next time I'm in NY. Thank you!

  3. Anonymous says:

    my favorite polish by far

  4. Anonymous says:

    Give it a few years, you’ll change your mind about kids.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I adore the polish, simply adore it. But I take serious issue with her disdain at “ordinary folk” nail salons – my local one is impeccable as are the two I frequent near my office. I’ve been to the Centre Street RBL location twice and both times I received a rushed manicure, poor filing and the area was NOT – repeat NOT – clean. Just to compare, my local place is $12 for a manicure; hers was $35 or so. For triple the price, I expect the service to be somewhat elevated; even the hand massage was weak and short.
    -
    And let me just be clear here – I don’t expect friendly encounters south of 14th Street in the city’s trendier areas. That’s a good thing, too, because the Centre Street location’s desk attendant and my manicurist didn’t smile warmly once. – NYC nail fanatic

  6. Vampy Varnish says:

    Great article, I love finding out more about RBL. I am flummoxed though and need your help! I use their whole base coat/top coat system with just two coats of polish and it doesn’t even last 48 hours on me, much less 9 days! I cannot even imagine ANY polish lasting anywhere near that long on me. So what am I doing wrong? I must confess, I do wash my hands A LOT and water is the worst thing for polish so is that the issue here? Any advice would be appreciated. Thx!

  7. Vampy Varnish says:

    I would like to add to the “anon” person who said give it a few years you’ll change your mind about kids that that is incredibly insulting and annoying and if you are going to make comments like that you shouldn’t hide behind an anonymous image like a coward. PLENTY of people don’t want kids. I am in my mid 30′s and still don’t want them and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, if more people didn’t have kids then the world would be a much better place because too many idiots are having them. Ok I’m done!

  8. Dana Cerise says:

    I love those colors that you brought home. I want them! Btw, it’s cool to hear than Ji (and you) are childfree. Brava!

  9. outspokenwallflower says:

    Great article! I have Chinoise, though it’s still untried…seeing that pic and hearing that it’s a man magnet is inspiring me to finally pull it out one of these days!

    And I respect and applaud your decision to be child free. I know I’ll want kids SOMEDAY (I just turned 20 so I’ve got some ways to go) but it’s a matter of personal choice, and to know yourself and what you want for your future is liberating and inspiring. =)

  10. Ms. Katee/e-polishblog says:

    here here @ vampy varnish! There is nothing wrong with not having kids. I agree, the world would probably be a better place if *idiots* who have *no business* having kids stopped having so many of them! duh!

    Personally I have no desire for children either. Too much of an impact on our already FREAKING FABULOUS life. Why ruin it? Everyone knows it’s true.

    BTW, great article :) One of my favorite posts.

  11. CincyFan says:

    Thanks for the support ladies but I really don’t want this to turn into a kids vs no kids debate. I only mentioned our childless by choice status as a factoid. Something we have in common. I’m choosing to look at Anon #3′s comment as harmless kidding, not a snarky reply. I hope you all will do the same.

  12. CincyFan says:

    it’s V-Money – Thank you! If you haven’t tried RBL before, you’ll definitely fall hard.

    Anon #1 – If you end up visiting, please come back and share your experience

    Anon #2 – I agree, the formula is top notch

    Anon #3 – Thanks for your input. :)

    Anon #4 – I’m sorry you haven’t had good visits to the Centre St location. I’ve never been. All I can write about it my own experience and it was fab.

    VampyVarnish – Water is a killer girlfriend. Honestly, there could be so many environmental and physical factors affecting your polish wear. What you prep your nails with, the products you’re exposed to. It’s really hard to say. Though sometimes it’s just that those products don’t work for you. :(

    Dana Cerise – Have you tried RBL polish before? Which shades?

    Outspokenwallflower – Pull Chinoise out NOW and put that beauty on. You’ll love it!

    Ms. Katee – Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  13. Glitterati says:

    What a great article! Ji Baek is one fierce lady… though I haven’t yet made the RBL plunge, I drool over her colours. Starfish Patrick looks so fresh on you! (I hadn’t loved it in other swatches I’d seen, but it’s very springy on your hands) And Chinoise is like shiny patent leather pumps, but classy somehow. Beautiful!

  14. Glitterati says:

    Duh, I meant that *Square Pants* looks fresh on you. Starfish Patrick is my other lemming! :)

  15. Amanda says:

    I might try this out when I get off of my spending hiatus in March. I’ll need to stock up on new spring colors- a perfect neutral for work, a red for play, and I think a dark blue or purple for every now and then. They’re a bit pricier than I usually pay for polish, but they sound like they could be worth it if they really last 9 days. My current bottle cost $8 and only lasts 3 days at a time, grr. I don’t have time to reapply several times a week.

    Dead Calm looks amazing. And Ji is ridiculously gorgeous. What wouldn’t I do for wavy hair like that.

    ~Amanda
    http://onehappypanda.blogspot.com

  16. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing what people will share with strangers. Here I am, looking forward to reading about new polishes, and I’m treated to your reproductive status. Think of all the comments you could have avoided just today by keeping that factoid private.

  17. melsh says:

    i use the 3 step and poshe top coat on top & i am on day 6. i usually get a good week. when i do dishes or cleaning i wear gloves ALWAYS!

    rbl gives me the best coverage & wear of any brand i have tried. love how pigmented it is.

    i wash my hand before the manicure & dry them well with a paper towel before step one.

    HTH!

  18. The Glitterati says:

    Oh no! Anon @ 6:29, I think something’s wrong with your computer monitor. There were not one, not two, but THREE beautiful swatches of RBL polishes in this post, which you seem to have missed. Plus there was discussion about 6 additional shades. Maybe your computer is broken and so you didn’t see them? Too bad, because the pictures are gorgeous!

  19. Dana Cerise says:

    Well, to answer your question CincyFan: I haven’t taken the RBL plunge yet. I plan on buying some this spring!! If you have any RBL that you want to ‘get rid of,’ send ‘em my way (ha ha).
    Anon at 6:29 would not have posted that comment if you mentioned that you wanted kids, I bet!
    Great post and sweet swatches!
    Dana Cerise

  20. Anonymous from 6:29 says:

    The Glitterati: Yes, I saw the shades and think they’re all gorgeous! (Though I know, deep in my heart, that I could never pull off Square Pants.) I was referring to the extraneous information proffered, of course, but I appreciate your snark.

    Dana Cerise: I would’ve thought the information equally irrelevant, but generally speaking, sharing a desire to have kids doesn’t elicit much negative response, so there’d be no reason for railing about other people’s reactions. I am, simply, amazed at what people share with perfect strangers, especially when it’s so completely out of context. Maybe Ji Baek and ALU are both left-handed Republicans, too, but it adds nothing to the story about Rescue Nail Lounge.

  21. CincyFan says:

    Glitterati – Thank you! With all the bright yellows that came out last summer, it was refreshing to find such a soft buttery shade.

    Amanda – What base and top are you using now? Maybe that’s causing your polish to wear poorly.

    Anon 6:29 the post was about Rescue but most importantly about Ji.

    Dana Cerise – I won’t be parting with my RBLs anytime soon but if I do, you’ll be the first person I call! :D

  22. The Glitterati says:

    I rather think it does add to the context. The article is about Rescue Beauty Lounge, its salon(s) and its founder. Following a similar line of logic, the fact that Baek once chopped off her hair and dyed it blonde is equally irrelevant — it doesn’t affect the development of her nail polish, but it does tell us something of her nature. It’s all subjective, and if the author feels something adds to the story, then it is her prerogative to include it, just as it is the prerogative of commenters to choose to attack, defend, or ignore that inclusion.

    Regardless, I think we can at least agree that the nail colour looks fabulous, and who knows, Square Pants may work for you yet! I too am unconvinced that I could pull it off, but I’ve often been surprised at what colours do and don’t play well with my own skintone. If only there was a cheaper version of Square Pants to try… $18 for an experiment is a bit much!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Dearest Glitterati, I certainly don’t condemn ALU for what she added to the story; it just always surprises me when people share intimate information like that. Well, what *I* consider intimate, anyway; clearly, it’s not a majority opinion!

    That said, you’re right — $18 IS a little steep for an experimental color… and I’ll confess, what I love most about Square Pants is the name! Is RBL sold in department stores?

  24. Natalie says:

    This is so great to see this here. I actually mentioned your blog in an email to her after I read her book. I just love what she’s doing. Ji is the bomb.

  25. Mackenzie says:

    Michelle, why *wouldn’t* he love Chinoise? That color is gorgeous!! My BF has started to slowly embrace my polish addiction. I think he realizes that he’s powerless to stop me in my quest for perfect tips. :)

    As for the colors themselves, I can’t wait to try Square Pants. I have no yellows in my collection, but this one seems to have that “perfect banana” yumminess I’ve been looking for in a polish.

    I can do without Dead Calm, although it is gorgeous on your flawless nails. I think I need the shimmer in my blues to really get me drooling.

    And as for kids, well, I couldn’t comment on your post without commenting on that. Folks, IT’S JUST A FACTOID! People have too much time on their hands. We (who read often and comment some) all respect the choices of all who come to this blog and read your reviews. This is just one of the many small prices you pay for your polish-stardom.

    Ok, off my soap box and off to find my bottle of Chinoise. Time to get my “magnet” on. :)

  26. SJ says:

    great, great article! I’ve always adored Ji and this article only made me like her more! she seems so lovely, I hope I get to meet her one day! your description of the salon has made me want to go to one asap.

    also, a side note – I don’t understand why people try to get all up in other people’s biz.. I totally understand when a couple chooses to be childless, it’s not a crime! I don’t think any less of you or Ji or anyone else! if everyone took a look at their own lives first, they wouldn’t have to harp on others’ lives!

    Kudos and props to you for another great article. You gave awesome insight into Ji’s world!

  27. Katharine says:

    I really love RBL, though their prices have always put me off. I’m pretty obsessed with Teal, though, and now Dead Calm, so I feel my resistance weakening.

    RE: personal info. This is a blog. Blogs can be less formal than other published writing. Blogs are also about the author as much as they are about the subject. Dropping some non-identifying personal info into the context of the article hardly seems like a crime and, to me at least, reminds me that I’m not reading something from a glossy that’s gotten itself mentioned for $$. If you can’t deal with it, reconsider reading blogs. Nailgal.com has a lot of lovely polish swatches with no commentary.

  28. Mrs. Schwartz says:

    Great Great Article! Thank you! I also enjoy learning anything I can about Ji! She’s so fascinating! So, thank you! Being on the West Coast, RBL is few and far between here (I only know of ONE place that sells it in our entire area)! So it’s nice to get an inside look! THANK YOU! :+)

    (PS – just bought Cherry Love for Valentine’s Day-tips and I LOVE it!)

    :+)

  29. fairyd123 says:

    I’ve become addicted to your blog since finding it and have fallen completely in love with Rescue Beauty Lounge’s colours but is there anyway at all to get them in the UK? $28 shipping plus the possibility of at least that again in import charges isn’t appealing.

  30. Miss Fig says:

    Guess what? I thought it was quite pleasant to read that ALU & Ji are childless by choice. It's so rare to find people that feel that way, and that's the best way for such info to appear – nonchalantly, as an aside, easily ignored, if so desired. Love your blog!

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