Deborah Lippmann

Deborah Lippmann's eponymous brand features nail lacquer shades formulated with treatment benefits.

Deborah Lippmann, a professional jazz singer-turned-fashion manicurist, isn’t singing the blues.

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Lippmann began her story by making an admission. “I am a lifelong nail biter,” noting that her bad habit became obvious when she was preparing for a music gig. She was told that her hands were too unsightly to be seen holding a microphone. “What are your nails saying about you? Your brand? You?” became Lippmann’s new mantra.

Taking care of her nails led to a cosmetology career. In the Nineties, she worked as a manicurist at Bergdorf Goodman by day and as a singer at Feinstein’s at night. Her luck was about to change as editors from Allure and Vogue became loyal clients, which led to write-ups anointing Lippmann as “one of the top manicurists in the country” by Allure and a “megamanicurist” by Vogue.

Soon after, Lippmann was contacted by an agent, and not for her singing. Creating a nail care line became an immediate goal, but she admits she didn’t have a business plan or a brand strategy. Instead, she went looking in the places she shopped, high-end specialty stores, “and I couldn’t find a complete set of nail treatment and color in one place.…There was a major gap in the prestige nail category.”

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In 1999, with guidance from her husband and her brother, she launched Lippmann Collection, 27 nail lacquer shades formulated with treatment benefits, along with treatment items. Naming the shades became a great tool for her to connect with her consumers. Shades, Lippmann decided, would have song titles that resonated with her and that she hoped would “translate and bring back special memories for my clients.”

Today, Lippmann collaborates with celebrities, actors, models and designers to create colors and names inspired by them. She also has changed the name of her line to Deborah Lippmann, and recently she switched from packaging her lacquers in white apothecary cartons to clear modern cartons. The sales impact, she said, has been “tremendous.” And the nail category, overall, is on fire. Citing data from The NPD Group, Lippmann said the prestige nail category grew 39 percent in 2010 while other “recession-proof categories were flat.”

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