Nail tech Tom Bachik has been putting the “man” in manicurist for more than 20 years. With an impressive resume (and a roster bursting with celebrity clientele), the graphic designer-turned-nail artist will be on hand for this weekend’s Oscars to keep the digits of the rich and famous looking perfectly polished. We chatted with him about 2015’s red carpet trends, Jenny From The Block, and the rise and fall of E!’s Mani-Cam. And come Sunday, keep an eye out for his work on the fingers of J.Lo, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Aniston, and Heidi Klum.
How did you get into nails and nail art?
Mine’s a weird story. I went to school for graphic design in the early ‘90s and planned to custom-airbrush helmets, hockey masks, and jet skis. My wife and I found out we were pregnant, and the whole starving artist thing didn’t sound too conducive to raising a family. At the time, my cousin was going to school to cut hair. He told me I should rethink my canvas and consider doing nails. He mentioned two men he knew who had opened a salon down in Balboa, and each of them was bringing in six figures a year working only three days a week. Dollar signs appeared—my wife was like, “Yeah, you’re doing nails.” So I went back to school and did 500 hours of training.
Airbrush nail art was super hot at the time—the palm trees and waves and wild designs across the whole nail—and I loved to airbrush. I was living in the Bakersville area, which is known for farming and construction. So I thought, I could be polishing nails or hammering nails. I went with polishing, and God has blessed me so much.
Awards season must be one of your busiest times! How many manicures do you have scheduled, and who will you be manicuring this year?
When I first started doing nails, I would book as many appointments as I could, which was about four in one day. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that these are special moments; who knows if the client will mess up a nail or decide that they want a different color at the last minute? I show up day-of and there are three different dresses to choose from, and it’s my job to figure out how we complete the look with the nails. So this year, I’m doing four over two days: Jennifer Aniston, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez, and Julianne Moore. And they’re such a cool group of personalities.
What are some of the top trends—be it in color or design—that we’ll see on the Oscars red carpet this year?
I think nail art will be very limited. Simplistic nails on the red carpet have been a trend since last year. We’ll probably see a beautiful accent that gives off that Old Hollywood, glamorous feel, like full-coverage nudes or reds—red is always a star. If we do see art, I think it will be subtle or textural, like a metallic or glitter ombre or a gilded tip. Everyone is over the Mani-Cam. It brought on awkward moments. I don’t see nail art dying, but I see it following what’s happening in fashion. Right now the fashion is more minimalistic and clean. Cutouts on a dress go with negative space nails. The art is there but not in your face.
Do you try to match a star’s nail art to their outfit? Do you ever advise them against certain designs or embellishments?
When we do an element of nail art, I don’t like the nails to stand on their own because it can get kitschy. I play off of a client’s personality. For example, Jen [Lopez] wants something that’s kind of “ghetto chic”—she wants her Jenny From The Block, but she absolutely wants to be elegant. Sometimes I’ll just do a custom-mixed color, like matching nails to lipstick. For me it’s always been about art on the nails versus nail art: Showcase the personality, but tie the whole outfit together.
How often does someone like Jennifer Lopez change up her manicure?
The thing I love about Jen is that we switch it up for every event. For American Idol, we’ll switch it up every day—we’ll change her color somewhere between four and six times a week.
What—or who—inspires your nail art designs?
Instagram and Pinterest! I’m inspired by Britney Tokyo and Nail Swag, both of whom do really fun stuff. Then there’s Nail Gurl, who has her own cool graffiti style. There are also international nail artists who are good at one stroke painting, where you lay down two or three colors then run a brush through all of them at once. I like art that evokes emotion, and so I always try to create something dimensional.
How did you get into celebrity manicuring? Who was your first?
When I was in school for nails, I found out that there are trade shows that hold competitions for art, acrylic, and all of these other things. Within a year, I won the worldwide competition for sculptured acrylic nails. After that I was hired by CND and became their Global Artistic Director. Franscesca Tolot, who is a makeup artist for celebrities like Beyonce, saw my work and was like, “Who’s your agent?” I mean, I’m from L.A. and even I thought it was crazy—an agent for manicurists? But she connected me, and things started taking off. I’ve really built an amazing and wonderful clientele through word of mouth. My first celebrity that I remember was Britney Spears for the cover of Rolling Stone.
What’s your favorite red carpet design that you’ve ever created?
For me it’s not a specific red carpet, but it’s more being part of a moment with someone who loves the art I’ve made. Jennifer Lopez and Zooey Deschanel love nail art because it’s who they are. Being a part of that with them is what gets me excited.
This interview has been edited and condensed.