When I was younger, my babysitter used to come over with a gigantic bag of nail polish to keep me and my sister occupied when my parents left for work. I specifically remember analyzing each color and wondering how each bottle got its name. Was there a connection between the color and its title? Who came up with the names in the first place? I was basically obsessed with the phenomenon. To my surprise, there's a woman who names these polishes for a living, and she's known as the "First Lady of Nails" — and you better believe I'm jealous of Suzi Weiss-Fischmann's career. As co-founder and Brand Ambassador of OPI Products Inc., she's in charge of naming all of OPI's nail polishes.
Before we move any further, take a moment and let that sink in. There's a huge chance you have OPI nail products on your bedroom dresser (or even on your nails right now), but you probably never realized there's a job all about naming and creating the polishes. I spoke with the mastermind behind the colors and names of every polish in the OPI collection — and yes, she's just as rad as you think she'd be.
When I create colors and when I think of colors, it's a huge way to self-express.
Weiss-Fischmann is a 61-year-old nail polish guru living in Los Angeles, California, but she wasn't always in the beauty world. In fact, OPI (which stands for Odontorium Products Inc.) was originally a dental practice owned by Weiss-Fischmann's brother-in-law, George Schaeffer. After Schaeffer bought the company in 1981, he realized that manicurists were coming to him to buy adhesives for applying acrylic nails. Apparently, the chemistry behind making dentures was similar to the chemistry behind making acrylic nails, which were booming in popularity at the time. After making the realization that they had a quality product, Weiss-Fischmann teamed up with Schaeffer and that's where her nail polish journey at OPI began.
Weiss-Fischmann tells me, "In 1989, we decided to get into nail color, which really made the brand more personal and much more relevant — much more exciting, fun, sexy. And I always loved color. Did I study professionally? No. I have a good sense for color, I have a good sense of style, I love decorating, I love fashion, I love beauty, I'm a woman; a mom. It came kind of naturally."
Weiss-Fischmann created the first 30 OPI nail polish shades in '89, and she hasn't stopped naming and creating colors ever since. In fact, she's named every single OPI nail lacquer color in the brand's collection so far, and has broken fashion barriers with dark shades and crackling finishes. (Yes, I'm talking about the Shatter collection you were obsessed with as a teenager.)
According to the nail polish guru herself, there's a lot more to the position than naming a polish and calling it a day.
Weiss-Fischmann says, "When I create colors and when I think of colors, it's a huge way to self-express. So I really consider everything. I look at music, food, how society is trending, and of course, what the hot shades are for a specific season. All those influence the color and some of the different special effects that we create, so a lot of that goes into a nail color and what you see on the shelf and in a bottle — there's a lot of things that go into it."
As Weiss-Fischmann says, there's a lot more to the job than just naming nail polishes. Why? Because before you name the color, you have to create it. Weiss-Fischmann is also OPI's Artistic Director, which means she's in charge of creating OPI's nail lacquer shades. In order to create and name the colors, Weiss-Fischmann makes herself aware of upcoming fads by predicting trends and seeking cities that will inspire a collection of shades.
"Of course, I create the colors for the collections," she says. "We have two seasonal collections, we have a holiday collection, and we usually have a collaboration from either and artist or a studio, a celebrity, an influencer — something like that. And then, the names of course, which are always so iconic to the brand; its a huge part of the brand’s DNA."
Twice a year, Weiss-Fischmann and the OPI team create "destination collections" that help inspire shades and nail polish names. The names and shades that become part of the collection are inspired by certain aspects of a city or country that the company chooses. For instance, OPI's website is currently advertising their Lisbon Summer 2018 collection, which includes colors inspired by the city along with names that reflect the culture. Some polish names from this collection include "Closer Than You Might Belém," "Lisbon Wants Moor," and "We Seafood and Eat It" (my personal favorite).
Apparently, food is a big inspiration behind nail polish colors at OPI. Weiss-Fischmann tells me, "Theres always food that’s representative of the city or the country that we’re naming. We always take a look at the colors, we take books, maps, pictures, anything that could inspire us. The food is usually it." As an enthusiastic snacker, I support this color-naming tactic.
Weiss-Fischmann tells me the process of naming a color takes six to eight hours. However, it takes six months to complete an entire collection. Knowing about the extensive process behind creating the shades and naming the colors gives me a whole new respect for the brand. Who knew the polishes were so personal?
Although naming the polishes is a true form of self-expression, Weiss-Fischmann reiterates how important collaboration is — especially with artists. "When we collaborate with a movie, of course we try to incorporate some of the themes from the movie or the celebrity. If it's a singer, then maybe some of the words from her titles," she says.
Between destinations, artists, and influencer collaborations, the possibilities for nail polish shades and names are truly endless. However, Weiss-Fischmann has a favorite, and it's a super classic color reminiscent of the home base of OPI.
Yup: Weiss-Fischmann's go-to nail color is red. She tells me, "I always loved red. OPI is located, of course, in Los Angeles, Hollywood. When I started creating colors, OPI was always known for red. It's so glamorous, it's so Hollywood." She says that Big Apple Red is one of the top five shades in the OPI's color range.
"But today, I wear greens and blue (blues a lot, actually) and pinks, and really, everything," she says. Even with splashes of color mixed in, Weiss-Fishmann always ends up going back to her classic red nails. "Everybody has that go-to shade, and then you try new things for a new season... but everyone has their go-to shade. For me, that would Big Apple Red. When I'm not wearing something funky or when I don't have nail art and I just want to go back to something classical, then I go to Big Apple Red."
As you can see, Weiss-Fischmann's career is booming, but that doesn't mean she isn't hungry for more. When I asked her about what she plans on doing next, she says she wants to "try to inspire young people, and to be passionate, to work hard, to focus, to be patient. I love to give back, I speak to women’s groups, to kids in schools, etc."
She says that only part of what she does is creating colors that women love, while the other part is about giving back: "If I can just inspire one person, I think I did good that day."
After asking what advice Weiss-Fischmann has for 20-somethings to get a job they love — a job as cool as hers — she says, "Take the first job; the second one, you'll be better. Because you need to gain experience, and you gotta work hard. I tell my own kids it doesn't, you know. Everyone wants to create the next app and be Mark Zuckerberg. Those things don't come that often — once in a million. But you gotta work hard, be passionate, and you will be successful. It can be an experience that's nothing like the school of hard knocks."
If reading this has inspired you to go after a career in nail polish-naming, like Weiss-Fischmann, she says you need to have a sense of urgency, a good sense of color and style, and of course, you have to be able to go after what you want. "When people ask what my greatest success was, it's that I made decisions," she says.
Talk about inspirational.