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Celebrity Manicurist

By Angela Arsenault
Posted On Apr 23, 2014

Meet Carla Kay—one of the most sought-after and nonchalant mani-pedi experts in Hollywood—and learn the musts of maintaining noteworthy nails. From Jennifer Lawrence, Madonna, and Kate Beckinsale to Eva Longoria, Megan Fox, and Faith Hill, Kay delivers polish in every sense of the word.

By A.C. Stone

We’ve got to hand it to Carla Kay (repped by Cloutier Remix), the beautiful mind behind Tinseltown’s top manicures and pedicures. The digits of the rich and famous rarely look as red carpet-worthy, or more appropriate on a top-ten makeup list, as when Kay is behind their maintenance and glamour. A consummate professional, she and her architect husband live in Marina Del Ray with their 6-year-old son. Easy to love and wildly talented, too, Kay has won over Hollywood, one nail (or should we say “ten nails”?) at a time.

NEW YOU: Carla, you have been doing beautiful work in the nail business for a long time. Does the beauty industry give you sufficient props for the work you’ve done?
CARLA KAY: It’s amazing how the nail business has evolved. I think we’re finally getting recognition as part of the whole package. Regardless of how I’m seen by anyone, I have always felt blessed to have this job.

NY: What’s the greatest part for you?
CK: I’m getting paid to make somebody feel good. By offering some care and attention, I help clients escape their cares a bit. It can be pretty exciting, because I’ve had the opportunity to work with everybody through the years. I show up and get excited over the assignment at hand—maybe there will be shots that will look great on my website. I get excited no matter what.

NY: Is there a competitive vibe among pros in the industry?
CK: It can be a little disheartening when I see some of the younger girls trying to one-up each other and say, “Who do you work with?” It’s not about that for me. I’m not trying to compete with anybody. I just love what I do.

NY: That must be a big element to your enduring success—beyond your natural ability to deliver flawless results.
CK: I’m definitely not trying to hang out on a set after I’m done. You don’t have to check up on me. I’m a mom and a wife. When I step out of the shoot, I step back into that life with my husband and son. That’s probably part of why I still enjoy my work!

NY: Have you always been conscious of your nails?
CK: I was always fascinated with women who had beautiful nails. My mom’s side of the family was filled with people in the beauty business. That said, I was a nail biter as a kid. It came from being anxious, I suppose. When someone says that their daughter bites her nails, I always suggest that they use manicures as an incentive. Say, “If you don’t bite, we’ll get your nails done.” As a mom, I’m all about hygiene, and beautiful, well-maintained nails exemplify that.

NY: What are some of the current happenings in the world of high-end nails?
CK: People are not really into long nails anymore. It’s about keeping them short and healthy, and bringing them out with some really strong color. I recently worked with Anna Gunn for the Golden Globes, who has really short nails. I gave her this cool, greyish color that was voted one of the top-ten manicures of the night. If you’re going to do a longer nail, I’d make sure that it’s not too pointed where you’re going to stab someone. A shaped, tailored tip is best.

NY: What’s your take on wilder “nail art”?
CK: I’ll admit, it has really taken off. But when all ten nails are done I think it takes away from the creativity. I say: Do one. It will be more of a statement. In general, I work with A-list celebrities who are not calling for that.

NY: What about color choice?
CK: As for color right now, I love white. Orchids are still happening at the moment. Of course, as we go into summer, the turquoises and the neons and the crazier colors will be in demand.

NY: We are product-obsessed. What should we be using?
CK: I’m a big believer in Zoya’s 3-in-1 conditioning remover, which ensures that nails don’t get dried out. For cuticles, I like Blue Cross cuticle remover. Remember: if a manicurist cuts your cuticles and you bleed, it’s your responsibility to keep them clean. For a base coat, I like Duri Rejuvacote with calcium and keratin. It’s a primer for the polish. You can use any polish you like, as long as you have a good base coat—like a primer before you paint your house. For a topcoat, Duri Miracote locks everything together, is quick to dry, and has a great high shine.  I suggest applying a top coat to a manicure every other day for shine and to seal the polish, then apply cuticle oil every day to keep them looking fresh. If your hands get dry, Essie has a little bottle of apricot oil that is travel-sized and works really well. If cuticles are really broken, apply Neosporin. Chapstick works, too.

NY: Who have been fun clients recently?
CK: Well, I was called a few months back to do Cher for the cover of her album, and I was a bit nervous—she’s such a legend, and it was a huge honor to work with her! I actually did the New You cover with Brooke Burke, and she was wonderful to work with. I also just worked with Bellamy Young from Scandal, who is so sweet. She Tweeted out a shot of my work, with my Twitter handle [@crlkay], and immediately my phone started blowing up for work.

NY: Who was your first big celeb client?
CK: When I started with my agent, they said, “We need you to do a manicure on Trudie Styler.” I’ll admit, I didn’t know who she was. I pulled up and the marquee read “Sting in Concert.” She was such a great sport. When I was done I said, “Can I watch some songs?” I was told I had an all-access pass. I had a feeling, then and there, that this was the career for me.