Long before nail salons were found on every corner, there was Jessica Vartoughian, the woman who would become known as The First Lady of Nails. Jessica opened the first-ever nails-only salon revolutionized nail care with a technique that was ahead of its time. Her pioneering spirit and business savvy helped pave the way for the multi-million dollar nail care industry to become what it is today. Now founder & CEO of Jessica Cosmetics International, Inc., Jessica is considered the foremost authority cultivating beautiful natural nails, an achievement reflected in her extensive line of popular nail care products.
As a child growing up in Romania, Jessica watched her well-to-do parents get manicures, learning early on the importance of looking polished and well groomed. When she was 17, her family had to flee to Romania and relocated to Los Angeles, where Jessica was challenged with learning English and finding a vocation. Given the language obstacle, she set aside hopes of becoming a teacher or therapist and enrolled in beauty school where she somewhat reluctantly began doing manicures. It wouldn’t be long, however, before she realized she had found her true calling.
ELEVATING HER CRAFT
Jessica’s first job was as a manicurist at the salon in Robinson’s department store. Even then she knew she wanted to upgrade nail care, making the manicure a more sophisticated, luxurious experience. She educated herself on the anatomy of the nail, reading everything she could and improving her English in the process. Intuitively, she focused on natural nails and shaped them by following the cuticle moon—unique approaches at a time when acrylics and squared-off edges were all the rage. She experimented with ways to repair breaks and enhance growth, and applied far more generous coats of polish than her colleagues, while always taking care to study the health as well as the appearance of each client’s nails. Her manicures became the most sought after—and expensive—in the salon and her growing following of wealthy women came to include her first celebrity, Lucille Ball.
GROUND BREAKING: THE FIRST EVER NAILS-ONLY SALON
In 1969, with the goal of creating an elegant, spa-like atmosphere for manicures and pedicures, Jessica made a ground-breaking move and opened the first ever salon in Beverly Hills catering only t nails. Prior to this, nail technicians were found only in the back of department-store hair salons and were considered secondary in importance to hairstylists. In 1972, the salon relocated to Burton Way before ultimately expanding into a relaxing 5-room retreat on iconic Sunset Boulevard in 1975. Jessica called the salon a “Clinic” and her manicurists and pedicurists “Nail Cultivists.”
By focusing on natural nails, Jessica helped usher in a new way of thinking about nail care. She trained the manicurists and pedicurists separately but enabled them to work together seamlessly by designing a mani-pedi chair station that is unique to this day. In elevating the experience for her customers, she did the same for her pros, inspiring loyalty that has lasted decades.
Jessica’s prominence continued to grow. When longtime client Nancy Reagan moved into the White House, Jessica flew to Washington, DC on a regular basis to do Mrs. Reagan’s nails, earning Jessica the moniker, The First Lady of Nails. The salon, meanwhile, attracted high-profile celebrities (Barbra Streisard, Diana Ross, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eva Marie Saintamong them) and Jessica soon found herself featured in publications like Vogue, InStyle, Elle, and People.