Kelly Baber – the couture nailista
Jane McGuire

Kelly Baber – the couture nailista

Kelly Baber the couture nailista

First published date January 21 2015 Amended date March 24 2016

When it comes to high fashion, one manicurist’s name comes up time and time again – Kelly Baber. Needing little introduction, her work has graced the covers of every magazine worth its shelf space; Elle, Glamour, Vogue France, Marie Claire and Grazia to name a few. With a phone book of celebrity clients, she has worked with the likes of Drew Barrymore and world famous duo Mary Kate and Ashley Oslen. Based in New York, you’ll find Kelly on set with the industry’s most famous photographers (Patrick Demarchelier anyone?), so I am the first to admit I was sceptical that she would have the time to answer my questions. Therefore to say I was a little excited when her name popped up in my inbox was an understatement. Despite the distance and her jam packed diary, Kelly was more than happy to catch up, share her story and offer advice to our users.


Excuse the obvious question, but have you always had an interest in nails?

Yes, I took cosmetology in high school and got my license shortly after I graduated. I always used to do my own nails and practise on my friends before I had any professional training. During my cosmetology courses I was the ‘go to’ girl for nails, with our school secretary coming to me for a manicure every week!

Did you receive any formal qualifications in nail artistry?

I am a licensed cosmetologist in two states over here. I also have a managing cosmetology license in one state and a regular cosmetology license in another.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the opportunity to participate in the creative process of producing images that set trends in fashion and beauty.

What is the most challenging part?

The most challenging part of my job is sacrificing things in my personal life. It’s part of the nature of freelance work in the industry, but you don’t know things far in advance. It requires a lot of flexibility. Sometimes I have to miss special gatherings because I get the booking I have been working hard to acquire.

You have an incredible portfolio of work. Do you have one project that you are particularly proud of?

Thank you! I’m very proud of a Maybelline commercial that I worked on recently. It’s not out yet but was an amazing experience.


I can’t wait to see it. You create looks for celebrities on the red carpet and models on the runway. Does nail art differ for runways and editorial shoots?

Sometimes, it really does depend on what the client wants. Many times you will find editorial shoots use runway looks as inspiration to create the story.

How much creative input do you get on a shoot?

It really does vary; sometimes the photographer I work with will ask my opinion and I will make suggestions. Other times wardrobe specialists have a specific idea of what they want and they let me know. Some creative decision makers show a mood board with ideas and direction for the shoot, and in that instance we will all collaborate together on the nail look.


What would you say are the most important skills to make it in the highly competitive industry?

Being well versed in your craft is very important. Sometimes clients will want things that may not be achievable on the model selected; knowing your craft well will allow you to explain what can and cannot be done.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?

My advice would be to aspire to be the best at manicuring. I worked in a salon for many years before I became a freelance manicurist. My transition from the salon to freelance work was very easy for me because I’d worked in the salon for so many years previously. I had plenty of time to hone my skills, which you need to do to be able to create beautiful, perfectly polished nails in a very short period of time.


Great answer - thanks Kelly!


With that Kelly was gone, back to her world of fashion and photo shoots, leaving me feeling ever so slightly envious. If you fancy learning how to polish like a pro and follow in Kelly’s footsteps, why not take a look at the manicure courses listed on our site and get inspired.


Photo credits: Kelly Baber