Meet Tom Bachik, Chanel’s First Ever Celebrity Nail Artist
Tom Bachik makes for an unlikely manicurist. A California skater boy with a graphic design background, Bachik fell into the nail business in 1994 and has since built up an impressive clientele (ScarJo, Gwen Stefani, and Victoria Beckham are all fans). It’s thanks to his Hollywood cred that Chanel—a brand that has recently become as famous for its ready-to-wear nail polishes as its iconic quilted bags—quietly signed him as its first ever celebrity manicurist. We caught up with Bachik while he was helping his brother film an NYU student movie on Cesar Chavez in Arvin, California, and grilled him on nail art, how he landed one of the sweetest beauty gigs around, and that pale blue polish in Beyoncé’s “Why Don’t You Love Me?” video (yup, it’s Chanel).
So…how did a straight dude from California end up a celebrity manicurist?
Oh man, you know what, it was kind of one of those…not accidents, but maybe revelations, I guess. I’d originally gone to school for graphic design, and at the time I was into racing jet skis and custom-painting helmets and things like that. My wife and I were getting ready to have our first son, it was the middle of a recession, and the whole starving-artist thing wasn’t working anymore, so I needed to find a real job. Then one day we were having lunch with my cousin, who was going to school for hair, and he was like, “You know, during times of recession, both the beauty and the alcohol industries actually increase in revenue.” Because people want to look and feel good! And those simple cheap pleasures like polishing your nails can make you feel much better in spite of everything else that’s going on. And I said, “Yeah, but I don’t have a year and a half to go back to school for hair and makeup,” and he’s all, “No, do nails.” At the time nail school was three months and he knew people who had opened a salon after graduating who were bringing in six figures. That happened on a Thursday; on a Friday we checked out the school, and on Monday I started.
Were there any other guys in your class?
Nope. Nothing. There was not one guy in my class. And at the time the whole Asian nail salon explosion hadn’t even happened yet, so there were even less guys doing it than there are now.
Do you think your graphic design background helped your new pursuit?
It really did help me. When I was in school I was thinking about how I was going to make nails into a career. And at the time nail art was really popular, so really I was just changing my canvas from helmets and motorcycles and skateboards to nails. I had an airbrush and I was good at all the little striping and the myopic detail, and my art background allowed me to approach how nails should look in a different manner. I think in general girls or guys put the nails on and then create artwork, whereas for me the nail itself is the artwork; it’s about composition and balance and positive and negative space, the length, the shape. So I think my perspective is slightly different.
And you’ve won awards for that perspective, right?
When I was in school, I discovered that they have hair, makeup, and nail competitions at these beauty trade shows. And it ranged from doing natural nails to crazy, futuristic artistic nails. I was immediately like, “I can compete, oh yeah, you chicks are going down!” I’ve always been way into sports, so I’m very competitive, and plus I saw that these competitions built industry credibility. I started competing within the first year of having my license and, OK, you’re going to laugh, I won the world championship of nails—that actually exists.
Did the world title get you some career offers?
After the competition I was approached by Creative Nail Design, so I started with them as an educator and consultant. It was interesting because I worked in marketing, sales, R&D, in the lab, all the different areas. Eventually I became their artistic director and would help create the color palettes for each season’s colors; I even have a few patents under my name. And they flew me around the world to train other educators and speak to these huge crowds about nails. It was sweet.
When did you make the jump to editorial?
At CND we were using a makeup artist named Francesca Tolot, who does, like, every celebrity, and she thought my work, especially the fantasy stuff, was amazing. She asked who my agent was, and I said, “Agent, huh? You can have an agent for nails?” So she brought me over to Cloutier, who weren’t really interested at first, but she kept pressing them until I started to get overflow work. Then suddenly everybody started raving about “the man-icurist” who knows all this stuff about nails. I just thought it was no big deal; being on set and slapping on Mademoiselle was way easier than being on stage in front of thousands of people explaining how to use products.
So how did the Chanel deal come about?
I started getting lots of press. I think Chanel, ever since the Vamp era, has been really well known for its colors, but since Peter [Philips] came on board, he has people going crazy. At the time I was working with Chanel makeup artists on a lot of shoots, and I was like, “Why do you all have these nail colors and I don’t?” So I started building a dialogue with Chanel; it was really just because I loved the colors and a whole relationship just grew from that. And it’s been really cool ever since. It’s a super-sweet gig, and it freaks me out to sit back and think that I’m the first manicurist in the history to actually have a contract with Chanel. It’s like, insane, and I don’t know if that reality will ever actually hit me.
Have you developed any color favorites from Peter Philips’ latest creations?
Of course! I love when they step out of the box a little bit. The Particulière was a huge hit; I kept being like, “Send me some more bottles, send me some more bottles.” Everybody was loving the taupe-y, cement-y gray color; Victoria, Jessica…it just exploded. And their new version of that, Paradoxal, has a little bit of shimmery purple in it that is amazing. And I love the Nouvelle Vague, that powdery blue. I just used it in a really cool Beyoncé video for “Why Don’t You Love Me?” where she’s a sixties bombshell. The nails are very sixties: softer, not quite an almond shape, a little bit of length and painted with Nouvelle Vague. So she has these bright red lips and the powdery blue nails, which look so great together. And Beyoncé, come on, she works her nails so the color just looks amazing in the video!
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel