Essie Weingarten, Founder, Essie Cosmetics

Essie Weingarten

"I loved getting my nails done as a little girl. It was my favorite treat. I was the ultimate tomboy—I loved to play outside, stickball, baseball, spud, jacks, you name it—but I also loved going to the beauty parlor after ballet class. That was my girly time. Every Saturday, if I was good in ballet, my mom would take me to the beauty parlor—because there was no such thing as a nail salon—and she would let me get my nails done. I still get a manicure once a week; I never do them myself. Back then, what they had in beauty parlors in terms of polishes was very limited and quite boring. So, my dad would take me to his cousin’s pharmacy, which was an old fashioned apothecary in New York near where the Apple store now is on Fifth Avenue, and he would buy me any polish I wanted. They would have, not a huge selection, but they might have twenty colors, compared to salons, which at that time would maybe have twelve colors. So, I always thought there was definitely a void, and an opportunity like no other. All the cosmetic companies were busy doing lotions and potions and eye shadow and mascaras and lipstick and creams and no one was doing nail polish. If I could come up with great colors and an unbelievable formula that would go on like silk and wear like iron and would look wet for a week to ten days, then I would have something. And that’s how it all started in 1981, with $10,000.

At first, I went looking for a chemist that would listen to me. When I found the right guy, it was like, ‘Wow’: the formula went on great, it looked wet, it was shiny, and the application was easy. Then, I had to start with colors. I had a satin pincushion that I fell in love with—this raspberry color—I gave him that. And as I traveled, I saved great-looking colors, I gave him everything, and he matched them all up. I always say, ‘If the color fits, wear it.’ Because, if it’s pleasing to the eye, it’s going to be pleasing to the soul. We have three original colors: Bordeaux, which is like a fine bottle of red wine, and which is the first burgundy that I did and is still alive and does very well; Blanc, which was a stark, chalk white; and Baby's Breath, a soft white, which I came out with so that women could have a French manicure with a natural looking tip instead of the white-white tip. Those colors are thirty-one years-old. The pincushion happened to be Fiesta, and that one has also been around for about thirty years. Lots of colors have had staying power. Ballet Slippers, which became as important as the name ‘Essie,’ we did the second year we were in business, so that one is twenty-nine-and-a-half years-old, almost thirty years.

Originally, I sold door-to-door, meaning I’d get in the car, see salons, stop, and I always had samples in the trunk. I launched in Las Vegas first, in ‘81. I lived in New York, and I flew out to Vegas with ten cartons of nail polish because I said, ‘Where am I going to find women who have disposable income?’ Vegas has dancers, cocktail waitresses, dealers, showgirls…Everyone has to be perfect. Hands and feet. There were less than a hundred salons there, but I got every hotel beauty salon. And it took off from there.

Inspiration could happen anywhere, really, and at anytime. You see something—like the color of your shirt is amazing—and from there, I can start a collection. Everything I do is a collection of six, so there’s got to be a common theme, either with names, or colors that work together. I mean, they don’t have to be in the same category, but if there’s a fabulous rust, then I can come back with a fabulous green, because green and rust works, or a wonderful brown, and so on, until it tells a complete fashion story. I never know when my creative juices run wild, and sometimes it’s thinking of the name and sometimes it’s the colors. We were in Warsaw [Poland] probably a month ago for the Euro Cup and I saw this purple, but I saw it everywhere. When I asked the people I was with about it, they said, ‘What are you talking about, purple? We don’t see purple anywhere.’ And it was the color of the backdrop for the Euro Cup, and people didn’t even realize it. It looked so fresh, and it’s a new spin on purple. So, I’ve been working in that color range—that’s a category that’s not overdone for us, so between lilac to purple, we can have so much fun. I guess because I’m a woman, I feel that I know what women want and if I get tired of colors, I’m feeling that other people do, as well. Of course, you have your timeless classics that you can wear from the bedroom to the boardroom to the ballroom and always be dressed perfectly.  But right now, greens and blues have been huge. I can never do enough blues and greens. People go wild. Why? It makes us happy: it’s the sea and the sky. Greens can be nature, it can be grass, it can be beautiful flowers…

I’ll usually come out with eighteen colors when I’ll only need six, and then we do process of elimination with my team. I always listen to what people have to say, but the final decision is mine. For example, everyone says I’m the 'no-yellow girl' because everyone in the world was doing yellow this season and I wouldn’t do yellow. It really doesn’t sell. And they were like, ‘No, no, no, we have to do yellow!’ I said, ‘Well, let the other companies do yellow.’ At the end of the day, it’s a great accent color, but to wear yellow, it’s very difficult. So all these companies did yellow and if you go into the stores, you see yellow still sitting on the shelves.

In Europe, as far as color is concerned, women are a little more sophisticated. They like a lot of green, and they do a lot of accent fingers—having the ring or index finger a different color than all the others. It's a lot of fun and it's a conversation piece, which is what this is all about. People say, ‘Why nails?’ and I say, ‘Number one, it’s an affordable luxury. Number two, it takes any old outfit and makes it new, and three, you can talk about it for days.’ For women, it’s better than any psychiatrist. We really relax. We put down the baby, we put down the iPhone. It’s our time to zone out. Now, of course, it’s a phenomenon. Everyone’s talking about nails. And I am laughing because number one, everyone thinks that they’re going to make a gazillion dollars, and number two, they don’t realize if the color doesn’t sell, they’re stuck with it. There’s nothing you can do with a dead color. It’s like now with all this shatter and crackles and whatever, you can’t give it away. But last year, you couldn’t get enough of it. We did not do it; it was a big miss.

When I was in the ladies hosiery business before starting my company, all the pantyhose had great names. I learned that if you give things names that women appreciate and adore, they’re going to remember it. If you give them numbers, no one remembers numbers. I mean, what’s your passcode, what’s your password, what’s your this or that? We’re numbered to death. And while every color has a number, women don’t remember the number, they remember the name. And if they don’t remember the whole name, they remember part of it... I like to have fun with names. I would love for them to be descriptive, but sometimes they’re not. Sometimes, I just let my personality influence the color names and just have with it. And the naughtier the better, I have found. The number-one-selling red last holiday season was Size Matters. Come on! I told the team, ‘I don’t know what you’re thinking about, I was thinking about diamonds!’

Wicked, our black red, was world famous. It was like, how bad can you be? When I came out with it—it was 1986—everyone was like, ‘Are you crazy? No one’s going to wear black nail polish.’ And I said to our distributor in London, ‘Just try it. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll take it back.’ She went to London and she called me right away and said, ‘Sold out immediately. You have to get me five thousand more bottles.’ Mademoiselle, which we did with Mademoiselle magazine, way before Chanel came out with Coco Mademoiselle, became a best-selling color worldwide, as well as Ballet Slippers. In The Devil Wears Prada, she says the girls at Vogue wear one coat of Marshmallow and one coat of Ballet Slippers. These colors take on life of their own. Of course, I've had misses. A few yellows—four different ones. Mellow YellowMini Shorts. I also had Grammy Crackers—I thought it was genius—and Oscar Please, a greenish-greyish color... I’m a very good winner, and I’m a very bad loser. But I always say that I know I can do six colors that will sell, so why chance it [with a risky color], but sometimes I just have to get it out of my system.

I’m wearing Who’s She Red. I used to always wear sheers—everyone knows me to wear one coat of either Ballet Slippers with Mademoiselle, or Blushing Bride with Sugar Daddy, or Vanity Fairest with Aurora. But recently, I’ve been doing lots of reds. Before this, I was doing A-List and then before that, it was Lollipop. I just have fun with colors: it makes me happy and why not?

Let me say, your nails, number one, are like jewels—don’t use them like tools. When you need to open a can of pop, get a can opener or a spoon, don’t use your nails. There are so many times a woman needs to tighten a screw, even on their little Cartier bracelet—get the screw driver, don’t use your nails. If you think about the fact that your nails are special, that they are an extension of your jewelry, you’ll be good to your nails. Always push back the cuticles, don’t cut—the more you cut, the more it grows. Cuticle oil, you should have on your nightstand or by your desk. Always use a basecoat because it protects your nails and helps the polish stay clear. We like you to wait two minutes between each coat so you have time for it to set. I always like to do two coats. However, for men, one coat of Mademoiselle is brilliant. My husband, Max, wears one coat of Mademoiselle and no one can tell. Anyway, then you must seal the deal with a top coat.

I love nails that are fingertip length; I’m not one who loves claws. Yeah, it’s great for business, you know, women who have nails like this take a bottle of polish. But I think an elegant hand is a great look. There’s nothing wrong with it, though, if it makes you feel good. However, chipped nails make me crazy. If my nails are chipped, I’m like, ‘I’ve got to get to the salon and I’ve got have them fixed now.’"

—as told to ITG

 Essie Weingarten photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on July 31st, 2012.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • claire

    My HERO I only buy Essie!! :)

    • Saintx007x

      I agree. Essie is the 1st woman of polish. When everyone else is a bit garish or tacky Essie is elegant.

  • Charu S.

    It is so great to wake up everyday and see an amazing post on ITG! Thanks!

  • yanksgurl613

    So interesting to see her background!! gigi. food and beauty blogger @

  • polishfan

    I LOVE THIS!!!!
    for the longest time I've been holding out on essie nail polishes, thinking that the brand was not as trendy as opi, zoya, china glaze or others of the same niche. now that I've read her philosophy towards color, I'm now a fan!
    wicked and fiesta are such good colors btw, never would've thought that they existed before I did!

    • claire

      Not to mention the quality of the polish is usually superb.

  • Jessica Eubanks


  • Cherry Lxl

    Great article. One of my favourites ever. Her approach to beauty and nail polish : so organic, so fresh. What a lovely read xxx

  • VotreAmie

    Incredible start and story!!! I love hearing about the beginnings to what are now empires! Thank you Essie - Without you, we certainly wouldn't have nearly as lovely nails, that's for sure :)

  • m.fay

    LOVE this interview. She is wonderful.

  • Lindsay Sue

    The last line kills me. I love it. I HATE chipped nails. They give me anxiety.

  • The Procrastinator

    This was such an interesting read! I love Essie, it's great to get her perspective on colours and such. Thanks for the article! I have the biggest urge to put on Lollipop now.

  • Guest

    BEST interview I've seen on your site, Emily. Great job! :)

  • Rachel Phipps

    Essie are my favourite nail polish brand, and I think they always will be so I absolutely loved this article, thanks for posting it and putting it together. When she was talking about the purples and the collections I looked down at my nails and smiled; I'm currently wearing 'To Buy, Or Not To Buy' from the Spring 2012 collection.

  • reddysteadygo

    I love my Chanel and Butter London, but Essie polishes always have a special place on my shelf and in my heart. They are just good, and it's so apparent. I am happy to see that was intentional. They never dry out, they're always gorgeous and the staying power is phenomenal. As I type this my little jewels (I always thought of nails as jewels too!) have Essie's Sand Tropez on them!

  • freudianslippers

    This is fantastic. I've read a lot of different interviews with Essie but I've never actually heard the story of how she got started. Loved it!

  • KarlaGG

    such a great interview!!! love essie! xo

  • Mabelmatilda

    Essie is my FAVORITE brand! Love this post, thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Simone Cruz

    I love Essie!!! My favorite color is limo-Scene!!

  • Doutzen

    Essie seems to be a force of nature. Very assertive in what she knows. That's a great quality for any woman let alone business woman. It's nice that she's got the luxury to get her nails done every week. Salons skeeve me out. Using the same tools on everyone. So gross. Some say to just bring your own tools. But if I'm going to go through the trouble of buying my own high quality tools, why wouldn't I just learn to do my nails myself? Well, that's what I did. Though, unlike Essie, I like 5 minutes between coats. I paint coats on the commercial breaks of my favorite 1hour tv show. Also, I sensed a few jabs at OPI in her interview. Maybe that's just me reading of it. :-)

  • Amy Dickey

    LOVE HER. LOVE. Fantastic!

  • mlle p

    I am probably one of the few buying the off shades no one else likes - I love a weird color, especially for toes. As I type, I have on (hands) Essie's Stroke of Brilliance blue sparkles over some other light gray, so it looks like that cheap vintage tissue paper in a way.
    Thanks Essie!

  • Tahianasaude

    "your nails, number one, are like jewels—don’t use them like tools. When you need to open a can of pop, get a can opener or a spoon, don’t use your nails."
    That is soooo over the top! Of course you should take care of your nails and keep them polished, but they are a part of your body, you are meant to use them! To scratch, open cans, close your bracelet, and so on...

    • Guest

      Of course, but it's nice when people have a particular quirk, it gives something big away about their character, which is pretty obvious in this case.

  • aprilbm

    AMAZING interview! I LOVED reading her story! Thanks ITG!

  • ashleigh @ Jolie Jouel

    So cool! I love Essie nail polishes so hearing about the brand and how she runs the company was a real treat. I wish it could be my job to name nail polishes.

    My jewelry blog:

  • Cay

    Hah, I remember that Essie nail polishes were some of the first "nice" cosmetic products that I bought for myself when I was a teenager (no, they're not Chanel, but $7 or whatever they were then was a LOT compared to the $1 New York Color ones that I usually got). They've been a staple in my beauty arsenal ever since. I love that someone so fascinating and driven is behind the brand.

  • Oni Johnson

    officially my favorite article. She is such an inspiration. and i cant help but buy a bottle of polish every single time im in a drug store

  • AsphodelJones

    I agree, this is a lovely read. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go polish my nails. :)

  • Paige Chang

    Absolutely love this article! Before this I had no idea there was a woman actually named Essie behind the Essie nail polish line. What a great peek into the history and creation of the product.

    xx Paige @

  • YM

    Brilliant. Devoured every word of the article. One of my favorite ever--it makes me really appreciate Essie more than ever!

  • Joy Of Stranger Sensibilities

    I love Essie so much! Used to use OPI for god knows why.

  • larissa

    This article is very interesting! I just wish I could find those polish more easily in Mexico!

  • Kath

    This was a good read, but does anyone else find that the formula of Essieis not always the best? I really like the colors, so I occasionally buy Essie, but I find that the formula tends to be streaky and thick. This is even when I use an Essie base coat! I can normally do my own nails well, but not with Essie. Does anyone else have this problem or have a tip? I am sad because I like the newish copper penny shade very much.

    • claire

      It depends ..for example last fall's color power clutch is my "go to"' color mainly because the formula goes on so perfectly..on the other hand the color turquoise and caicos is so pretty, but whenever I use it it's so thick. I guess it depends on the polish and also where it's stored and how long you've had it.

      • Ally

        That's funny because I have Turquoise and Caicos and I'm always impressed at how WELL it goes on. I wonder sometimes how long the polishes have been sitting on the shelf or if they were exposed to any extreme temperatures before I bought them. I know that can effect the consistency.

        • Halee Legge

          I find the same, LOVE my Turquoise & Caicos. Formula is lovely and great coverage with two coats!

    • Rese

      I've had that problem with colors like KNOCKOUT POUT which I love love but can never apply on my own b/c it goes on clumpy...absolutely adore Essie polishes but I've noticed it tends to stain my nails yellow more so than other brands

      • claire

        hey rese are you applying a base coat first? that usually prevents staining.

  • Fairytalesandcoffee

    I like Professional Posts, especially when they discuss the development of their business. More of these please, too and Top Shelfs. :)

  • SFStar

    Excellent article. I appreciate the increased frequency of your interviews (Professional, Top Shelf, Face) with the new format, which I am getting used to online. I think she's an enthusiastic business woman and I am always amazed at how many new colors Essie comes out with each year. I still don't understand why we have to have so many shades of light pink - and what's different about each shade - and I can never put on those light shades without having them look streaky as mentioned above. The other thing that is GREAT is her beautiful salt-and-pepper hair. Yeah!

  • Alice

    I'm absolutely essietatic about Essie!
    Heehee :) That was the best I could come up with.

    Essie seems to be such a cool person! I really loved hearing about why she began her company and all the work she had to put into it. From what I've noticed, all the most successful business owners have the most interesting stories. they take their own experiences and transform them into something that tons of people can appreciate and understand!

    Doutzen seems to have hit the nail straight on the head in terms of many points.
    Essie does seem to really know what she wants and how she's going to get it.
    More women should be more assertive.
    As for her points about salons....let's just not go there.
    Maybe if I don't think about the germs in salons, I won't scare myself.
    Even still, I like to do my own nails because it's fun!
    Very therapeutic stuff right there :)

    There's so many interesting things that Essie says that I agree with.
    I could probably go on and on for days just talking about this interview...which I definitely shouldn't do!

    To keept it (relatively) short, nails are awesome!
    They're fun to play with and definitely an affordable luxury.
    Even if people aren't like Essie and can't afford to go to the salon once a week, taking the time out of your life to take care of your nails every once in a while is a good thing.
    Take care of yourself. Love yourself and pay attention to the little things. They make all the difference!

    The Ace of Hearts

  • Meredith Paige

    This is a great post. I find it really interesting to hear what Essie had to say about her brand. Thanks for sharing such great quality content. I did a blogpost recently on a NOTD with Essie Lollipop. I love that color for summer.


  • Bridget

    My favorite interview so far. Such charming and fun anecdotes. Also love the uncompromising assertiveness of Essie herself who proves that having fun being a powerhouse and having fun being a girl aren't mutually exclusive.

  • Casalina

    What a great post... her story is inspiring. Loving the new look of the site!


    and she cooks too.........

  • Joanne Yun

    Have to comment - Essie sounds lovely, and has an absolutely surefire intuition when it comes to her business. Thank you for an inspirational interview!

  • Moore2harrell

    I have to agree with the other posters about Essie polishes being streaky or clumpy..I have tried Geranium (thin, streaky) and Turquoise and Caicos (thick and clumpy). I love the color selections but haven't had any luck with a decent application. Also, when I apply a clear topcoat, the polish color "comes" off on the brush and my nice bottle of clear topcoat is now a pale pink.

    • claire

      I had the same experience with turquoise and caicos, but not with other colors so far..

  • Liliana

    I'm a totally Essie girl. If you look in my stash, 80% of polish is Essie. I think her eye for color is brilliant and the formula is great! Love that once in a while they will stretch their comfort zone and will come up with a chunky glitter or with a random bright green :) Great job Essie! - a great website where you can buy Essie online and they have great deals!

  • Ivy

    I love love love essie, they are the best nail polish EVER!

  • Becca @ The Beauty Sample

    Essie is absolutely my favorite nail polish brand! Love this post

  • ARR

    Inspiring! More interviews of this type, please.
    p.s. What brand & shade is that beautiful blob of pink polish on the upper right-hand corner of the home page? Thank you in advance.

  • Runwaytodestiny

    I really like your blog, do you want to follow mine?

    Love Laura

  • Damaris Chamorro
  • Dagmaral

    I love Essie colors. My new fave shade is A Crewed Interest and I agree, the names are as fun as the colors. Fifth Avenue is my favourite strawberry red. Essie always gets me to try colors I never thought I'd wear.

  • Tine/Inattendu

    Great interview, great woman!

  • Disneyrollergirl

    'nail polish closet'?! Love it

  • Deborahclindsay

    I've seen lots of other women wearing the blues and greens, but I just felt it was too trendy for me. Then I fell for Essie Turquoise and Caicos, which I'm wearing and loving right now. Fresh, summery, and yes, like a piece of jewelery. Thank you Essie and thank you ITG for the great article.

  • fassfass

    I'm going to have to buy a bottle of mademoiselle the unisex color of Essie. Thanks for sharing your story, Essie!

  • kaia

    just last night i spotted a girl at a party wearing Haute as Hello, one of my go-to colors, & we bonded over our love of Essie. such wonderful colors.

    so fun, i love her spirit!

  • Palaging Huli

    Please bring back Starry Starry Night!

  • Rolah M. Lønning Osman

    How inspirational! I love these types of stories, strong intelligent women! Thank you for letting us get to know one more of them.

  • Hafsa Issa-Salwe

    Such an inspirational woman and this is definitely the best interview I've read on ITG!

  • Carmen

    Essie looks so nice! I enjoyed her last year during Lucky FABB

  • Sakita Holley

    I never get tired of hearing Essie's story.

  • Sue S.

    Loved the article. Work wise I have connections to the Essie brand- so I was intrigued by this article. I also loved the fact that I wear the same colors Essie talks about as her staple colors... Glad to hear I'm on the same color track!

  • liz

    I love Essie nail polish- I remember going to the nail salon as a little girl just like Essie did. I would always get pale pink nails (either Essie Mademoiselle or Fiji or Sugar Daddy). I wish Essie would do gel color though- my nails just chip way too fast with regular polish!

  • murt

    Wow I didn't know that Wicked came out in 1986. I always thought it was a Chanel Rouge Noir dupe!

  • sandra

    i will buy essie for life! perfect colors! love!

  • Shewhoiscrazy21

    you are the nail polish queen! love love love your brand!!

  • Phoebe

    This is brilliant! I love getting a little behind the scenes insight.

  • Leahdsmith

    Is Essie planning on coming out with a gel system? I want to buy an at home system but would wait for Essie's as they have THE BEST pales, i.e. Ballet Slippers, Limosine,...NO other line has the neutrals like Essie.


  • shelley

    Reading this makes me love essie even more. When I travel I carry four bottles of essie in a sunglass case to keeep them safe. i hate chip nails also, so I always have to fix any imperection. I wish shE talked about the details of her bottle, shes the only one that makes the product look good inside and out. I love the classic square shape and the embossed glass, its so elegant and timeless.

  • Lavinka

    Fantastic article! i'm using nothing but essie!
    lots of love!

  • Ashleigh

    It's so cool to see the face behind one of my favorite nail polish brands. My favorite colors are mademoiselle , geranium , dive bar and mod square

  • sprinks

    Please! I totally love your nail polish. BUT a manicure is not the same as psychotherapy and this is not better than a psychiatrist or psychologist. It does women a disservice to compare manicures, lovely as they are, to therapy for serious problems. Could you re-think? Or think before saying something like you did?

  • Amy

    I love Essie polish so

  • Shifah Khan

    Wow I have always loved your nail polishs and always liked the names you have given them but one of my favirotes is mint candy apple and muchi muchi

  • Eve

    Yellow is my favourite nail polish colour. From light creamy pastel yellow to deep mustard shades. I would love to find the Funky Limelight and the banana shade that essie once did. (Though I would have given them better names!).