How nail polish gets named, according to the co-founder of O.P.I.


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I love manicures for many reasons. That hour where I’m getting my nails cared for is my form of self care. I get to zone out while it’s happening and then stare down at the cool shade I’ve chosen all day once they’re finished. My fave part of the whole thing, though? Looking at the nail polish names when I’m picking out a color.

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann agrees—and she should know. As the co-founder of O.P.I., the ubiquitous nail polish brand known for its tongue-in-cheek color names, those nail shades called I’m Sooo Swamped!  and Teal the Cows Come Home are all her.

“Nail polish names are probably the most fun part of the whole business,” says Weiss-Fischmann, whose brand-new book I’m Not Really a Waitress explores O.P.I.’s beginnings. “Women always look forward to not only the fun shades, but the names. When I’m getting my nails done, people always look at the bottle at the name—so I thought it’d be so much fun to see how much women look forward to the shade names.”

She contributed to that experience by helping to transform O.P.I.—which started out as a dental supply company, by the way—into a nail lacquer mega-brand in 1987. Fast forward thirty-ish years, and it’s catapulted to take the spot as one of the most popular polish brands ever. And since nail polish names bring such joy to everyone, I thought I’d pick Weiss-Fischmann’s brain on what it’s really like to invent those fun color titles. Keep scrolling for my Q&A with the co-founder and brand ambassador to find out more.

How do you come up with colors for nail polish?

I’ll typically do many iterations of a color. When I did the You Don’t Know Jacques from the France collection, it was a greyish brown and it was a very new shade then. I think I did like 14 or 15 of them, and just picked them—no science to it, it’s just a feeling. We love to eat and travel at O.P.I. so I said we should do destination collections and then seasonal collections, and of course other things like holidays and movie ties. I develop all the colors and shades from trend inspirations, and of course all of the inspiration from my travels to a city or a country.

What’s the process actually like when you decide on shade names?

Once the shades are done, then there are about six of us who sit in a room and it takes six to eight hours to just throw out names. It’ll be me, someone from purchasing, someone from customer service, a brand manager, and someone from marketing, and we also always invite a guest from O.P.I. from a different department. We’ll always have food that’s representative of the city [in the collection], because that’s very important. We’ll have books around and then just play on words. Lots of times there’s a Suzi name included. I remember one from a Japan collection was Suzi Sells Sushi by the Sea Shore.

How big of a connection to the actual color are the nail polish names?

There’s always some connection with the name and the color, whether it’s real or not. Sometimes we put a color into a name, and sometimes it’s just my own vision, or all of us sitting in that room, who say how perfect a name is for the color. Obviously Cajun Shrimp would be a shrimpy color, or coral. But it could be subjective and it could sometimes be more real. It’s usually a six month process for me to complete 12 shades for a seasonal collection.

What are funny stories you have behind some of the nail polish names?

When we launched the color Suzi and the Lifeguard, my daughter was like, “Mom, you’re married!” I also remember sitting on the bleachers at my son’s baseball games when he was young and some women would come up to me and be like, “Oh, you know what color I’m wearing?” I love creating a personal connection with women through fun names.

What’s your favorite nail polish that you’ve made?

I’m gonna say the obvious, which would be the first one: I’m Not Really A Waitress. It really tells women that they can be anybody…If they have the passion and they really want something, they can do it—so it really connects with me.

How do you choose when it comes to your own nails?

I often switch my color. I travel a lot, so I always put on gels just because it makes it easier and it’s foolproof. But when I’m home I’ll usually paint them twice a week. I put on gold for the Oscars, which was fun. It’s a great conversation piece—I really put on any color, from greens to blues to yellows and anything in between. I try fun things. My go-to color is always Malaga Wine—it’s a burgundy shade, and it’s more of a classic. We’ll see what I put on next.

Speaking of your mani, here are the best supplements to take for healthy nails. And this is the secret behind how to make your nail polish last (hint: it’s about pH balancing). 

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