What Fashion Week is Like for Manicurist Madeline Poole

The Sally Hansen Global Color Ambassador talks about what it's like to crawl around the floor backstage during fashion month.
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The Sally Hansen Global Color Ambassador talks about what it's like to crawl around the floor backstage during fashion month.
Manicurist Madeline Poole. Photo: Sally Hansen 

Manicurist Madeline Poole. Photo: Sally Hansen 

Manicurists arguably have one of the most difficult backstage jobs during fashion week. Imagine trying to paint nails and toes while crawling around under tables without getting stepped on.  It's a crazy life, and Madeline Poole, the Global Color Ambassador for Sally Hansen, tells Fashionista what it's like. 

How did you get started doing nails?

I had moved to LA after college. I was in art school and I was doing odd jobs, mostly creative jobs, and I was working with a stylist at the time. I was on a Nordstrom photo shoot. That was the first time I ever saw hair, makeup and manicures backstage. I was like, "This is such a strange job." But I was really particularly curious about the manicurist, because I just couldn't believe it was an actual job. You could paint nails on a photo shoot and make a living at it? I was quite good with detail and miniatures and I just knew I was good at painting nails even though I was unpracticed. I enrolled myself in beauty school a few weeks later and I opened up a fake nail shop in my bedroom. That was four and a half years ago.

How many seasons have you been doing fashion month?

I've been doing it basically since I started — I did smaller designers when I began. I think the first show I did was Eckhaus Latta, which we did last year with Sally Hansen too. They're young and around my age. I knew them from friends of friends. I did Hood by Air also one of the first seasons, because they're friends of mine.

How soon before a season kicks off do you start working on designs and talking to designers to figure out what you're going to do?

I get a packet of textiles or drawings that are glimpses into the collection and then I can pull references and make nail trees on fake nails that are ideas that I think might work. Then I'll meet the designer and have a conversation about whatever I'm showing them and how I can change or alter it to be exactly what they imagine. And then we usually do the test with hair and makeup and that's where we'll figure out exactly what we're going to do.

How often does it happen that they need to change a look completely at a hair and makeup test?

It definitely happens. I think for Adam Selman we had an idea that we talked about, but then right before the test we came up with a whole different idea and we did that there. You're there for two to three hours just trying out every combination and seeing which one works best. It's really helpful because you can see it with the hair, the makeup, the clothes, the lighting and that kind of thing.

Are you good at coming up with ideas on demand?

I think so, yeah. I have a big library of ideas in my head. I think especially with shows it's helpful for me to have some kind of structure, because you have the clothes in front of you and the colors. When someone says, "OK, do whatever you want" and they give no restrictions, that's actually way harder for me to think on my feet.

Sometimes you have to paint nail art on fake nails before the show because of time constraints, right?

I have successfully never done that because I don't really like the way it looks. I've always been able to do something that you can paint there on the scene. 

What's in your kit?

I definitely keep my kit as minimal as possible. There's a Sally Hansen tool belt that's really nifty and it fits everything. I also bring a tiny folding step stool and some pedicure slippers. I love my stool.

Madeline with her tool belt. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

Madeline with her tool belt. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

There can be like 30 models in a show. Do you ever have issues with the team having to redo the nails or being unable to get the design? 

Part of developing an idea for a show is making sure it's a thing that everyone is capable of, not just yourself. It also has to be something that's time efficient. That's why we use Sally Hansens' Complete Salon Manicure, because you don't have to use a base coat or top coat, so it saves quite a lot of time backstage. If there's a way we can use some kind of sticker or appliqué to do whatever it is we're doing or if there's some kind of tool we can use to speed up that process and make it more uniform, we do that.

Every season more and more designers use nude, natural shades. How do you feel about that?

I do understand it for certain collections that are really colorful and I think it looks nice. Sheer nails are really beautiful and I like wearing them, but of course as a manicurist it's not the most exciting thing for me to do. We always try to push for something a little extra. There are a lot of ways to do that that are still subtle. Maybe you add a hint of white somewhere or there's some kind of opalescence. 

Any new nail trends this season?

I would definitely say there's a lot of negative space. That's been around for a while, but what's cool about it is it feels more tomboy, it feels more cool than painting the nail fully with a color. I think people are more open to using bright colors and designs when it's a clear nail underneath. It's a good way to incorporate color without overwhelming the look and it also has way less dry time.

I always feel bad for the manicurists backstage because they're always on the ground, getting stepped on under the hair table. What's it like trying to crawl around to do your job?

It's not fun, to be honest. It can be ugly. I've had people yell at me before and I'm like, 'OK, I'm just under this table but you can yell at me if you want.' That's why we all bring as little as we can because you have to be ninja-style. Everybody brings a stool and we all have a tool belt because we have to travel from person to person and fit in tiny places. I even have one nail tech who wears a headlamp — it's very funny.

Do you ever get attitude from models? And how often do they mess up their nails?

They're usually pretty good about not messing up their nails, but messing up their toes is definitely a thing that happens. Another reason I don't use fake nails is because models hate it so not using them, they're always really happy. Usually we get on the models' good side that way.

Potential looks at the Prabal Gurung nail test. The look on the right, featuring Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure in Mum's the Word and Let's Snow won. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

Potential looks at the Prabal Gurung nail test. The look on the right, featuring Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure in Mum's the Word and Let's Snow won. Photo: Nina Frazier Hansen/Fashionista

So what do you wear? Are there go-to outfits for crawling around on the floor?

I wear a lot of stuff with pockets. I have this jacket... it's kind of like a smock and there are big pockets in the front of it. Or cargo pants, which look really cool. (laughs)

What are your go-to cuticle and hand creams to keep cuticles looking nice and your hands not looking a mess?

This is good if you're removing a color — there's a vitamin E cuticle oil that I put on my cuticles before I use nail polish remover, and that way you don't get that white chalkiness. It counteracts that. 

Any tips from backstage for drying a mani quickly?

I use Insta-Dri top coat or I'll use the quick-dry drops. Other than that, people think you can use a hair dryer, but actually that just melts nail polish so I don't recommend doing that. And waving your hands in the air messes up the level of the polish so I don't recommend doing that either. Especially if you have a design, it will melt or blow to the side from waving your hands so much.  And make sure you paint your coats really thin and don't overload the nails. There's no other real magic.