When Tom Bachik says he does nails for a living, the typical response is, "Oh, you're in construction." To which the fresh-faced skateboarder usually replies, "Sort of." He does construction, all right, but his tool kit is filled with colored polish and emery boards, not drills and handsaws. Bachik, 32, is one of L.A.'s small fraternity of male manicurists, and these days he's on the tips of many famous fingers.
If Bachik is a rarity in a traditionally female field, his laid-back attitude and sporty garb make him a downright novelty. An extreme sports junkie with artistic ability, Bachik airbrushed jet skis, helmets and motorcycles in his early 20s but, with a baby on the way, found the money inconsistent. When a cousin studying hairstyling suggested cosmetology school, Bachik laughed it off--until he heard that successful manicurists can make six figures a year. There was also the thought of "sitting in an air-conditioned room [with] women paying me to rub their extremities," says Bachik, now a paterfamilias who lives with his wife and three children in Murrieta, near Riverside. "I was enrolled the next week."
He had the knack for detailed nail work, but he wasn't doing nails for magazine shoots right away. He first made his name at the annual conventions on the hair-and-nail-show circuit, where manufacturers showcase products and contests are held for hair and nail designs--an aspect that sparked Bachik's competitive side. He became a star at these galaxies of gorgeousness, grabbing attention in flamboyant threads (what he describes as "raver style baggy pants and multicolored hair") and flashing arty nail designs.
Within a year of getting his manicurist license in 1994, Bachik was ranked as the No. 1 nail competitor by the trade publication Nails Magazine, and was tapped by Creative Nails, then a division of Revlon, to help develop acrylic products and teach in beauty schools.
Since signing with the exclusive beauty industry booking agency Cloutier two years ago, Bachik has done funky sculpted glam claws for hip-hop, pop music and film stars. Most recently, he worked on Lisa Marie Presley for the cover of Rolling Stone, though the King's daughter stayed away from her dad's over-the-top style and opted for a clean, closely cropped princess look. But there are chances to go wild, such as a job for pop singer Pink, who was being shot by edgy photographer David LaChapelle. "She was wearing a black '80s-retro bondage outfit with pink ripped material hanging from her arm,'' Bachik recalls. "I started with a base color of bright pink, then applied one thick coat of black polish over the top. I scraped the wet black polish off, giving the illusion that the nails were ripped open. I pierced the nails on each side, and with pink and silver embroidery thread I laced the nails up like a corset, leaving different lengths hanging off the tips. Everyone freaked!"
These more outrageous designs fit Bachik's street kid aesthetics to a T--and yes, he still skates. He addresses more common nail needs in his development work for a company called Young Nails in Anaheim, where he is a vice president ("We're building a skate ramp in the warehouse."). Beauty and the board are opposites only on the surface, it seems: Bachik sees everything he does as self-expression. From airbrushing to candy apple red nail polish, it's all art. "Nails just happen to be my canvas."