There’s a hardcore disconnect between my teeming lacquer collection and my oft-naked nails. I blame it on my tips’ natural flimsiness and my general tomboyishness, but I can’t help hoarding all the gorgeous tones. From neon lime to near-black purple, with every greige in between, I’ve got them all. And now, as I stare down at the jars of pigment—red, yellow, blue, black and white—on the table before me at Essie’s New Jersey factory, it’s hard to fathom that all the colours in my stockpile, let alone the 1,000-plus the brand has ever created, are born of these five.
I’m here to mix up my own holiday polish while learning exactly how the product is made. Before I get to the glittery-good stuff, there’s a ton of science. More than 96 percent of a lacquer is made up of resins and solvents. The lab’s entryway is outfitted with microscopes, swinging pendulums and glass gadgetry to test glossiness, viscosity, uniformity and more. I throw on my lab coat and protective glasses, ready for the real fun.
“Dial it back 50 percent,” cautions Bryce Ramos, senior manager of global product development. Apparently, most novices get overzealous and end up with what he calls “a neutral swamp water.” That’d be the antithesis to my joyous vision: a deep Christmas-tree green, with a metallic finish inspired by Getting Groovy, the vibrant gold from Essie’s winter collection.
So I heed Ramos’s warning, and use a plastic tube to add yellow and blue to my clear gel base, one slow drop at a time. I twist on the lid and shake between each teeny addition. After 10 minutes my base is still translucent, albeit turquoisey. Finally, I dare to squeeze full pipettes out at a time, add black to darken it, wait and then add white to brighten it. I totally lose track of what’s gone in (a real chemist would need to weigh out and record each move). I hold my breath and shake, shake, shake.
Surprisingly, the colour is perfect. I gleefully head to the shimmer cabinet—yes, that’s a thing, and it’s magical—to snag a silvery powder for the metallic finish.
I spoon it into my creation, add a bit more black, and I’m done. As I pour the emerald liquid into Essie’s signature square bottle, I’m asked what I’d like to call it. I pick a name as spirited as my shade: Fir Sure.