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Being Lady Gaga's manicurist: 'So much work'

Manicurist-to-the-stars Naomi Yasuda creates tiny, creative masterpieces ranging from ice-cream designs to images of Beyonce.  "My goal is for the general public to become familiar with nail art and see how intricate and creative it can be," she tells TODAY.com.

In our series "What Beauty Means to Me," women from different backgrounds share their thoughts on aging, modern challenges, and of course, their makeup and skin care secrets. This week, we interview manicurist-to-the stars Naomi Yasuda.

When Madonna, Alicia Keys, Eve and other celebrities want their nails done, a regular French manicure simply won’t do. They call on nail artist Naomi Yasuda to create unique designs on the smallest of spaces.

“I did Madonna's nails for her Super Bowl performance this year,” Yasuda, 28, told TODAY.com. “Words cannot describe how excited I was. It was one of the most memorable jobs in my career. Also, I loved working with Steven Tyler. I did his nails for an Aerosmith concert. He invited me to his concert and when I saw his nails on the huge screen I almost cried.”

Yasuda’s creations include everything from ice cream cones, M&Ms, New York icons like the Empire State Building, jewels, stripes and animal prints. Manicures take anywhere from a half hour to two hours, and the hard work pays off: Her recent work for DJ Roxy Cottontail featuring images of Beyonce and Jay-Z was blogged about approvingly by Beyonce herself.

“My goal is for the general public to become familiar with nail art and see how intricate and creative it can be,” she said.

The native of Japan got her start in nail art there, where it has been popular for the past 10 to 15 years.

“I always liked doing my own nails,” Yasuda said. “Then I started doing my sisters’ and friends’ nails. Soon after, I realized I was really good at it.”

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Though Yasuda has attempted other media, she enjoys creating her artwork on fingernails the most. “I tried painting a couple times,” she said, “but I prefer a tiny canvas like nails.”

Yasuda moved to New York five years ago after visiting the city just once. “I was so inspired and amazed by people’s energy, fashion and the diversity. But I didn’t speak any English and I didn’t know anyone in New York.”

Through her work at the Hello Beautiful salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as well as her Web site , Yasuda found a niche. Her first famous client was singer Keri Hilson, for whom she designed neon pink leopard nails for a magazine photo shoot.

“Keri's makeup artist also worked with Lady Gaga as well,” she said. “I got a chance to work with Gaga through her. I must say, I was really lucky because I have met most of my celebrity clients through my clients from my salon.”

Last year, Yasuda worked with Barney's New York for a Lady Gaga pop-up shop and made suitably exotic nails for the fashion-forward star. “I created four different press-on nail tips and two kinds of minx nails,” she said. “Also, I handmade 1,500 nail tips (for the Barney's installation). It was so much work but they are the most unique and crazy nails I've done yet.”

Yasuda believes beautiful nails enhance people’s overall appearance. “Nails are very important parts of our beauty, because even when you have no makeup, even when your hair is not done, your nails still make a striking statement.”  

Her own, of course, don’t stay very nice for long. “My nails always get ruined by doing other people’s nails,” she said. “I like to change my own nails every two weeks … I personally like simple nails for myself. Sometimes simple nails are the way to go.” 

Fingernails, for Yasuda, are the ultimate accessory.

“I always think having beautiful nails (or) nail art is like having a piece of jewelry on your fingers,” she said. “You can express your personality and style through your nails. Having beautiful and healthy nails makes you feel beautiful. That feeling gives you confidence, and confidence makes you happy. It makes you look even better.”

What are your favorite beauty products?
“I love Helena Rubinstein Magic Concealer ($37, amazon.com). It covers dark under eye circles very well. Also, MAC Liquidlast Liner ($18.50, maccosmetics.com) — this eyeliner is long lasting and I like the texture of it. It looks like latex after you put it on your eyes.”

Is there one thing you absolutely must do before ever leaving the house?
“Perfume. I tend to (like) woody, oriental perfumes like Kilian.”

Who’s your style icon?
“My friends and clients. I get to really know them and admire all that they accomplish.”

How do you manage your hair?
“I have very long hair. It’s very important for me to get hair treatments. I do it once a week and don't sleep with wet hair.”

Skin care/makeup tip to live by:
“Take off all your makeup before you go to bed — no matter how late.”

More from this series:
Beauty secrets from an 80-year-old ‘goddess’ of style

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