A Day in the Life of a Celebrity Manicurist at the Oscars

Photo: Courtesy of Julie Kandalec and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim
Photo: Courtesy of Julie Kandalec and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim

You might think the only career in nails involves working at a salon, but there's a whole other world out there when it crosses over with celebrities. Julie Kandalec is a celebrity manicurist with an extensive list of clientele, including Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Kerry Washington, and many, many more. She always knew she wanted to do nails for a living, but working with A-listers is a different ballgame. Now, she primarily works on photoshoots, movie premieres, and award shows, like the Oscars.

That's why, on the night before the 2023 Oscars on March 12, Kandalec flew from New York City to Los Angeles with a 75-pound suitcase filled to the brim with nail products. She was working with the brands Chanel and The GelBottle and doing the manicures for Blunt and Chastain, so she had to be prepared.

If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at one the biggest nights in Hollywood, keep reading. Kandalec is sharing exactly what a day in the life of a manicurist at an award show looks like, starting with red-eye flights and finishing with celebratory In-N-Out burgers.

2 Weeks Before the Award Show

The Oscars may only be one night for viewers, but for the beauty professionals working it, the show begins long before that. "Oscars prep starts weeks in advance," Kandalec tells POPSUGAR. "It's like a wedding — tons of prep and it's over in mere hours."

Kandalec has had the pleasure of working with both Blunt and Chastain many times before, which makes things a bit easier. "I know what their needs and aesthetics are, which is helpful for selecting products for them and also packing."

She used The GelBottle for Chastain's nails and Chanel for Blunts. When a brand sponsors an award show look, they supply the products. "They each made sure I was stocked with the newest shades and products about two weeks in advance," says Kandalec. Then she checks that each product is still available on the brand's website so that when she shares the product breakdown with her followers and press, nothing is out of stock or discontinued. "I'd never want to use a shade on the red carpet and then people couldn't get it for themselves."

She also makes sure the rest of her kit is well-stocked with every tool she could need, stopping by her salon in New York City to get any missing items.

Photo: Courtesy of Julie Kandalec

The Night Before the Award Show

The night before she hops on a flight, she begins to pack. "I always wait until the last minute in case I get new products or ideas, but also I procrastinate," Kandalec says. "People think that we just grab our kits and go — I wish. I have thousands of bottles of lacquer and gel polish alone, and for each job, I hand-select what I bring based on who I am working with."

For a regular, every-day-job it takes her about an hour to pack; for the Oscars, it took her two hours.

The Day Before the Award Show

Kandalec got a flight out of New York to Los Angeles the day before the Oscars at around 5:30 PM est. "This season, my luggage was 75 pounds so I had to split it into two bags, and both get checked," she says. "I have not had a bottle break or lost a suitcase yet."

Six and a half hours later, she landed in Los Angeles. Despite arriving late in the evening, she still wasn't done. "After I landed Saturday night, I spent another hour re-packing the two suitcases into one large one to bring with me the [next] day." Then, she got some sleep to prepare for the following big day.

The Day of the Award Show

On the day of the Oscars, Kandalec woke up at 7:30 AM "so I could have an espresso and breakfast," she says. She ate a leftover Greek salad with chicken from Urth Caffé from the night before. "The chef was sick so no room service." While the Oscars red carpet typically starts at 2 PM pst, the prep work began at 10 AM pst.

Photo: Courtesy of Julie Kandalec

Before she can start, she has to set up her workstation in the hotel room. The time it takes to do an award-show-worthy manicure varies. "Sometimes clients just need a quick mani — always a dry mani, never soaking — or other times they want gel or need a rebalance first," Kandalec says. "I have spent anywhere from 45 mins to three hours with a client before an award show."

For an award show, the manicurist, hairstylist, and makeup artist often work simultaneously, so Kandalec operates around her co-workers for the day. Most of the manicures she creates are on natural nails, but they occasionally use extensions — although she tries to avoid using press-ons when possible. While she loves the idea of them for everyday wear, she doesn't like to risk one popping off on the red carpet.

Once the star is in their gown for the night, Kandalec does one last check of the nails to make sure they're perfect and applies some cuticle oil before sending them off. Then, she has to repeat the process on her next client, which sometimes includes heading to a new hotel room or location entirely. For the Oscars, Kandalec did Blunt's nails first before moving on to Chastain.

"I wrapped the nails at 4 PM and immediately took my assistant to In-N-Out, then I had to go through content and posted until I boarded my 11 PM red-eye back to NYC." It's a whirlwind less-than-48 hours, then it's over.