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How Manicurist Jin Soon Choi Gets It Done at Fashion Week

Illustration: Samantha Hahn

For this special Fashion Week edition of “How I Get It Done,” we’re asking successful women about managing their careers and lives during this hectic time of year.

When Jin Soon Choi moved from Olympia, Washington, to New York City in 1990 with just $400 she’d borrowed from her sister, she immediately went to work at the now-shuttered Korean-owned nail salon Sunny Nails on the Upper East Side. There, she built a clientele for whom she’d offer in-home manicures and pedicures, biking to and from their apartments and earning herself the nickname “Bicycle Jin.” One of these clients, Andrea Pomerantz Lustig, who was a beauty director at Cosmopolitan at the time, introduced Choi to the agency Mark Edward Inc., launching her into the editorial world. 

In 1999, Choi opened a boutique nail spa in the East Village, the first of four across the city, and in the years following, she cemented herself as a mainstay in the world of nail art. Since then, she’s worked with brands such as Revlon, CoverGirl, L’Oréal, Maybelline, Sally Hansen, Mac, Sephora, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors; had her work featured in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue; and worked with the likes of Irving Penn, Marc Jacobs, and Amy Smilovic. In 2012, Choi launched her eponymous nail-lacquer line, which now sponsors shows during New York Fashion Week.

Choi — who lives in Soho with her husband, John (who happens to be the architect behind each of her spas), and their three cats, Choco, Bonbon, 
and Consuelo — is one of the most sought-after nail artists in the fashion industry. So it comes as no surprise that her Fashion Week schedule is a packed and hellish one. She let us in on how she gets it done.

On an average day during Fashion Week: 
I don’t mind working late, but I hate getting up early. I’m a night owl, so I stay up until two or three in the morning. If I have a shoot in the morning or a 10 a.m. show, I’ll get four or five hours of sleep. My last show will be at 8 p.m. In between, I also have photo shoots — yesterday I had a Lanvin photo shoot. If I don’t have any shows, I get up around nine o’clock because I usually go to bed around 2 or 3 a.m. I have a really good assistant who I trust and I send her to the test shoots if there’s overlapping bookings, so we kind of share. If there’s no overlapping, I go to everything.

I’m not used to going to sleep early; I cannot go to sleep early. I try to, but I can’t get used to it. Once in a while, I can take a nap if I’m really tired on a shoot. I’ve been working with this team for a long time. We know each other really well, so they’ll put a couch in the beauty room, and sometimes I get to nap on the couch for 30 minutes.

On the most stressful parts of the process:
My schedule is handled by my agency, but it’s the worst during Fashion Week. I have a lot to do, and it’s really hard to juggle. Sometimes things change last minute, but in general we try to schedule at least two days ahead. My agent enters it all into Google Calendar, and it reminds me.

It’s also stressful to put my team together. I have about 15 people on my team. I need to know, This person is good with this person and good with this style. I try to put appropriate people with each show.

On keeping her stamina up:
By now, I know which shows won’t have food and which will. At home, I’ll eat before going. I’ll eat lots of fruit and oatmeal. I try to bring a power bar or fruit in my bag or walnuts. I’ll bring some kind of quick snack and my coconut water and orange juice. It gives me quick energy.

On getting around:
I can’t take the subway because I have big bags, so I’ll take a Lyft or Uber.

On her backstage uniform:
I’m not stylish. I’m more casual and comfy. I wear T-shirts and jeans. My go-to shoes are Nike sneakers because I have to walk and move around so much. Comfort is the No. 1 thing I think about. People think backstage is very glamorous, and it’s not. Sometimes we have to sit on the floor doing toes, and I have to make sure I wear something comfy. I will wear fun tops that are tie-dye.

On the parts of her routine she forgoes during Fashion Week:
I don’t have time for anything. For skin care, I’ll still do K-beauty steps but no mask, no extra self-care. No exercise. No meditation. I have to focus on preparing for my fashion shows, so I cannot focus on other things. I know when this is done, I can go get a massage; I can go on the rowing machine, treadmill, and bicycle. I know they’ll be there after Fashion Week. If it weren’t Fashion Week, I would do treadmill and jump rope.

On unwinding:
I love K-variety shows, like comedy shows. Another thing that really helps me is when I watch cat and dog videos on Instagram Reels. That really relaxes me and makes me feel happy and let go of my stress. Lots of cats are so smart. They’re better than human beings.

On having help at home:
My husband takes care of the cats. I work from home when I don’t have any shoots for my Jin Soon lacquer line, so I have a home office, and one of my cats will always be with me, but I can’t do that when I’m gone for Fashion Week. I think they miss me; they walk around when I have to leave early like, Where are going, Mommy? I just watched Inside the Mind of a Cat, so I tried to train Consuelo. She’s not smart in general, but when it comes to food, she can be.

On skipping out on commitments:
I’m actually a pretty responsible person, so I cannot ever do that to any designer. I cannot do that to anyone. Even if I don’t like the look or the color, I can’t leave them in jeopardy. We can talk about it next season, but I cannot ever not show up. Even if I’m sick and dying, I have to go.

On what makes a successful Fashion Week:
No. 1 is no drama with my team. Also that the job goes smoothly. If something goes wrong, it’s not fun. If one hour before the show, we still have models to do, that’s not good. My heart starts pounding. Nail polish has to dry, and I don’t want to paint while they are in a lineup. I want to get the job done before they line up for the show. I want everything done smoothly and well, without any delay or drama, like I planned.