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It's the day after Christmas, and the fancy organic spa/nail salon I supposedly have an appointment at is dark, closed. I'm a town over from my parents' house in Massachusetts, badly parked in a random lot, cold, annoyed, and resigning myself to the idea of showing up at my boyfriend's family Christmas with chipped-away nails, proving myself to to be a very messy woman. But when I tromp back to my car in the 5:30 p.m. blackness, I realize I parked directly in front of another nail salon — one that’s open. A Boxing Day miracle.
The unexpected salon is brightly lit, intensely clean, and mostly empty, just three women sitting behind marble tables, reading their phones. Inside, I settle into a massage chair, hand over my polish, and glaze over as I stare at the TV mounted on the wall. Prices appear next to stock footage of nails being painted and eyebrows being waxed, all in a loop.
The slideshow advertises birthday party discounts and brags about hygienic considerations (disposable plastic backing in the pedicure tubs) and flashes the phone number of the very salon I'm sitting in, which doesn't seem the most super helpful but okay, and then a woman's picture pops up. Blonde with big eyes and perfect nails, this salon would like to extend its thanks to her, Tippi Hedren. Hold up.
You might not know who Tippi Hedren is, which is kind of a shame but mostly the natural consequence of time. If you do know her name, it might be because she's the female lead of The Birds, Melanie Griffith's mother/ Dakota Johnson's nana, or the "girl" who endured a lifetime of sexual harassment from Alfred Hitchcock's sinister profile. Her legacy is very Hollywood Hollywood blonde blonde glamour glamour men are garbage men are garbage never forget. If you're like me, you did not know her as the patron saint of Vietnamese-run nail salons.
Here’s what I learned from the slideshow and a bit of idle Googling while I was being pumiced: When Saigon fell in 1975, Hedren was working with a charity called Food for the Hungry. The actor went to visit a California refugee camp, Hope Village, with the aim of helping women who’d fled South Vietnam find sustainable work in their new country. In 2015, Hedren told Take Part that she "brought in seamstresses and typists — any way for them to learn something," but the women — mostly the wives of high-ranking military officials — made their real interest clear quickly. "They loved my fingernails," Hedren said.
The first class of 20 manicurists learned from Hedren's own aesthetician, along with the help of a local beauty school. When they had nailed their new trade (you get it), the star helped them find work across Southern California. Today, nail salons are a multi-billion dollar industry in the US ($7.47 billion in 2013, to be exact but slightly out of date), though not without serious controversy concerning worker compensation and rights. As of 2015, 51 percent of nail workers in the nation were Vietnamese, and in California that number is more like 80 percent. And at least at Simply Nails and Spa in Bedford, Massachusetts, they credit this in part to Hedren.
By the time the slideshow cycled through enough that I committed these Tippi facts to heart, I had flawless nails and a new fact to trot out during the lulls at cocktail parties. You can try it too! "Did you know Tippi Hedren helped kickstart the Vietnamese nail salon boom?" you and I will ask, picking up crudite. "Ah!" our conversational partner will reply, before leaving to get another drink. I mean, really, what did we expect them to say to that? "That's Dakota Johnson's grandma!" we'll shout after them, but they're already gone.