THIRTY YEARS AGO, if you had told Essie Weingarten that her clients would one day include Madonna and the Queen of England, she'd have wondered if the polish remover fumes had gotten to you.
In 1981, the scrappy entrepreneur from Queens, NY, created her own 12-polish collection because she was bored by the paltry drugstore picks of pinks, reds, and corals. "I figured other women must be, too," she recalls. She figured right. After aggressively peddling her fledgling line to nail salons in Las Vegas, business took off in the early '90s when salons began to boom in cities and suburban strip malls nationwide. From the initial daring dozen, the collection blossomed to more than 200 shades-including the best-selling, sheer pink Ballet Slippers , which has sold more than 5 million bottles. Particularly popular among Essie's latest batch is Exposure, inspired by a hot pink pincushion she spotted in China. A lady right down to her fingertips, Weingarten graciously spilled her makeup secrets.
1. YSL TOUCHE ÉCLAT: "I may know a lot about nailcolor, but I can always use a little help with makeup. This concealer/ highlighter is a miracle worker; I put it on my eyelids, over dark circles, on anything I want to hide."
2. LANCÔME ARTLINER IN SMOKE: "As much as I love bright color on nails, my eyes look better in neutrals. This gray liner is my current favorite."
3. YSL LIPLINER #8, MAC LIP PENCIL IN SPICE: "I rarely wear lipstick, because it doesn't last on me. Instead, I use a liptoned liner; I've been devoted to MAC's Spice pencil for years. If I'm going to a black-tie event and want to turn up my makeup a notch, I'll wear a berry-colored liner-like YSL's #8."
4. PANTONE COLOR GUIDE: "I find inspiration for new nailcolors in the strangest places, so I'm never without my Pantone color chips. If I am in love with the color of an item but can't buy it, I just find the Pantone chip that's closest to it and jot down notes about the adjustments I'd make [i.e., 'more shimmer'] for it to work as a polish."
5. YSL MULTI ACTIFS CONCEALER: "I use this on those days when the Touche Éclat is just not enough."
6. YSL BRONZING POWDER, 7. CHANEL INCOGNITO BLUSH: "My hair is a statement- making silver-which I like-so I never want to detract from it with too-bright makeup. I apply YSL bronzing powder all over, then Chanel Incognito, a brownish-pink blush, on my cheekbones."
8. CLINIQUE HAPPY, 9. CHANEL ALLURE: "This fragrance combo works well with my body chemistry. It's neither too fl oral nor too sweet-I get compliments on it all the time."
10. ESSIE LIP GLOSS IN BALLET SLIPPERS, FED UP, AND TEA & CRUMPETS: "Plain lip liner can look a bit dry, so I've recently taken to layering one of my delicious vanilla-flavored glosses [Essie's lip-gloss collection launched in late 2005] on top."
11. LANCÔME EYESHADOWS: "To play up my dark eyes, I use an array of Lancôme's brown and burgundy shadows."
12. HERMÈS BIRKIN BAG, 13. HERMÈS SCARF: "I like happy accessories. When I sling this bright orange bag over my shoulder and tie the cashmere scarf around my neck, they instantly perk me up. Just like bright pink toenails do!"
14. ESSIE NAILCOLOR: "I literally accessorize with nailcolor, because most days I'm wearing head-to-toe black. Right now, my favorites are a sheer pink called Mademoiselle and a dark chocolate red called Wicked."