Tippi Hedren, at a movie promotion with Alfred Hitchcock, in 1963. Los Angeles Public Library

How Tippi Hedren became the godmother of the Vietnamese nail industry

The Vietnamese-American nail industry originated with an act of kindness by a Hollywood actress in 1975.

After the fall of Saigon, tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees arrived in California. Tippi Hedren, the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” volunteered to help at a refugee camp outside Sacramento.

The immigrant women, Hedren told Nails Magazine in 2015, were fascinated by her polished fingernails.

“They were long and coral,” she said. “I asked my manicurist, Dusty, to come up and teach them how to do the Juliette manicure. All I wanted to do was find a wonderful career for these 20 women that I just fell in love with.”

Hedren with refugees she helped train as manicurists in an undated photo.

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The Vietnamese-American nail industry was born.

The students of Hedren’s manicurist became among the first Vietnamese women in the U.S. to get their nail licenses. A few opened salons. Friends and family were recruited into the “mani-pedi” business, which was reshaped to cater to everyday women, not just the well-to-do. In time, the Vietnamese diaspora grew to dominate the $8 billion nail salon industry.

Hedren, who has been honored numerous times as a hero to the Vietnamese immigrant community, now runs a wildcat preserve north of Los Angeles. In a BBC interview a few years ago, she joked about the butterfly effect she unwittingly set in motion. “I sure wish I had a percentage of it,” she said. “I wouldn’t be working so hard to keep these lions and tigers fed.”

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