December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lady Gaga’s elaborately decorated fingernails get their own close-up barely 20 seconds into her 2011 “Yoü and I” music video. Her adorned hands are a focal point in wider shots throughout the six-plus-minute video featuring the artist as multiple characters, including a mermaid, cyborg, nymph and bride; in one cutaway, she even spits out a nail. All 10 Lady fingers were the handiwork of nail technician Judi Wendt of Rêvé Salon & Spa in Rockbrook Village, who says this video shoot was simultaneously the most challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating project in her 20-year career.

“They [called and] said, ‘You’re going to do a shoot with Lady Gaga’ and I about wrecked my car!” Wendt said.

Because the song was inspired by the singer’s relationship with Nebraskan Lüc Carl, the video was filmed near Springfield in July of 2011. Lady Gaga called in Marian Newman, described by Wendt as “the Rachel Zoe of the nail world” who then sought a local specialist to assist her, on one condition: she must have experience in a new nail technique called Minx. Wendt not only was one of the rare nail technicians in the area with Minx expertise at the time, she had actually been in the first training class ever offered by the Minx creators. Already a fan of Lady Gaga, Wendt didn’t hesitate to accept the project, even though it meant rescheduling 43 appointments.

“It was very hush-hush…I told my clients ‘It’s really cool, and you’re going to be very excited when I can tell you what it is,’” she recalls.

“They [called and] said, ‘You’re going to do a shoot with Lady Gaga’ and I about wrecked my car!”

The action on location was fast and furious with Wendt logging 42 hours in just three days, and the nail designs were developed right on set.

“I had nails in my pockets at all times, and I wore a tool belt that had been designed by Marian for things like this. You run in and out, and you’re on the floor, searching in the hay; it’s crazy,” Wendt says. “She brought cases and cases of rivets and nails and all these metal pieces, and thousands of polishes, tips and Gelites, and all this stuff.”

Although she admits to having a few “My God, that’s Lady Gaga!” moments, Wendt says working with the superstar was overwhelmingly positive.

“She was ultra-gracious and super-professional. Intense, but not in a bitchy way, just very drawn into what she was doing,” she says.

19 November 2012- Judi Wendt is photographed at her home for Omaha Magazine.

The Marian Newman connection led Wendt to a New York Fashion Week gig this fall, styling nails for six shows by various designers. Although she may return to future Fashion Weeks and has discussed European opportunities with Newman, Wendt says her husband and two sons, ages 10 and 14, and the family’s involvement with their activities will keep her anchored to Nebraska for now.

Surprisingly, Wendt’s career stemmed from a part-time job she stumbled into during her college years.

“This all developed along the way. I don’t think I ever realized that I had an artistic niche…I never wanted to do hair or nails. I have a business degree from UNO,” she says, adding that both her education and a bit of luck helped her become successful in the increasingly competitive nail industry. Wendt says she enjoys her loyal clientele, including several families now in the second and even third generations, and the creative outlet that doing nails, “an extension of fashion,” provides.

“One of the reasons I love this business,” she says, “is that it’s never the same.”

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