06/05/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Growing up in Phoenix, Deborah Lippmann dreamed of singing on Broadway. Then, just before earning a B.A. in musical theater in 1981, she panicked about how she would pay the rent. "I was having my nails done," recalls the 41-year-old chanteuse, "when a lightbulb went off."
Lippmann became a manicurist by day to support her jazz singing at night—and has parlayed that fluky decision into a career as bicoastal buffer, filer and polish maker to the stars, including Cher, Julia Roberts
Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell
. "Her manicures are clean and beautiful," says Sarah Jessica Parker
. "I always have Deborah's nail polish in my purse." Many clients become virtually addicted to the Lippmann touch: Mariah Carey
kept the manicurist backstage during 1998's VH1 Divas Live concert to change her polish color four different times.
Soon after, Lippmann offered to create a silvery-beige nail hue for Carey to wear to the Oscars—and her business was born. In September, with help from brother Mark, 36, a keyboardist, and husband Jude Severin, 35, an aspiring actor, Lippmann launched a line of nail polishes bearing her name that is expected to rack up $750,000 in sales this year. The creamy $15-to-$18 lacquers (all named after songs, such as the sheer pink "Prelude to a Kiss," Parker's favorite) are mixed with vitamin B to strengthen nails and green tea extract to calm. "I wanted the pigment to be intense," Lippmann says. Just like their creator, who insists, "I still want to sing in Les Miz!"