Meet the Colombian-Honduran Woman Behind Cookie Lyon’s Baroque Nail Art in Season 3 of ‘Empire’

In 2015, Empire became an unprecedented TV phenomenon, and Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon became not only the most quotable character on television, but its most fabulously dressed. Dripping in Moschino, Gucci, Fendi, Aquazurra, and Judith Leiber, Cookie’s over-the-top opulent looks make normcore minimalism seem like the most boring thing on earth. As Henson put it in a pre-awards interview from Los Angeles, “You’re looking at a woman who was living for 17 years in an orange prison suit. She had all that time on her hands to think every day of her life, ‘When I get out, what am I going to wear?’ ”

Empire costumer Paolo Nieddu told Fashionista that when it comes to dressing Cookie, his goal is to make her clothes “the Instagram meme.” Maybe that’s why Henson turned to Instagram to debut the ornate nail look Cookie will wear during the show’s third season. On August 11, Henson posted a closeup image of her black, gold-accented, Egyptian-themed press-on nails.

In doing so, Henson introduced her more than eight million followers to Cristy Sánchez’s creations. “#Cookie is having MAJOR fun in your custom nails!!!” she wrote, tagging the Colombian-Honduran celebrity nail artist. This year, Sánchez’s custom nail design will adorn Cookie’s hands. A few months ago, Taraji’s makeup artist, Ashunta Sheriff, found Cristy’s designs through Instagram. Ashunta asked the Miami native if she’d be interested in creating nails for Cookie. Of course, when you get an offer to contribute to Cookie’s often talked-about style, you jump at the chance. So Cristy created 44 sets – a total of 22 designs – for Henson.

“#Cookie is having MAJOR fun in your custom nails!”

Like the rest of us, Cristy will have to tune in week to week and analyze every little detail of Cookie’s look. She doesn’t know what designs Henson and her team ultimately decided on. All she knows is that she created enough nails for Cookie to wear for 18 episodes. Before Henson praised Sánchez’s nails on Instagram, the whole thing seemed almost like a dream. “I was overwhelmed with excitement to say the least,” Cristy told me. “Before seeing the post, it all felt surreal. I was in a state of disbelief, excitement, happiness. Then, seeing her post just made everything real, and I was just happy to see all the positive comments and likes she was getting from the nails.”

Sánchez started perfecting her nail art skills about three years ago, though most of that time, she practiced on herself. As she told Scratch Magazine, it wasn’t always pretty, but she took great pride in her designs. When she started, she was a stay-at-home mom who loved the world of nail art. Wanting to break into the business, she became a certified technician. This led to working at a nail salon, where she rarely got to do exciting, intricate manicures. Only her friends and loved ones really knew what she could do.

“I was always drawing and designing things. Now, I’m doing the same just on a smaller canvas.”

Taking a cue from so many other talented nail artists who expertly use social media to run a business, Cristy opened an Etsy shop and advertised her skills on Instagram. In March 2016, Nailed by Cristy was officially born, giving her a chance to tap into her creativity. “Ever since I can remember, art has always been a love of mine,” she said. “I was always drawing and designing things. Now, I’m doing the same just on a smaller canvas.”

Starting small, Cristy purchased just 25 sets of nails to dip her toes into the world of online entrepreneurship. To date, she has made about 500 sales through Etsy. Scroll through her reviews, and you’ll find that in just six months, she’s built a loyal and happy client base. As one Nailed by Cristy customer said, “They are unlike any other press-on nail I’ve ever used. They look like I got my nails professionally done. They’re flawless and I get so many compliments. I just want to say you are truly an artist and a master at your craft.”

While comments like these make Cristy feel flattered and thankful, they’re the direct result of all the work she puts in. Cristy focuses on her growing business full-time, and doesn’t have any set hours for working. But, as she tells me, she works a lot and works on about 10 designs at once. Some designs only need a quick 30 minutes, but others can take as much as three hours. She currently offers 59 customizable sets of nails – and they all put you one step closer to channeling your inner Cookie.