June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

Actresses. Models. Business-women. They all wear George Schaeffer’s nail polish. Even George Schaeffer wears George Schaeffer’s nail polish. “How else you gonna see if it works?” he asks.

It works. Thanks to OPI, the lacquer at so many celebrity fingertips, Schaeffer is perched atop the scratch-your-eyes-out world of high-fashion nail polish, with 20 million bottles shipped last year and $50 million in annual sales.

A former garment manufacturer in New York City, Schaeffer, 52, whose family came to America as refugees from Hungary, moved to L.A. in 1981 and bought a dental supply company that he renamed Odontorium Products Inc. When manicurists started buying his dental materials to make fake nails, he left the bridgework business behind but kept the company initials. The fake nails led to the multihued—and whimsically titled—lacquers in the distinctive curved bottles. After all, as Schaeffer says, “What do you do when you finish a nail? You put a color on it.” Among the choices for OPI customers: Head ‘Em Up, Mauve ‘Em Out; Wanted…Red or Alive; and Rodeo Rose.

Married with two teenagers, Schaeffer hired sister-in-law Suzi Weiss-Fischmann to help him run the company. “I have the crazy ideas,” he says. “She’s the one who carries them out.”

While he dries his nails.

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