Tippi Hedren: The Godmother of the Vietnamese Nail Industry

December 2019

One might ask what the American actress and star in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” Tippi Hedren, has to do with the history of nail salons in America. The former fashion model and activist had a lot to do with making Vietnamese refugees into nail salon magnates.

Raising the People After the Fall of Saigon in 1975

Hedren’s contributions to the movement began after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Hedren was working as an international relief coordinator at Food for the Hungry, where she assisted Vietnam refugees to find vocations. Many of the refugees had lost literally everything. Some had even lost their entire families.

The story goes that on one fateful day, Hedren was working with a group of Vietnamese women who were goggling Hedren’s impeccably manicured fingernails when she came up with the idea of these women learning the art of manicures and pedicures.

Hedren is credited with flying in her own personal manicurist along with additional support from a beauty school to teach 20 women the art of nails. She is also credited with helping them become properly licensed and find gainful employment in nail salons throughout Southern California.

Tippi Hedren Vietnamese Nail
Tippi Hedren and the original 20 Vietnamese refugees. Year approx. 1975-76. Image is subject to copyright.

Fast forward more than 40 years later, Hedren’s “mini-jobs program” continues to impact not only the nail industry but also countless lives of Vietnamese immigrants who have immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

According to “Nails” magazine, “As of 2015, there were around 130,000 nail salons in the U.S. Over 50% of all manicurists working in those salons are Vietnamese”—a ripple effect of the original 20 women’s perseverance and success that Hedren took a personal interest in and nurtured.

Tippi Hedren Vietnamese Nail
Recent photo of Tippi Hedren. Image is subject to copyright.

Hedren’s publicist, Harlan Boll with B. Harlan Boll Public Relations, shared with me that Hedren attended several reunions with these original 20 ladies over the decades and provided an original photo of Hedren with the group of 20 as well as images from one of their reunions.

A Product of Hedren’s Advocacy

Zionsville business owner at Mia Nail Spa, Brigitte “Von” Dan, shared her incredibly moving and personal story about her life in Vietnam and her journey that led her to the U.S. and to opening her salon/spa in the suburbs of Indianapolis.

Tippi Hedren Vietnamese Nail

“I lived in Vietnam until I was 15,” Dan shared. “It wasn’t that you aren’t allowed to ‘dream’ in [Vietnam], but you live on a day-to-day basis. Do I have food to eat today or tomorrow? I moved to America because everybody wants to be in America. It is a country of human rights and opportunities.”

More than 20 years ago, Dan’s parents came to Indiana with Dan and her two siblings via a Vietnamese connection who offered them a better opportunity and shelter while they got on feet. Her parents opened and ran a successful salon at 86th Street and Ditch Road where Dan worked part time as a young adult. Dan graduated from Southport High School and studied at IUPUI, where she nearly completed her degree in psychology and completed pre-med classes before marrying her husband, Vince Hoang, and starting her own family. She opened Mia Nail Spa—named after her daughter— in 2013.

“My husband saw my potential and said we should find a small place for me,” Dan shared. “He brought me to this shop [in Zionsville], and I when I saw it for the first time—even before walking in—I knew this was mine. I felt something loving and warm about this area. I was lucky enough that I could get it [the location], and the people here have been very kind and supportive. I love Zionsville.”

Today, Dan’s salon specializes in professional salon services such as nail care, waxing, permanent makeup, and microblading—a 3D brows technique—in a stunning salon that boasts beautiful decor and a relaxing atmosphere. She, along with her staff, are devoted to providing the best experiences and services possible for their customers.

Mia Nail Spa in Zionsville

When asked how she feels about Tippi Hedren’s advocacy for Vietnamese refugees—in particular women refugees—and her passion for starting the nail salon phenomena, Dan replied emotionally, “I am so grateful to have someone like [Hedren] because without people like her, a lot of Vietnamese parents—whose English is not as good—would not have had jobs using their artistic skills and would not have raised so many kids that are making many contributions throughout the U.S. and the world. Many [second generations] have become doctors, lawyers, work for the government and do so many great things because the first generation worked hard so that their children could better themselves.”

For more information on services provided at Mia Nail Spa, visit mianailspa.net.