Three years ago, Lisset Robles was living with her parents and two siblings in The Bronx’s Mill Brook Houses, practicing her nail art in a small corner of the living room. Now, her work is in the summer’s hottest movie.
Robles, of ArdelysBeauty (Ardelys is her middle name), did the glorious nail art in “In the Heights,” now screening in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. Her jewel-encrusted, brightly colored, intricately patterned talons adorn the hands of the film’s saucy “salon ladies” — played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco and Stephanie Beatriz — and their fabulously turned-out patrons.
“I still can’t believe it,” Robles, 25, told The Post in her native Spanish.
Robles came to the US with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was 14, joining her grandparents in The Bronx. Her mother quickly got a job at a fast-food restaurant; her father worked as a diesel mechanic. Still, Robles had a hard time adjusting.
“I cried and cried because I wanted to go back to my country,” she recalled. “I started high school here and the other kids teased me because I didn’t understand the language.”
Robles always had an interest in art and fashion. As a young girl in the Dominican Republic, she made necklaces and bracelets out of stones and found objects and sold them to her neighbors. But she hadn’t thought of doing nails until a bad experience at a salon in 2018.
“The woman passed the electric nail file so much to the point that [my nail] started bleeding,” Robles said. “From then on, I bought my own materials to do my nails myself at home.”
At the time, Robles was getting her degree in business administration and marketing, but she signed up for a nail course during her summer break. That led to a job at a salon in Williamsburg, and she began racking up clients.
One day, a gorgeous fellow Dominicana booked an appointment, and the two hit it off. “I thought, ‘I know you from somewhere,’ ” said Robles. Later, she saw her name in her log book: it was “Orange is the New Black” star Polanco. “I said, ‘Look! I did a famous person!’ ”
Polanco would travel to The Bronx to get her nails done by Robles — the two dreaming up increasingly complex designs. So when the actress nabbed the role of Cuca in “In the Heights,” she suggested her co-stars get their nails done by Robles.
“I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I give this opportunity to an immigrant, a young Dominican girl in The Bronx, to showcase her art on-screen?’ ” Polanco told The Post.
At the time, Robles was still working out of her parents’ apartment in the projects. “That’s where I did the nails [for the film],” she said. She lacquered and adorned nails for about 15 performers, who each had their own inspiration board based on their character. “It took me two days, from 8 in the morning to 6 or 7 at night,” Robles said. Her cousins helped, passing her a gem when she needed one, or keeping a nearby table stocked with snacks.
“It was a lot of pressure, because I couldn’t take more than an hour and a half on each person,” said Robles. That’s not counting Polanco’s show stopping claws, which took an average four to five hours to create. One design that glowed in the dark included lines of Swarovski crystals forming different star-like patterns “took the whole day,” said Robles. “I think I started at 10 in the morning and finished at 7 at night.”
A lot has changed since “In the Heights” wrapped filming two years ago. Robles has moved out of her parents’ place into her own apartment in The Bronx. She no longer has to work at a salon and can focus on her own clients and artwork. And she can finally see her work on the big screen.
“I loved the movie,” she said. “I felt so happy, saying to my family and friends, ‘Look! I did that!’ I just feel so grateful.”