Georgyanna Giardini has spent 45 years buffing her manicurist reputation

IN A CITY where there's a nail salon on every corner, the woman who may do it best works inside her Los Angeles apartment, polishing and buffing the nails of the famous and not-so-famous with extraordinary zeal and opinionated wit.

Georgyanna Giardini has been perfecting the mani-pedi for 45 years, and in that time she has buffed Uma, Sarah Jessica and a host of other celebrities. But she will not paint ornate orchids on nail tips, use glitter or rhinestones, succumb to fads like blue nail polish or even apply acrylics. She can tell from your feet if you run or ski, wear high heels or traipse outside barefoot. Show her nails that are chipping, and she may conclude it's caused by the way you hold your dental floss. If your cuticles crack and peel, she'll ask if you're using a facial product with glycolic acid. If your polish lifts, she'll explain that one must never, ever apply any kind of lotion or oil (even on your body) before a nail appointment.

Want a French manicure? Don't bother asking. You'll be told, no can do, it's tacky. Inquire if she ever met a nail problem she could not fix? She'll confidently reply, "No."

Allure magazine ordained her one of the best manicurists in Los Angeles, and Vogue has called her a "legendary buffer." In fact, Vogue has been known to send a town car for the 70-year-old, size 2 woman with a Betty Boop bob, so editors from New York can line up at their hotel and experience her two-hour mani-pedi.

"I've never met anyone with her incredible skill," says Teen Vogue editor in chief Amy Astley, who favors a buff to a nail polishy done-up look. "Her work is beautiful. It lasts and your nails look healthy and clean, like shiny pink baby nails."

Giardini is not one to boast. She doesn't advertise. She doesn't even work out of a salon. Instead, she goes to clients' homes or they come to the manicure table in the living room of her L.A. apartment. It is not a glamorous operation: no fluffy spa robe or massage chair -- actually, no massage, period. ("You want a massage, go to a masseuse," Giardini likes to say.)

This low-key operation has not stopped a steady word-of-mouth business built on the hands and feet of judges, doctors, business leaders, politicians and actors, many of whom she won't name. She begrudgingly divulges some: Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Harvey Keitel, Randy Quaid and Geena Davis. But she utters even these with trepidation because, she says, "I am as loyal to my clients as they are to me, and that's the way it should be."

Giardini got her nail technician license in 1963 and started working as a manicurist at the Professionals, a barbershop in the San Fernando Valley. Her first client was Johnny Mathis, and she was so nervous that he sang her a song to put her at ease.

At that point, Giardini says, she probably couldn't file straight. "There were only a handful of manicurists and many worked at hotels or at private clubs," she says. "And all of our clients were men. I hate to admit it, but back then pretty much no one knew what they were doing; we just had to be good-looking and do our thing."

But a French woman at the Professionals who took her vocation seriously taught Giardini what is still the basis of her buffing technique. From there, Giardini moved on to Manny's Barbershop on the Sunset Strip and then became the in-house manicurist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a job that required training from a staff podiatrist.

"I feel like she's in her excellence when she's doing your nails," said Lara Harris, a client for 13 years, who is a model and a psychotherapist. "She's not just getting by giving manicures; she feels the work on a deep level, and her sense of scale and proportion and color is perfect."

Buffing nails with a chamois tool and buffing cream takes elbow grease. Although the technique is included in nail school textbooks, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI nail products, said that even though it's a classic look, it's rarely taught.

"Buffing done well is truly a dying art. It's an old trade that you don't see many people doing anymore," she said. "Financially, it doesn't make much sense for a salon to offer that service. It's a hard technique to learn how to do safely and it's hard on the shoulders and hands. . . . It's much easier to just put on a coat of clear polish."

For Giardini, who wears a necklace that says "10 1/2 ," slapping on a coat of clear polish would never suffice. "My clients are perfectionists and so am I," she said. "If they weren't, they wouldn't know the difference, and if they don't know the difference, I suggest they go get the $10 job."

Georgyanna Giardini, (323) 655-5046, Manicures are $30, pedicures $40; manicure-pedicure house calls start at $150.