Jenny Bui, better known by her clientele as the "Queen of Bling," is now the owner of two successful New York City nail salons and is beloved by both her loyal customers of 20 years and famous celebrities alike.
These days, she’s most famous for designing outrageous, jewel-encrusted manicures on Cardi B’s nails.
“Cardi B, she been [coming] to me for six years,” Bui told InsideEdition.com. “[The first time], she dressed like sweatpants, sweatshirt and I asked her, ‘What kind of nail you like?’ She said, ‘I want a lot of bling, and a lot of crazy stuff on my nail.’”
That first day, Bui designed cupcakes, ice cream and crystals on her nails and the designs have only gotten more intricate with even more bling over the years.
Bui also had a front-row seat to Cardi B’s growing success.
“People always have something to say about her, but I love her. She’s so humble,” Bui said. “She’s so loyal and she’s so nice with everybody. Cardi, she work very hard to get to today. She don’t even eat, she’s too tired, and she keeps going.
"She doesn’t give up, even when she has migraines, she has headaches, she still works and acts like nothing [is going on].”
Bui’s road to success is not unlike that of her famous clients. In fact, she still remembers fleeing war as a young girl.
“My childhood was really bad,” Bui said. “I used to see people step on bombs and die in front of me. It’s really bad. Even now, sometimes, I dream about bad things about my childhood.”
She was born in Cambodia in the late 1970s. Her dad was a cook and her mom sold soda on the street. She had eight siblings.
When she turned 5, the Khmer Rouge took over and turned their lives upside down.
“I [had] no shelter, nothing. I just lived in the air and [rain]. We don’t have shoe, we don’t have clothes to wear. We don’t have toothbrush and we don’t have nothing to eat,” Bui said. “One spoon of rice, we eat [between] 30 people. We eat papaya trees. We cut it, we scrub inside and we eat. And [it made] all our mouths and stuff infected.”
At just 8 years old, she fled to Thailand and got separated from some family members shortly after.
“[The Thai government], they drop me at the mountain. And that mountain is [covered in] all bombs,” Bui recalled. “You walk, you step wrong spot, you die."
She recalled one of the most horrific scenes she witnessed was when she watched seven people get killed while fighting over a little bit of water.
“[We had] no water to drink, no nothing. You have to dig a little hole to get a little water to come out,” Bui said. “You dig, and people just come and [steal] your water and [there would be] fighting. I see seven people fighting in front of me to get the water and they die because the bomb is right there.”
She also said she witnessed adults collapsing and children deserting their weaker family members to continue the trek.
Bui lost her younger brother along the way.
“My brother was 4 or 5. He died because he had chickenpox and we didn’t have a house to live,” Bui said. “The rain caught him.”
Even today, the dark memories of her childhood continue to haunt her.
“Nobody talks about that because they’re scared,” Bui said. “People tell me, ‘Oh, over there is so nice,’ but I’m thinking about my life before and I really don’t want to go back.”
Bui immigrated to Canada as a teenager, sponsored by her older brother, and began waiting tables and picking strawberries to earn money.
When she was 22 years old, she moved to the Bronx in New York City with her husband at the time. At 25 years old, she decided to study cosmetology.
“I go to all different nail salons to just stand there and look at people,” Bui recalled. “I start on my own nail, and my cuticles [are] jacked up, because I file with the machine everything and I'm all bleeding.”
She opened her first nail salon in the Bronx, then moved the salon to Harlem, where she stayed for 16 years.
Bui said she had a hard time early on in her career. Her customers cursed at her because of her lack of experience, she said, and some even yelled racial slurs.
But she continued to work hard to reach her goals.
“I keep going, because I know I have to feed my kid,” Bui said. “I had three kid at that time, very hard, work hard, because I'm a single mother, that's how.”
She eventually began perfecting her own style, inspired by manicure trends in Japan.
“One of my friends in Japan, she send me one book [and] it's a lot of bling. And I say, ‘Oh, maybe I should try that, because nobody in United States do that,’” Bui said. “Since that time until now, Queen of Bling.”
Bui became known locally for her manicures until reality star Yandy Smith shared the word and encouraged her to put her designs on Instagram, where she now has more than 700,000 followers.
“Some of them love, some of them hate me. So, I will say thank you to all my haters, too,” Bui said, joking, “You know, you don't have haters, you ain't poppin', right? That's why my little one tell me, She 9 year old. I say, ‘Baby, why Mommy always have haters?’ She say, ‘Mommy, you don't have haters, you ain't poppin'.’”
Bui now has two locations, one in Harlem and one in the Bronx. She has also come out with a line of crystal adhesives and accessories for all those following her work and aspiring to recreate her manicures.
But the entrepreneur’s biggest piece of advice is free: “Be patient, work hard, be humble and loyal. If people give you problems just hold it and smile with them. People cuss you out, just say ‘Have a nice day.’”