Adele Uddo is a model whose job is to stay mostly out of the picture. On a cover shoot for Town & Country, for example, Hugh Jackman perched on apple crates while Ms. Uddo stood beneath him, arm raised, so the only part of her in the frame was her hand cupping his face, her slender fingers tousling his hair. David Yurman bracelets were taped to her forearm so they’d hang artfully (and not catch Mr. Jackman’s beard).
“I actually used to be embarrassed about admitting I was a hand model, like I should be contributing more to society than nice nail beds,” said Ms. Uddo, who, like many women in front of the camera, declined to reveal her age. “But I figure we’re all doing our part.”
Ms. Uddo is one of the most successful parts models in the world, able to command as much as $6,000 for a day’s work, she said. She’s usually hired for her hands, which have grasped a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle, held a Christian Louboutin shoe, revealed a Dior Rouge lipstick — and have been stand-ins for those of Penélope Cruz and Katy Perry. But Ms. Uddo is also the rare parts model with more than one in-demand feature. Her abs, chest, feet and lips have also appeared in Vogue magazine pages and on billboards.
“Adele’s isn’t the Everywoman hand,” said Jennifer Adjali, the global director of education for Essie nail polish, whose campaigns often feature Ms. Uddo. “It’s that high-end luxury hand. She can sell diamonds.”
Ms. Uddo is sometimes rejected for jobs that call for more of a “mom hand” — say, to wipe up tomato sauce. “If I have shorter nails and more of a nude, natural polish, I usually can pass,” she said.
Ms. Uddo dropped out of college to become a model of the more traditional variety when a telephone psychic suggested it. (If that sounds like unorthodox career coaching … well, Ms. Uddo grew up on a California commune and also employs a psychic for her dog and cat.) But at 5-foot-6, she was too short for most jobs. Then one day her agent asked if she had nice hands and sent her on a call for OPI nail polish. She got the job.
The work can be tedious. She can’t text or read because often two manicurists work on her simultaneously. The process is repeated for up to 15 nail looks in a day.
“Luckily I’m a double Libra, so I can space out pretty easily,” said Ms. Uddo, who divides her time between the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan and Malibu, Calif., where her husband of three years lives.
Some hand models baby their hands, wearing armorlike gloves and keeping their arms raised to avoid bloating. (For George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” oven mitts did the trick.) But Ms. Uddo considers herself a “rebel hand model,” even hiking, a favorite pastime. She does admit to moving slowly and deliberately so as not to break a nail, avoiding cooking and limiting caffeine so her hands don’t shake on tight close-ups. She moisturizes with an all-natural lotion she makes herself and met a reporter for tea wearing fingerless gloves, which she kept on indoors.
Ms. Uddo said she wonders how long she can keep up a bicoastal existence (most jobs for “fashion hands” are in New York) and is working at bringing her lotion to market. She’s practicing her pitch (“It’s an all-in-one lotion!”), which includes putting an empowering spin on her work.
“We women can be hard on ourselves, but every woman should be able to find some part of her that she most likes,” Ms. Uddo said. “That’s kind of all you need in this business.”
A Hand Model’s Beauty Regimen
Ms. Uddo never fully dries her hands because it’s better to moisturize — something she does about 10 times a day — when the skin is still damp. She uses a concoction of coconut and vitamin E oils with shea and jojoba butters that she whips up in her kitchen. When she’s not using her homemade product, she likes Weleda (her mother had her use it as a child) and a lotion called Luxe by Ladybug Jane (a vegan line).
She avoids acrylics and gels (“too drying”) and likes Sally Hansen Hard as Nails nail treatment. If she needs a quickie manicure (not all clients have manicurists on set), she’s perfectly happy at her local QQ Nails. Her nail shape of choice: oval or almond, because squared tips are prone to jagged edges and breakage.
She moisturizes her feet with her homemade lotion and exfoliates once a week with Dr. Bronner’s soap and a foot file. She avoids wearing heels that aren’t wedges, though she occasionally breaks that rule for stilettos on a night out. “I’m kind of a wimp,” she said. “I won’t walk even five blocks in them.” She also gets pedicures at QQ.
Ms. Uddo swears by a sulfur supplement called Sulfurzyme, which she is convinced makes hair and nails grow thicker and stronger. Keratin, the tough protein that’s a huge component of hair and nails, is high in sulfur.
For her lips, Ms. Uddo likes Badger lip balm, available at Whole Foods, and sometimes just uses olive oil or coconut butter. “I feel more comfortable personally when I know I can eat a product,” she said.