A Polished Artist
office chatted with the esteemed nail artist in between her neverending list of appointments. Read the interview below.
In fashion, nail design is getting more recognition than ever before. Why do you think that is?
A few reasons—there is a popularity brought over to Europe from America through Instagram. But also, the way we see media now is so different. We obtain all these images online. Before in print, you could get away with a dirty bit of nail where now you can zoom in on an image. In that sense, there is a lot more attention to detail. Also, it became popular with private clients and more salons, because people began to understand that it is a certain form of therapy in a way. Also, during recession in the UK, one of the industries that actually boomed was manicures and nail polish. I think it is not just a trend. I think it is going to stay.
Right, in the American fashion industry, manicures are a much higher priority than they are in Europe!
Yes, but it is really important on shoots. You can have the most amazing hair and makeup when the model sits in front of the glam mirror. Then she knows which character she is. But as soon as she steps away from that mirror, she can’t see herself anymore. So, manicures are a really good way of reminding the models to stay in character. Hands are extremely emotive and expressive and a good way to encourage them to use their entire body. When you do manicure on models, whether it is the most basic manicure or an elaborate one, you do see them use their hands differently. A lot of people don’t actually understand how insecure people are about their hands and feet. So as soon as you make them look good, it gives them a lot of confidence.
Do you see your manicure as art or more as craftsmanship?
It is probably more craftsmanship. The main difference between art and craft is that you can get art fabricated elsewhere, and it would still be your art. Whereas with nails it has to be that person that is essentially doing it. But craftsmanship is a process. It has history and theory and original thoughts. In that way, craft and art are very similar.
Who or what inspires your designs most?
If the design is self-directed, it can be anything. Looking away from the internet is a really good idea, looking outside of your practice and loads of research within nail history, occupations, and how people use their hands. A lot of it is by touching materials and understanding how different they are. I had this moment a while ago at a flea market in London. I saw this woman looking at a really horrible vase. It was completely covered in shells, and I could hear her acrylic nails scratching against the shells that made a weird noise. So, I thought it could be fun to do a hand that is completely covered in shells and did it on myself at home.
And when working for clients?
In fashion, it’s mainly the brief. You think about what they are trying to convey, research what materials or occupations could be linked to it and think about how that relates to hands. The Charles Jeffrey Show was a lot about nature, ritual and human imprint on nature. That got me thinking about harvest. That was why I used all these wheat stems, moss and dirt in the nails. With private clients, the inspiration is that person. It is always a delicate balance between what they like, who they want to be and what’s manageable for them. Generally, I just come up with a bunch of ideas, and they can pick and choose. It has been a long way, because a lot of the time people disregard manicurists as having inspired ideas but actually, they have a lot of them!
What is the most challenging aspect of doing nails at a runway show?
There are a lot of challenging things. One of them is that you don’t know what size nails and hands people are going to have. For one model, you probably made about 16 nails. So, when you have a show of 40 people, you are making hundreds of press-ons. That is a hell of a lot of preparation, because you want the nails to look like they belong to that person and fit beautifully. Another difficult thing is that you are often working alongside hair and makeup, because of the time constraints. You are working when the model sits in the makeup or hair chair, because there is never a nail chair. And when it comes to Spring/Summer and you have a lot of pedicures to do, you will find yourself sitting under the glam table trying to have the nail polish dry in time before they have to get changed. Some of the looks I do are so big and delicate that models will need their clothes on first. Shows can be really tough, but the outcome is magical, so all is worth it!
Building off of that, do you wish that fashion shows had nail glam tables by default?
That would be great in an ideal world without time restraints. It would be great to have time to get people to sit down to get their pedicures done, but there is always a way of getting around that. And most of the time, that is good preparation for being militant about your strategy.
How long do these preparations take?
Generally, the looks are not confirmed until two days before or even the day before. So, it is a genuinely manic 24-hour rush where you have assistants helping you prep press-ons and getting things ready. The wheat nails for the Charles Jeffrey show were rings that I had made beforehand so that I could slide them onto the fingers and secure them.
Has there ever been an idea that was too crazy to replicate?
No, I don’t think any idea is too crazy to replicate. You can always manage. You just need enough time, and the situation on set has to be right. I am kind of big-headed in a sense that I think I can make absolutely anything.
Which brands, colors or materials do you use the most?
I have to use lots of different things depending on the manicures, but color-wise, I really love Chanel’s range and their brushes. I also like CND Vinylux and Artistic Nail Design; their polishes are very good. For skin care I use a lot of Weleda; they do really nice hand and foot products. For the more crazy stuff, I use this sculpting clay on top of press-ons. It goes solid very fast and is not something you could use on a private client.
What is the most unusual material you have ever used for nail art?
Loads! There was one manicure I did ages ago for a latex brand, and we used melted soap with pigments in it where the model was dipping her hands in again and again, and it created these mad forms over the fingers. The moss for Charles Jeffrey was probably another difficult one—and LED lights and the shells.
Out of all of the nail art you’ve ever created, which has been your favorite? Who wore it?
There is this one private client who is a friend and artist named Sagg Napoli. A little while ago, we spent a whole day doing nails that look like Neapolitan baroque ceramics. They had sculptured roses and faces, and we gave it a finish to make it look like it was porcelain. That took a good seven hours.
Do you have a dream client? Who is it, and what would you do?
Alive? I would love to do Dolly Parton’s nails, and to be honest … she can just have whatever the hell she wants! It would probably be a hot pink long square acrylic like she always has. And If I could do literally anyone including dead people, I would love to do Cleopatra’s nails. She is the epitome of historical glamour. Manicuring techniques have been used all over the world since the dawn of time, but the ancient Egyptians used to do things like making beeswax hand masks that they would wear overnight and polishing their hands with Henna. It would just be so interesting to meet her and see what she is like as a person and what she would want. I don’t know if I would choose what to give to her. I mean, she is the queen, so you can’t really tell her anything obviously!
Since you are talking about it, nail polish has changed so much traditionally throughout history. In some regions, it was used for men to show off their social status. Nowadays, manicures are more often associated with women’s beauty routines. What is your forecast?
I think it is great that so many guys are realizing how much they love nail polish now! That is amazing. Long nails represent so much power, so it is quite surprising that people would associate it with not being on men. But historically that is true. In ancient Rome, men would paint their lips and nails pink before battle to look more scary. So, it would be nice if it would come back for men.
Speaking of the future, any nail trends we should watch out for this year?
Trends are difficult to answer. Which demographic are we talking about? Which country? I also think I am not in the position to say what’s right for anyone either. Trends are so often influenced by changes in society and politics or due to new techniques being created. I would like people to just choose what they want and to be able to have conviction in it.