Nail art is on the rise, and this time it’s taking designs to the extreme.
As the world of beauty continues to celebrate the individual, nail art is helping narrate your story in a unique and creative way. “Nails are more adventurous and challenging than ever before,” says celebrity manicurist Mei Kawajiri, who counts Bella and Gigi Hadid as clients.
Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
The Japanese artist opened her own salon, Foxxy, in Tokyo’s Harajuku district in 2006, before moving to New York in 2012. “I started making portraits on nails at a time when people were only getting French manicures,” she remembers. “I then moved onto creating 3D designs using acrylic powder. This allowed me to have more fun by sculpting art on nails. Now, people can enjoy 3D nail art from almost any top salon in any city.”
Nail art really hit the mainstream about a decade ago, hitting pop culture through music – cue “Pro Nails” by Kid Sister featuring Kanye West in 2009 – and social media. The influence of Instagram has seen the industry skyrocket. According to a report by Research and Markets, the global nail polish industry is expected to reach US $15.55 billion by 2024. There is no sign of it slowing, if the standard beauty enthusiast, with her drawers brimming with rainbow polishes in matte, glossy, and glitter finishes, is anything to go by.
When Kawajiri created the diamanté-encrusted, flame-hued nails for Balenciaga’s SS17 ready-to-wear show, she sparked the return of a movement: extreme nail art. A touch of glitter or a graphic stripe will simply no longer do. Nails have to be bigger and bolder. “The woman that wears this nail is the woman who cannot be dictated to,” explained nail artist and industry expert Marian Newman at the FW18 Gareth Pugh show. The show look: a range of talons in sharp silhouettes, sculptured textures, and bold animal prints.
This year’s Met Gala took the trend to its logical conclusion, with everyone from rapper Cardi B to Blake Lively showcasing serious nail art. The former turned to Bronx-based artist Jenny Bui for a Swarovski crystal and pearl-encrusted look. Lively sported a red chrome stiletto nail with over-the-top embellishment by artist Elle. The Hadid sisters both called on Kawajiri, with Gigi opting for green-red-and gold stripes surrounded by crystals to accent her Versace stained-glass window gown.
Long talons don’t suit everyone. “Some of my clients are very active with their hands,” says Kawajiri – using your phone or even applying lipstick can become difficult. To get around this, South Korean brand Unistella offers interchangeable nail jewelry and stickers that can also be used on short nails. The result can look just as extreme as long nails covered in diamantés.
Just when every nail avenue seemed to be explored, Thea Mai Baumann, founder of Metaverse Nails, introduced hologram stickers that enables virtual content to seemingly fly out of your fingers. “It’s a new kind of beauty technology product that can augment your online and offline self with sparkling and beautiful digital content,” she says of her product that is already being touted as the next big thing. Inspired by women playing Candy Crush in Asian nail bars, Baumann utilized fashion pattern recognition that triggers hologram content when scanned using the MM Nails app.
Another product fusing nail art with technology is La Roche-Posay’s UV Sense adhesive wearable tracker, set to hit the market next year. It’s not nail art per se but it appropriates the trend to help you monitor your exposure to UV rays, pollution, humidity, and temperature. The tiny sticker – the next generation of wearable tech – lasts up to two weeks.
What’s the secret to flawless nail art? Choosing an idea you really love, says Kawajiri. “This will make you take special care of your hands and your nails will last longer.”
Photography: Arved Colvin-Smith
Makeup: Riona O’Sullivan
Nails: Robbie Tomkins
Model: Daria Anisimova