Nailing the trend

Celebrities love their nail art and polish sales are booming. So what’s the allure of the high concept manicure? Kirstie McDermott reports

HANDS UP if you can name the three Olympic events that took place in Britain’s capital in 2012? Okay — numbers one and two are easy: we all oohed and aaahed to Danny Boyle’s awesome Olympics opening ceremony and wore grooves in our couch cushions as the sporting action proceeded over the following weeks. Once the Paralymics started, we cheered our home-grown athletes till we were hoarse as they enjoyed unprecedented medal success.

The third event? Well, now that’d be a bit more off the beaten track. In September, Nailympics London, an international nail artistry competition, took place for the eighth year in a row, and while there were no Irish winners among the gongs for competitions for Acrylic Nail Sculpture, Stiletto Nails (ouch, sounds painful) and Mixed Media Boxed Nail Art, the list of names taking the honours hammers home just how global the mania for embellished talons has become.

The trend entered the mainstream here in late 2010 when digit diva Sharmadean Reid opened an outpost of her hip Dalston salon Wah at Harvey Nichols in Dublin to much fanfare. Differing vastly from what had been available in salons before — gel-filled, flower patterned and often just done with a French tip — Reid’s vision and hand-drawn designs were created using regular nail polish and pens we could all easily buy.

Inspired by high fashion, graffiti, ’80s references, hip-hop and urban street style, she has been much copied. It didn’t even seem to matter much when Wah quietly closed, moving out of the Irish market altogether. We were hooked.

Blogs were chattering about nail art 24/7, replicating Wah’s designs and innovating their own. Celebrities such as Katy Perry, Zooey Deschanel and Alexa Chung were painting up a storm and other mani mavens Sophy Robson, Sophie Harris-Greenslade and Naomi Yasuda had picked up reams of favourable press.

Pop culture took to nail art like ducks to water and Irish eyes were opening too. Dubliner Aoife Kelly-Cooney, then in university, sat up and started taking notice. “I became interested in nail art out of sheer boredom about three years ago,” she says.

“I was hanging around the house one Saturday before a party and when I went to do my nails it struck me that the floral pattern on my playsuit would transfer quite well onto my nails. Soon after I came across an article on Wah’s founder Sharmadean Reid. I was so excited that somebody had actually set up a company solely based on nail art.”

That led to Kelly Cooney’s business, The Alpha Nail, ( which she launched in 2011 and ran as a part-time concern while managing college commitments, painting free-hand designs onto nails in Dublin’s Temple Bar at weekends. She’s not the only young Irish woman to see the potential of nail art as a money-making enterprise: recent graduate Caragh Hesse-Tyson and friend Niamh O’Carroll have just founded Ooo Nice Nails (

But it’s late 2012; Is the fad fading? “I got Wah’d but knew that €50 was way too much for a regular thing,” points out Hesse-Tyson, who’s aiming to reach those with a little less to spend. “Our nails are more like €15 to €20 a set,” she says, adding “we don’t have a premises, we do nails at different flea markets and vintage fairs. It’s more like guerilla nail art!”

Karolina Boczek, executive editor of Limerick-based Your Nails magazine, launched earlier this year and the only publication dedicated to the nail artistry industry in Ireland, says nail art is here to stay. While the free-hand Wah style might be waning in salons, we’ll always see new things happening.

“It’s just like fashion trends,” she points out. “It’s like the little black dress — sometimes you add new accessories, change the length and texture of the material, but it’s still based on the same design.” When it comes to what’ll happen next, Boczek says that “manufactures try to create products that help us to replace free-hand nail art such as nail wraps, gel polish and stick-on nails.”

We’ve come a long way from Minx wraps and crackle topcoats: as brands like Ciaté move into the nail art space, they’re aiming to take control back from salons, handing it to consumers for a fraction of the price they’d pay for professional services. The brand’s revolutionary Caviar Manicure is a texture-led colour explosion that uses tiny microbeads to add a three-dimensional look to fingertips.

Impress press-on nails, fronted by X-Factor’s Nicole Scherzinger, offer a slick way to get an instant, lasting finish. Sally Hansen’s brilliant Salon Effect Real Nail Polish Strips are the best of the myriad nail wrap offerings out there. Easy to apply, they come in tons of glitter and pattern offerings, don’t need to be heat-set and stay put for days.

So what’s next? “2013 will be dominated by texture nails,” reveals Boczek, who points to emerging trends for velvet or cashmere manicures as well as renewed interest in rhinestones and Swarovski crystals. “Summer time will bring lots of crystal toe nails, and the latest hit is gel polishes, which change colour with temperature,” she declares.

Shape and celebrity too, are moving on. Where Katy Perry was at the forefront of the cartoony, free-hand trend, it’s celebs like Lana del Rey, Lady Gaga and Adele who are the figureheads for the new nail, championing a stiletto shape. “I would also in part attribute the surge in people opting for oval or stiletto nails to Rihanna as that seems to have been her nail shape of choice for some time now,” points out Aoife Kelly-Cooney.

Free-hand nail painting is thriving out of salon as well, with innovators like Irish beauty blogger and nail artist Lynda Moorhead selling bespoke, hand-painted press-on nail sets on Etsy. The advantage is the sets can be reused and typically it’s cheaper than paying to have nails painted. Kelly-Cooney is onto the new movement too, collaborating with Irish fashion design Cameron Cavaliere on a nail collection for his clothing company, The Silver Factory. “The customised press-ons will be sold on Watch this space,” she says.

Five to try at home

Want a nail art effect but don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself? Try these five fab finds on for size

1 Web wonder

Head to where you can upload any design you like and have them custom-created for about €12.50. So if you really, really wanted Liam from One Direction on your digits, then now’s your chance!

2 Blue Velvet

It’s back in fashion and it can be on your nails too: The Ciaté Velvet manicure, €19.50, from, comes in blue, berry, and mink. This season’s hippest talon teaser, it’s currently on pre-order and is sure to sell out.

3 Pressing matters

L’Oréal Paris’s brand new wraps hit the textured trend right on the nail. Colour Riche Nail Art, €12.99, comes in six textures including python, lamé, and diamante. Fancy!

4 Plastic fantastic

Peel off the backing and stick these babies in place: Impress press-ons, €9.99, create an instant nail art effect. Oh — and they really stay put too.

5 Glitterbomb

Add oomph to any plain crème mani with one of these new Mirrorball topcoats, €8, from Models Own. The five super-duper glittery shades can be used as a last step, transforming your talons into something really special.


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