October 29, 2020

My Inspired Media

All About Lifestyle

What’s Next in Nail Art

Madeline Poole, a manicurist in New York and Los Angeles, started painting her friends’ nails in her home about five years ago, just as the nail art frenzy began to crescendo. She had studied painting but found fine art too restrictive. Nails felt like freedom.

“It’s such a silly medium,” she said. “You don’t need a conceptual drive to paint a nail.”

Ms. Poole describes some of her early designs as “wacky.” One work, “Holy LA,” mixed religious ephemera, a Dodgers logo and an Olde English 800 label. But she was scarcely alone in her elaborate taste. Consumers, emboldened by a sudden abundance of colors and tools, and drawn to an affordable luxury during bleak economic times, also embraced anything-goes nail art.

By 2014, the rage was over. “After a while the consumer realized she didn’t have to push the limit and try everything,” said Karen Grant, the analyst for the global beauty industry at NPD Group, the market research firm. A simplified aesthetic has emerged.

Ms. Poole, who is also the global color ambassador for Sally Hansen, has taken her designs in an understated direction. “One of my favorite things now is solid nails that are long enough to paint the underside a different color or apply a pearl or crystal,” she said.

A harbinger of nail art nouveau is the “negative space” manicure, in which part of the nail is left bare. The style first appeared as bare cutouts amid a pattern of geometric shapes and colors. For spring, it is pared down. At the Adam Selman fashion show last month, Ms. Poole painted a single inky-blue dot on each otherwise nude nail. She repeated the effect at Tanya Taylor, this time with two horizontal stripes.

“We’re also playing with texture and tone,” said the New York nail artist known as Miss Pop. “Sheers layered on top of metallics give them an antique feel, like your grandmother’s jewelry.” During New York Fashion Week, Ms. Pop created manicures for Erin Fetherston, Rodarte and Rag & Bone.

Both manicurists favor reducing a design to its essential elements, like the skinny black stripe on a white background Miss Pop did for Marissa Webb. The design arose from the plaid used in the collection. “We’re distilling intricate patterns so the nail art is effortless looking,” she said.

As tastes streamline, nail brands are shifting focus from chasing trends to upgrading technology. Last month, Sally Hansen introduced an iOS try-on application, ManiMatch, that uses a smartphone’s camera to scan skin tone and suggest shades. Phantom nail polish then floats onto the fingertips. The experience is fun and functional, an improvement on the cartoonish fake hands from apps past.

And gel hybrids, polishes that mimic the durability of gel without UV-light curing and time-consuming removal, are ubiquitous. Orly, Butter London, Deborah Lippmann, Sally Hansen and OPI all offer variations.

“Consumers are so informed now,” said Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, an OPI founder and its creative director. “They want products that are closer to the salon experience, and they want to know exactly what’s in them.”

Little Ondine, an odorless peel-off polish made of naturally derived ingredients (plant resin, mineral pigments and water), is available in Europe and China and coming to the United States this winter. If corporate interest is an accurate indicator, Little Ondine is poised to be the next big thing. According to Nikolaos Antonogiannis, the company’s managing director in Britain, Estée Lauder contacted the company in 2013 to ask for its formulas. Simon Yu, the chief executive and founder, declined.

“He could see our potential,” Mr. Antonogiannis said. “Natural products are the future, but they’re hard to make. The chemicals are there for a reason.”

Little Ondine dries in about two minutes, and removal is oddly satisfying, like peeling an orange in one long spiral. The company is working with the British nail artist Sophy Robson on a collection of holographic shades this fall, and constantly tests ideas.

“We’re looking into a range with vitamins inside, but it’s difficult to say how nutrients can be absorbed by the nails,” Mr. Antonogiannis said.

Despite mainstream minimalism, nail artists know that what is “in” is cyclical. “People who are considered socially important — editors, models and artists — started wearing crazy nail art, so it became fashionable, even though 20 years before that it had been considered tacky,” said Lisa Logan, who has worked with Madonna, Katy Perry and Beyoncé (she did the singer’s chrome nails in the 2008 “Single Ladies” video).

Trend spotters would do well to look to the nail aficionado. She is the woman eagerly awaiting next month’s Tokyo Nail Expo, the grandest of all nail trade shows in the nail capital of the world. She is the technician who has just perfected her aquarium nail, an acrylic with a liquid-filled tip resembling a snow globe. That technique bubbled into consciousness this summer, but has been well known in nail circles for at least four years.

During the spring 2016 fashion shows, Miss Pop introduced the “ballet slipper,” which is essentially a shorter version of “the coffin,” a nail shaped like the head of a coffin, with tapered sides and a square tip, a shape that is currently popular among acrylic wearers.

“We’re making it more wearable and little less braggadocious,” she said.

Ms. Logan is betting on a ’90s street-style revival. She plans to start tinkering with a favorite from that decade, airbrushing.

“Ombré is so popular now, but airbrush ombré was the real deal,” she said. “And remember those palm tree designs? They made you smile. That’s the thing about great nails: They make us so happy.”