It’s April, which means it’s time to get ready for a million magazine covers proclaiming spring’s new look, and so forth and so on. But I’m here to tell you there is a very fast, no-frills, no make-up way to update your look without worrying (yet) about your foundation/shadow/bronzer/blusher. What is this shortcut? Just say no ... to nail art.
If there’s one message coming through loud and clear from the fashion oracle, it’s that no one’s really going for it with nails this season. Granted, it’s possible this is just a blip and next month I’ll be writing a column that starts with “So it’s hello to nail art”, but for now, as much as we might love Lady Gaga’s black, gold and red talons or RiRi’s smiley-face nails, we’re going to be leaving the diamanté and feathers and piercings behind in favour of nudes on our fingers and pastel shades on our toes, at least if spring’s runways are anything to go by.
Which doesn’t mean we won’t miss it. After all, not only has nail transformation become the cheap fashion accessory of choice for those of us who can’t splash out on a new handbag each week; it has created an entirely new employment sector. Not so long ago I was on a shoot for Tatler magazine somewhere hot and Tatler-y, only to be confronted by an irate make-up artist who had just discovered she was meant to be doing nails as well as make-up. She’d neglected to pack her nail polishes. “Don’t we have a nail artist with us?” she asked. “Didn’t you read the call sheet?” I retaliated.
Turns out she was ahead of her time; nail artists such as Sophy Robson, Marian Newman, Jenny Longworth and Adam Slee have become just as important on sets and backstage as the hair stylists and make-up artists. Ever since Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video, in which the star wore gold foil nails that demanded they have a ring on them, nail technicians have been keeping us entertained with their outrageous, mind-blowing designs, whether Nicki Minaj’s carefully matched nails and hair (which just happen to be multicoloured pink, blue, and green) or Mario Testino’s recent shoot in British Vogue featuring super-long oriental-inspired nails by Sophy Robson. Indeed, the nails are often more interesting than anything else – hair, make-up, clothes – that’s going on in “the look”.
At the same time, it’s a bit of a relief to go back to a simpler regime. After all, while sparkly, multi-print talons made for great visuals, how many women fully embraced the phenomenon? As far as I can tell, every woman I know seems to end up with the same two shades of Essie on her nails, in spite of all the possible choices that are around. Granted, it’s hard to find Chanel or Estée Lauder or YSL in nail bars and hair salons, while Essie is owned by L’Oréal, which has 3,000 operators in the UK alone, and more than 100,000 in the US – but the return to basics also indicates a return to cost-saving nails.
To that end, the last time I sat down for a nail treatment (with the UK Vogue beauty editors’ favourite technician, David Barton of Percy & Reed), I did a quick recon of the ingredients for the perfect kit. In no particular order they include: Creative Nail Design’s SolarOil (£12.95 for 15ml) to condition cuticles; Seche Vite’s Dry Fast Top Coat (£9.85) and Lumos’s Instant Impact Bottom Coat and High Speed Top Coat (both £10.95) for a speedy, strong application; hand cream, such as Sisley’s Sisleÿa Global Anti-Age Hand Care SPF10 (£92.50), or the new Sarah Chapman Skinesis Overnight Hand and Nail treatment (£35), which smells delicious and sinks into the skin easily; a nail brush, which – top tip alert – is even more effective when used with whitening toothpaste instead of soap; an emery board – Creative Nail Design’s Kanga Boards (£1.95) make the best nail files; and a white pencil from Rimmel (£2.99), which you need to wet and run under the nail for a clean white edge. Finally, I would like to add a suggestion of my own: Bourjois’ Magic 1-Second Nail Polish Remover (£4.99), which does what it says on the bottle without the need for cotton-wool pads.
As for what shape and colours are hot this summer, Barton advises not to be lured into the square or oval debate. Fashion, as we all know, is a fickle creature, so choose a shape that frames the edge of your fingers and gives a nice elongated look rather than a squat duck’s bill, which will only make your fingers look squat and ducky too. Then choose a nude polish: Revlon (ColorStay Longwear Nail Enamel, £7.99) and Butter London (£13) offer my favourite shades this summer, and you can customise both with Dior’s Nail Glow, (£18) a pink gloss that’s good on its own or on top of something else.
For toes, Kure Bazaar has some pretty pastels; try Fuji, or Macaron (£14.95); Butter London’s Jasper is a delicate yellow (£13); and Illamasqua’s Fragile, a pale pink polish with blue speckles (£14.50) is as pretty as an expensive organic duck egg, the kind from upmarket supermarkets with royal connections. If that’s all too insipid, YSL’s Taupe Mauresque (£18) is a beautiful brown, while the highly covetable, textured Denim Effect by Nails Inc (£19) already has a waiting list on its website.
The end message is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Except when it’s a nail.