A brief history of nail art

Article by Simply You

Nail art

Women have been painting their nails since ancient Egyptian times but nail art has taken it up a notch.

What was once simply a manicure is now a creative form of self-expression, favoured by celebrities and seen on runways around the world.

Over the past decade, the nail art boom has skyrocketed with the invention of gel polishes, glitter, chrome and acrylics. Painting nails is big business. “The explosion really happened with gel polish,” says Pop Nails founder Imogene Bevan. “It has been an amazing progression, especially as it is now recognised as an art form.”

Bevan opened Pop Nails in Auckland in 2014 after being inspired by Paintbox nail salon in New York. “There was nothing in New Zealand that was offering affordable luxury with good service and a cool contemporary vibe and I fell in love with it,” she says.

Pop nails by Imogene Bevan

Nail bars took off after the 2011 recession. “People couldn’t afford to buy expensive dresses any more but they could still afford to get their nails done and make themselves feel good without the high price tag,” says Bevan.

Manicurist and creative director of New York’s Paintbox Julie Kandalec is one of the most in-demand manicurists in the business. Her work features in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan and her celebrity clients include Viola Davis, Olivia Palermo, Emilia Clarke, Marion Cotillard and Ellie Goulding.

Kandalec credits the nail art phenomenon with society’s obsession with celebrity and the rise of social media sites such as Instagram. “People are constantly seeing different things and want to keep up with the trends,” she says.

Nail art

The highlight of her career was working with actress Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmy Awards. “She was reading out loud and I didn’t realise until after she won that she was rehearsing her famous speech about the lack of opportunities for African American women in the film industry. It was unreal because those hands holding that Emmy are the hands I painted. That is still the coolest moment.”

Kandalec believes the trend for chrome will “stick around for a while” but will feature patterns to add more interest.

Now with at-home kits and more than 25 million users of #nailart on Instagram, nail art has moved from being a trend to a bone fide beauty staple.

Words: Nathalie Owen
Photos: Supplied