No nail biting as polishes boom
RUTH LA FERLA
WHEN she was no more than 10 or 12, Lizzie Jagger liked to paint English landscapes on a set of fake nails that she toted with her everywhere. Her inspirations were whimsical, even rarefied at times.
“I was really into Turner,” recalled Jagger, who was living in London at that time with her father, Mick, and her mother, Jerry Hall. “‘Crossing the Brook,’ was my favourite painting,” she said. “I used bristles cut out of my hairbrush so I could make the work really fine.” Eventually she abandoned her hobby, partly, she joked, “because I couldn’t see a future in it.” Oooh, Lizzie, if only you’d had a crystal ball.
These days you might find yourself besieged by a veritable army of product developers, all eager to pick your brain for ways to turn nail polish, that once staid cosmetics staple, into a must-have capable of transforming nails into miniaturised canvasses for some of the nerviest experiments that fashion permits.
In recent months, cosmetics makers have invested in lacquers a kind of daring all but unheard of a decade ago, introducing innovations from glitter and crackled surface treatments to stick-on nail art and even scents, and imbuing their products with every colour known to nature. And even some that nature would abhor.
Muddied orange, toxic green and shrieking mauve, rare in the marketplace six months ago, are crowding the shelves of department and drugstores, snapped up by consumers intent on releasing their inner Nicki Minaj. Women’s enthusiasm for brazen tints, three-dimensional effects and quirky patterns (think python, cobweb or cheetah spots) has propelled nail polish into the fastest-growing segment of the beauty trade, surpassing even lipstick as a recessionproof cosmetic enhancer.
“Nails come in any way, shape or form,” said Karen Grant, a senior analyst with the NPD Group, which tracks cosmetics trends. “They’ve become a fashion accessory” And they’re an add-on that has driven sales to giddy new highs. Eye-popping tints, long-lasting gels and special effects have contributed to a 67 percent increase in the sales of department store brands in 2011 over the previous year, and a jump of 29 percent for their mass-market counterparts, according to NPD, which tallied the combined sales at $710 million.
The advent of brashly adventurous, and sometimes garish, colours and designs coincided roughly with the collapse of the Dow, when consumers came to regard lacquers priced from $10 to as much $30 as a costeffective way to brighten their turnouts – and outlooks. The eye adjusts, and today the acid tints and swirling patterns that five years ago were outre have entered the mainstream.
The more radical they are, the more desirable, it seems, kinky nails having acquired a cool factor more recently reserved for niche fragrances.
So hip are the new lacquers from mass marketers like Essie and Sally Hansen, and from trendsetters like Nars, that pop stars including Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne, and even the designers Thakoon Panichgul and Prabal Gurung, have attached their names, and their images, to high-end and drugstore brands.
“We used to talk about the lipstick index,” Renato Semerari, the president of Coty Beauty, the parent company of top-selling brands like OPI and Sally Hansen, said, referring to the theory that lipstick sales are inversely correlated to economic health. “Now we talk about the lacquer index.” Semerari ascribed stellar sales mostly to the fact that “these days there is so much more to buy.” Indeed, there are more colours than in a pack of Skittles, many of which can be applied in one’s bathroom. That DIY appeal has been a plus for mass marketers who, according to Kline & Co, a consumer research firm, are racing to offer colours and glazes approximating those of the priciest salons. So successful are some shades that they have spawned cults (among them, Particuliere, a mushroom gray-brown from Chanel that in 2010 engendered wait lists and bidding wars on eBay) as well as a raft of copycat shades.
Several years ago, StrangeBeautiful, a niche brand aimed at cerebral sensibilities, introduced tints inspired by the artworks of Josef Albers and Andy Warhol, and one, their creator, Jane Schub, confided, that mimicked the colour of menstrual blood. Packaged singly in tubular vials or in Lucite-encased “volumes” of 10, they inspired a flurry of look-alikes from brands like American Apparel. For spring, Schub is offering The Inept Laundress, a collection of – wait for it – 10 distinct and dirty shades of white.
For summer, Chanel will introduce a blackened orange that Peter Philips, the creative director for Chanel Makeup, predicted would attract the kinds of consumers who embraced the season’s crazy-salad prints. But its appeal, Philips suspects, would not be confined to vanguard types. Unlike tattoos or knee-high gladiator sandals, a nail varnish requires no significant outlay of cash, much less an emotional commitment.
“At one time a woman had a look, and she stuck to her look,” Philips said. colours like yellow or steely gray represented a risk. But now, he said, when fashion identities have become as fluid and interchangeable as the wallpaper on one’s computer screen, “you can be Dita Von Teese one day, and in the same week you can be Lauren Hutton.” “Nail polish is just makeup,” he added. “If it doesn’t work out, you can wipe it off.” Even risk-averse women, who would be loath to dye their hair fuchsia or wear a calf-length pencil skirt, may be tempted to experiment on their fingertips. “The farther you travel from your face, the more willing you may be to wear something daring,” said Linda Wells, the editor of Allure magazine. “People who shun multicolored tequila sunrise eye shadows will paint their toes and fingers green.” Or stray from solid colours to dabble in nail art, especially the over-the-counter variety offered by brands like Nailene, with its gluebacked sparkling stars and crescents, and Sally Hansen Salon Effects, with patterns that vary from butterflies, argyle and fishnet designs to zebra stripes and cat spots.
“We thought the plain colours were going to be the hottest,” Semerari said of the Salon Effects introduction of patterned and plain stick-on nails. “But one of our biggest successes was our cheetah print.” Like the nail brands, stores, too, are catering to an increasingly demanding, and irreverent, consumer. Sephora recently set up Nail Studios, stand-alone fixtures amply stocked with steel and lavender tints from Dior, glitter paints from Nails Inc, and scented lacquers from Betsey Johnson. Ulta, a cosmetics chain based in the Midwest, offers $25 gel applications at its more than 400 stores, carries some 650 colours, and this year expanded its selling space by 18 percent.
Elsewhere novelty seekers can choose brands like Layla, which offers holographic images, and Deborah Lippmann, which sells polishes embedded with iron particles. Hold a magnet over these, Lippmann, the company founder, explained, and its shape will appear, as if by magic, on the nail’s surface.
Even the most circumspect women are gravitating to nail salons to request piercings or 3- D effects. Tie-dye and marbled finishes are popular at Marie Nails in SoHo, as is the image of Marilyn Monroe, laboriously applied by hand. Jenny Matayoshi, a spokeswoman for the salon, recalled that one customer arrived with a photograph of her boyfriend, asking to have his image replicated on her thumb.
Until about a month ago, Julie Solomon, a client at TenOverTen, favoured translucent pink nails that discreetly complemented her blackon- black wardrobe. Reluctant to try something new, she finally succumbed, and last week had her nails glitter-coated.
“I was taking a chance,” said Solomon, 44. “But I got so many compliments, especially from women asking where they could have the same thing done.” They, too, she suggested, “must be thinking of taking a risk