Mirror, Mirror: Fingertips with flash

Beads and such are used to create "junk nails" at Spa East, 1040 N. Second St. Such embellished nails were once considered low-class, but no more.
Beads and such are used to create "junk nails" at Spa East, 1040 N. Second St. Such embellished nails were once considered low-class, but no more. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 17, 2011

This is the summer of the nail.

But you shouldn't need me to tell you that. If you look around, you'll see shiny ones - thanks to Minx nail coverings - and sparkling ones, courtesy of jeweled crackle polish. Some nails are covered in black lace (I know Madonna would be proud), and other folks are opting to use color-blocked fabrics.

This summer I rocked cobalt blue, kelly green, and taxicab-yellow toenails. And I'm so looking forward to my next manicure, when I take the plunge with sky-blue digits and a lime-green accent on my ring finger.

Bye-bye, boring tips in reds, corals, and pinks. The rules of the manicure have changed.

"In the last year, nail art has exploded," said Samiyyah Staten, owner of Northern Liberties salon Spa East. Staten was among the first salon owners to bring Minx to the area.

The last time we saw these looks was more than 30 years ago, and they are part of the extreme accessories trend - including architectural hats, known as fascinators, feathered earrings, and colored tights - that harks back to the 1980s. (Interestingly, this garish fashion cycle will soon coexist with the also popular subdued neutrals of the vintage 1960s.)

The shift is starting to take hold. Department-store nail polish sales are up by about 56 percent, says Karen Grant, a senior global analyst at NPD Group. This year's January-to-June sales were more than $10 million, compared with $6.4 million during the first half of 2010.

"It's a tiny category," Grant said, "but there is a lot of interest because nails are an affordable indulgence."

According to Stephanie Yaggi, managing editor of Los Angeles-based Nail Pro magazine, the move away from neutral nails started about two years ago with the introduction of black, gray, and brown polish. As those colors became more popular, Yaggi said, designers started to take the same care with runway models' nails as they did with makeup.

In addition, fashion spreads in top glossies like Harper's Bazaar and Vogue showed models with unconventional nail colors. And of course we are influenced by celebrities Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Serena Williams, who wore an accent nail at this year's Wimbledon tournament.

At the same time, nail polish technology is advancing. In the last five years, more manufacturers have introduced different versions of UV lamp-cured polishes that promise not to chip for two weeks (although I must say that the two times I had it done, my nails chipped after just three or four days).

But whatever pattern you scratch in to, know the embellished nail is no longer considered low-class.

"It's moved beyond Sheneneh," said Katie Cazorla, referring to the over-the-top personality Martin Lawrence made famous. Cazorla, the 33-year-old star of the TV Guide Network's Nail Files, said, "Now you see women with Birkin bags who have nail art."

And as it happens, Cazorla's L.A.-based the Painted Nail, which, in addition to nail services, offers customers a cappuccino bar and martinis, is the birthplace of the accent nail.

About a year ago, actress Vanessa Hudgens walked out of the Painted Nail with merlot polish on all of her fingers but the ring finger - which popped out with turquoise.

"She came in, she was photographed, and everyone from E! to People magazine were calling me," Cazorla said.

What are called caviar nails, featuring tiny glittery and solid bubbles, are on the horizon, as are "magnetic nails" - a magnet is used to create swirl designs in the polish. Stickers also are being added to long nails, and snakeskin fabrics will be popular, too.

If that's all a bit too much for you, stick with darker shades for fall such as navy blue, forest green, and chocolate brown.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, ewellington@philly.news.com, www.philly.com/style, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.

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