Whether we’re inspired by cutting-edge styles or finding new ways to do our nails on our own, there’s always innovation and creativity brewing in the nail industry. Just like any other form of artistic expression, nail art is also personal, endless and extremely fun. There is always great specificity and joy in how we choose to adorn our nails.
With a history anthropologists can trace back to 5000 BC in ancient Egypt – men and women would dye their nails to indicate wealth, social status and seductiveness – nail art is one of the most renowned ways to demonstrate self-presentation. It’s astounding how manicurists continue to maintain the ability to interpret their visions – and ours – by rendering our fingernails into tiny canvases of sculptural art.
What’s also impressive is how the history and originality of nail art would be nowhere without the ingenuity and contribution of those Black female artists who are constantly reimagining the way we look at nails.
Those extra long, stiletto-length acrylics, elaborately detailed three-dimensional ornamentation and so many more of the designs coveted by nail art enthusiasts around the globe are originated by Black women, many who boast tens of thousands, sometimes millions of followers. A rich part of our history and culture, once deemed “ghetto” and a sign of low class by many outside of the Black community in the 1970s and 80s, nail art is now embraced as a fashion constant, seen everywhere from the most exclusive magazine covers to the leading fashion runways. But sadly, once these aesthetics are spotted on the hands of Hailey Bieber or Kylie Jenner – and typically go viral – the stories behind the collections or the masters themselves seldom get the credit they deserve.
The immeasurable contributions Black female creatives have made to the nail industry have been, at best, overlooked and, at worst, categorically erased, so it’s important we take a moment to honor some of the most extraordinary Black artists who are not only driving ingenious nail art designs on their feeds and for some of the most recognized names and faces in the world, but who are also truly responsible for setting all of the industry’s current nail art trends.
Celebrity nail artist, Kiss brand ambassador and the talent behind the most notable Fashion Week manicures – she initially turned to nail art to pay for expenses while she pursued her psychology degree – Gina Edwards is best known for bright base colors, stylish animal prints and heart accents. If you can’t find her conceptualizing nail art for countless fashion shows (ranging from Pyer Moss to Calvin Klein), you can catch her slaying the nails of Mary J. Blige, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Taraji P. Henson.
If you’ve ever seen a Prabal Gurung, Jeremy Scott or Marc Jacobs runway show, the model’s nails were surely painted by self-taught, Brooklyn-based artist Aja Walton. Known for her manicures that are inspired by stunning cultural moments, her nail designs captured the attention of MTV in 2021, when they commissioned her to use her artistry to pay homage to some of the most unforgettable albums of this era, such as Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. Walton has also worked behind the scenes on campaigns for major brands like MAC Cosmetics.
Working in the nail industry for over a decade, Bronx-based artist Tahsiyn Harley provides many assorted designs such as kaleidoscope-inspired impressions, press-ons, and so much more. Having worked at top salons in New York City like Paint Box and Vanity Projects, and for runway shows like Kate Spade and Badgley Mischka, no look can challenge Harley’s abilities because she honestly does it all.
If you’ve ever admired Saweetie’s nails – she’s an ever-changing nail aficionado in her own right – then you’re familiar with Los Angeles artist Temeka Jackson’s work. An absolute pro at creating glamorous, custom nail sets who spends most of her time on Hollywood back lots inventing the next original nail set sensation, any design you can work up in your mind, Jackson can make it happen for you.
Stationed in London, freelance nail artist Sadie Jordan is often spotted working her magic at Fashion Week in London, New York, and Paris. When she isn’t performing intricate works of art on the fingertips of her client roster of A-list entertainers and top models, she is teaching one of her online, hand-painted, press-on masterclasses.
If minimally stylish nails are your jam, then Mimi D’s account is the one you’ll want to follow. An award-winning nail artist who frequently collaborates with national brands, celebrities and fashion designers, some of her high spots include curating the talent for the latest Ivy Park campaign, working backstage at countless fashion weeks for designers like Diane Von Furstenberg and serving her celebrity clientele such as Angela Bassett. Want to live a bit on the wild side? Look at her incredible remakes of French tip designs, dreamy pastel color palettes and renditions of the negative space manicure nail trend. Mimi also makes giving back to her community a priority by sharing nail hacks and tips via her Pinterest series, “Hands on with Mimi D.”
Located in North Carolina, locals flock to Gabby of Trilla Nails for her elaborately-detailed pattern work, contemporary French tips and superior rhinestones application, but if you aren’t based in a nearby city, then her press-on sets are available online in a curated assortment of the designs.
If you are a fan of acrylic sets, gel x, and unique gel manicures, then you’ll be in for some major nail eye candy when browsing through Marsha’s feed. Overflowed with bedazzlement, whimsical patterns and glitter accents, her level of skill and artistry is mind-blowing.
With over ten years as a fashion manicurist, having painted the nails of everyone from Alicia Keys to Zendaya, most recently celebrated for creating the nails in the latest clothing collection for acclaimed fashion designer Telfar Clemens, nail tech phenom Dawn Sterling also educates and prepares aspiring nail artists for the same opportunities through her one-on-one mentoring sessions via her website.
If you are looking for healthy nail care advice and love hand-painted press-ons, then Canishiea Sam’s IG is a must-follow. Her top-notch tips for cuticle oil and moisturizing will keep your nails and hands in the best shape while she teaches you how to yield salon-worthy, DIY, spirited nail designs in beautifully fluid shapes.