The Underground World of Japanese Nail Art in NYC


You’ve probably seen them on Instagram: long nails covered in more Swarovski crystals than you could ever imagine or Hello Kitty faces protruding out of a French mani. This kind of nail art is intrinsically Japanese, and in New York City, there are only a few nail salons that can create some of those insane fingernails seen on the streets on Tokyo. These nail salons mold 3D creations by hand, in a process that will take at least a few hours0. These salons don’t often advertise these offerings, but a true nail art fan will know where to go. I first learned about these cult nail salons from a fellow Parsons student, who regularly wore nail extensions with colorful piercings and gems—these details are proof of serious dedication to the art of, well, nail art.
So I took it upon myself to try out the experience of pierced, blinged and 3D nails at one of the salons in the city that specializes in delivering intricate digits: Marie Nails. Not knowing much about the process, I called up the salon beforehand and described exactly what I wanted: nails as extreme as possible, starting with a base of glitter gel, topped off with 3D artwork and lots of crystals. Initially, they couldn’t give me a price over the phone. They only said it would cost over $100, and that I would have to bring in imagery to show the nail artist during my appointment, who would then come up with a pricing scale.

I scoured Google images and Instagram looking for the perfect reference point, eventually deciding on a mani that incorporated 3D Hello Kitty with Hawaiian flowers, ice cream cones and shooting stars. I also wanted one nail on each hand to be covered in as many Swarovski crystals as possible.

Upon arrival, I was handed a keychain of gel swatches. Marie Nails uses Calgel, a Japanese gel system that’s designed to be more breathable than traditional gel nail polish. As a bonus, it’s also supposed to promote nail strength. I ended up choosing a different glitter gel for each nail: silver, periwinkle, pink, lavender and dark pink. The application of the polish was pretty standard and similar to your typical gel nail session. The only difference I noticed was that the gel seemed stickier than usual—but that was resolved by the end of the manicure, when the whole creation was fully cured.

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